LENT - A SEASON OF HOPE

Hi everyone - here’s my homily for ASH WEDNESDAY - March 1, 2017. The readings for today can be found at http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/030117.cfm . Thanks as always for reading; sharing this on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit; and for your feedback and comments. Have a great Lent!  Fr Jim


HOMILY:
When you hear or see this headline, "Boy born without a brain learns to count" - it sounds like one of those headlines you laugh at from a bizarre tabloid you see standing at the checkout in a Supermarkets – you know, the ones that have stories of alien landings and Elvis sightings.  But after taking the bait and clicking on the story, you learn that comes from a legitimate British newspaper, and realize what an amazingly, miraculously true story this was.

Back in 2012, Noah Wall, while still in his mother’s womb developed a medical condition called hydrocephalus.  It is a very rare thing where there’s a build up of fluid that in this case pushed so hard that it basically crushed Noah’s skull destroying 98% of his brain. Think about that - he was only born with 2 % of his brain.  Instead of purchasing cribs, his parents went through the devastating process of choosing coffins for their unborn son - as they were told it was unlikely Noah would survive after being born paralyzed.
But the loving parents lovingly welcomed their son into the world on March 6, 2012 - the doctors followed all the protocols that were possible and amazingly - particularly to the doctors who were treating him - a few weeks after his birth, his brain started to grow; continued to grow, and eventually was fully functioning. In the 5 years since, he continues to astound his doctors. Just 9 months ago he struggled to recognize numbers, now he’s able to count. His Mom explains, "He has been chatting so much more and pronouncing his words, he has started writing, he can follow my finger and write his name. His concentration was just unbelievable with the pen, I didn't know that this day would ever come. You can see the excitement, and he knows that he had done something amazing... he amazes us everyday.' His father adds more succinctly: 'It was absolutely fantastic." 
 
While Noah faces many obstacles, numerous surgeries - it’s hard to count the little guy out from being able to walk on his own one day - or pursue one of his dream jobs: becoming a firefighter or a doctor.

For many of us coming together this Ash Wednesday - perhaps we can relate to Noah. But for us the focus isn’t damaged brain but a little lower – our hearts... and not their physical health but spiritually: What condition are they in? Are they working at full capacity.... or is it down to 2% or perhaps somewhere in between?


The great news today - It doesn’t matter: We’re not here to compare ourselves to one another... thinking who’s doing what better; who’s more holy than the other.   Because Ash Wednesday is the great equalizer. Every one of us is marked with the same ashen cross – no one is excluded – because we all are sinners. This dirty symbol is a reminder that with God’s breath of life, He was able to transform a pile of ashes into you and me... and without Him, that’s all we would be - a pile of ashes.

That truth can make us feel somber or gloomy. But it’s really meant to do the opposite. God made each and everyone of us as individual masterpieces as part of the greater masterpiece which is his creation.   Somehow, in the midst of our day to day routines, we can lose sight of that - lose sight of Him. He becomes eclipsed from our view and other things start to become our "gods."  And sin creeps in.

Which is why we need Lent.  We need to hear these words from the Church’s liturgy and from scripture inviting us to not just reflect on where we are at - what spiritual condition we’re in... But to actually be open to the possibility of change - of  transformation - of healing and reconciliation with Him; with one another; within ourselves.  

Just because Ash Wednesdays of years past may have come and gone and we didn’t notice any significant change during the 40 days of Lent that followed... Just because maybe we find ourselves struggling with the same sins, the same vices, the same temptations and don’t know if it’s possible to break that cycle (or even more honestly, if we even want to)... Just because we might be the only one in our families or circle of friends who are even remotely connected to God that we find ourselves here alone... we can’t let those doubts, those realities, those cynicisms get us down.

Which is why that story of Baby Noah really stayed with me. Not necessarily because of the miraculous aspect to it – nor to bash the experts in the medical fields, who very reasonably and understandably were trying to prepare these two parents for devastating news. But because that little boy reminds us that as certain as it is that we’re standing here, and there’s a breath and a beat of the heart going on, nothing is written in stone... nothing is definitive... There’s always Hope.

And unlike that little boy whose dire situation was out of his control - you and I have another chance, we’re offered another opportunity to seize the Hope which this Ash Wednesday and this Season of Lent offers us to accept and take advantage of it.  The very fact that all of us are here - in such great numbers - is a tremendously beautiful thing.  Each and every one of us made a choice, a decision to change our routines, rearrange our schedules to be here. The Lord called you and moved you somehow that you made the choice to be here.  Which I thank God for - for His work which somehow reached all of us

The beautiful thing about our being here together today - is that hopefully that’s the spark we need to take another step, move a little bit more further in responding to His grace.  To see that when we gather together in prayer at Mass, we experience Jesus’ presence among us, with us and through us - in His Body and Blood in the Eucharist; in His word being proclaimed in the Scriptures and in the community - all of us brothers and sisters coming together. In a world that seems to grow more divided and fractured - where people seem less able to agree on anything, this gathering is special since we can agree on two things - God Loves us and We’re all sinners that need Him.  


To take to heart the other invitations Jesus offers us - to Fast - to simplify our complex lives by reducing the influence of things whose importance has grown too much; to give Alms - to in some way, some manner give of ourselves to help others.... in these ways, we stop looking inward on ourselves, and in the process our visions expand and our hearts grow.

Lent can seem gloomy, but it doesn’t need to be.  It was never meant to be.  It takes us where we are, weak or strong, proud or ashamed - and gives us the tools to free ourselves. Free ourselves of our sins, of those things we are becoming enslaved to, things that are taking up too much space in our hearts.  And filling up that space instead with love.  Love of God.  Love of our families and friends.  Love of neighbors. Even Love of our enemies. We cannot pray for God to fill us - to come to us and fill us and make us feel complete, if we are full already.  Like a cup, we need to dump out what’s there if it isn’t serving us, if it isn’t helping us or bringing us the happiness Jesus Christ wants for us and then - in our vulnerability, our literal ‘emptiness’ which may be momentarily uncomfortable or unfamiliar, to allow Jesus Christ in.  

He can change our hearts, He can heal our souls us, He can work miracles in our lives, too.  Even if we feel not at full capacity... or we think were down to 2% Even if we feel we have nothing left within.  God can do that in all of our lives.  Today is the day that we let Him.

IF I HAD (400) MILLION DOLLARS

Hi everyone, here's my homily for the EIGHTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - February 26, 2017.  The readings for today can be found at http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/022617.cfm.   Thanks as always for stopping by to read this blog, for sharing it on Facebook, twitter and reddit and for your comments and feedback.   Have a great week!  God Bless, Fr Jim

HOMILY:

So this past Tuesday night I ran out to the store to buy a Powerball Ticket. Actually truth be told, I went to two stores since the first place didn’t sell lotto tickets. That’s not something I do regularly, but with the jackpot hitting $430 million dollars, I kind of felt like I had to take a chance. (Spoiler alert, I didn’t even get one number).

While I don't usually throw away money (which is what gambling is) I do find those jackpots hard to resist and it seems worth a buck or two to at least buy a ticket - just to have that fantasy of what I would be able to do for family, friends, the Church and different charities and causes if I won a jackpot like that. I've said I would like to eliminate the debt of everyone I know - whether it's mortgages, student loans, whatever...  Help my brothers to retire now - my one brother to get a bigger house for his family - take care of my Mom... Build a new Newman Center.  Those are priest dreams.

How about you?  Maybe pay off college loans... Your credit card bills... Would you continue going to school anymore? Hopefully you would! Perhaps you'd just have a very different attitude about things though - especially in terms of finding a job. $400 million dollars would probably give you a lot more flexibility.

For most people the idea of having a great deal of mammon (oops, I mean money...) seems to be a hope or a goal.  And while a $400 million jackpot seems unlikely (the last I saw it the odds were 1 in 258, 890, 850 -which is almost like saying one person in the entire United States) even though those odds are CRAZY we are still curious, desirous, even somewhat hopeful that maybe, just maybe it would happen for us.

A couple of years ago, there was a story that comes to mind when those lotto dreams start to get a bit too appealing. The headline was LOTTO WINNER WISHES HE TORE UP THE TICKET.  It was about a guy by the name of Jack Whittaker who believes that his life was "cursed" since winning a lotto jackpot of $315 million.  Within five years of winning this jackpot (which he did on Christmas morning, no less, in 2002) - his wife left him, his drug-addicted grand daughter died, he’s had a long list of indiscretions (from bar room fights to law suits) that have been documented in the courts and the newspapers.  

You couldn't help but feel bad reading that and thinking to yourself, geez, he really has had a streak of bad luck.  But as you read this lengthy story and interview, this quote stood out:  "I don't have any friends.  Every friend that I've had, practically, has wanted to borrow money or something and of course, once they borrow money from you, you can't be friends anymore."

Why that stood out for me is that in that one sentence it seemed to reveal that the money had become the most important thing in his life. Despite the number of charities he's donated to, despite the two churches he helped build - his financial wealth became something of greater value, even though he had an abundance of it even prior to winning the lotto (oh - I forgot to mention that before he won the $315 million Powerball, he was already worth over 15 million dollars)

What makes me say that the wealth became something more important to him? He’s buying lotto tickets even though he’s already a millionaire... He’s talking about how friends borrowed the money - which means, he expected it back.   Even in talking about his drug-addicted granddaughter dying:  "If it would bring my granddaughter back, I'd give all [the winnings] back.  But I can't get her back, so might as well keep the money, I guess..." Through it all, it sounds like the money had a more exalted status in his mind even through his grief and mourning; he looked to his wealth as some source of comfort.

Right out of the gate in today's Gospel reading Jesus is pretty upfront: No one can serve two masters.  He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and mammon (mammon is basically goods, or possessions that money can buy). He says that before he goes off in a beautiful, if somewhat idealistic, sermon telling us "not to worry."

Not to worry about our life - what we will eat, drink, wear.  If we focus simply on the "don't worry section" - as beautiful as it is, though, it just seems simplistic - if not impossible for us.

Which is why that first part is so essential.  In laying it down right out of the gate that no - we cannot have it all - we cannot put the goal, the emphasis, the desire of our life in the pursuit of possessions, of things, of wealth alongside our desire to be a child of God.   If we choose the pursuit of worldly things, then the list of worries that Jesus mentions is likely, just ask Jack Whittaker, the man who wished he never bought the lotto ticket.

Choosing to serve God doesn't insulate us from those material concerns, nor does it guarantee a stress free, worry free life.   Sure the grass of the field doesn’t have to worry about how it dresses, but we'd have problems getting a job if we didn’t put a little time, effort and thought into that ourselves.  And as another great preacher pointed out, the beloved parable that Jesus tells of the Good Samaritan– well that Good Samaritan would have little more than pity to offer the victim he finds left in the ditch by robbers if he had no money.

So this isn't about a radical renunciation of all things of this world.
It's about not being possessed by them.  
It's about not being obsessed by them.  

It's about not allowing ourselves to relentlessly go after them and somehow fall into the belief that with just a little more wealth, with just a little more "security," with just a few more possessions... then our worries would be vanquished.

It's about setting our hearts, our souls, our minds, our lives with God at the center.  Letting Him into those fears.  Letting Him direct our pursuits.  Letting Him challenge our desires and purify them to put them at His service and for His glory rather than allowing ourselves to become slaves to our own needs.
               
The Barenaked Ladies in 1991 (Gosh I'm old) had that catchy song "If I had a million dollars" which goes through a whole list of things that they would do if they had a million dollars.  [My favorite line: "If I had a million dollars - I'd buy you a fur coat... (but not a real fur coat, that's cruel) - love that they're politically correct as they go through their lists]   At the end of the song they simply conclude "If I had a million dollars - I'd be rich".  

And they'd be right.  

And that would be it.  

That money is rendered useless in the face of death, in the restlessness of our hearts yearning for love, in the desire of our souls, in our search for meaning.               

Jesus, in inviting us to choose Him, to follow Him, to pursue Him, promises us a fulfillment of our desires by offering us friendship with Him.  Through His words, His miracles, His example - and most of all, through His passion, death and resurrection - Jesus has proved time and time again he is a friend worthy of trust, a friend who, once we possess him, challenges us not to let our bank accounts grow but to let our hearts grow, become more expansive, giving and loving.  A friend who, when the things of the world, when the troubles of our lives weigh us down, stress us out - is there for us.  Is enough for us.  Is all we ever needed, in the first place.

LOVING YOUR ENEMY? IS THAT POSSIBLE?

Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the SEVENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - February 19, 2017 - the readings for today can be found at: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/021917.cfm Thanks as always for reading this blog; for sharing it on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit; and for your feedback and comments. Have a great week & God Bless - Fr Jim



HOMILY:

Back in 2005, a man named Jameel McGee was living in Benton Harbor Michigan. According to him, he was simply minding his business when Police Officer Andrew Collins accused him – and arrested him for dealing drugs. McGee who claimed, as many accused men do, that "it was all made up" eventually was sentenced to prison losing everything that mattered in life to him as he was incarcerated for over four years. Throughout that time, he was fixated on getting out one day and getting some revenge on the cop who locked him up: "My only goal was to seek him when I got home and to hurt him", McGee said. It turns out, Officer Collins was a crooked cop. After an internal investigation, the department discovered that he had indeed falsified reports, even planted evidence in some cases, including McGee’s. Collins lost his job and eventually was sent to jail for a year and a half.

A horrible story. In this day and age where so many good police officers have been tainted by the actions of a few - where there’s so much division and tension among different groups of people and races - this seems perfectly suited to throw another Duraflame log on an already raging fire of anger, distrust, hatred even.

When we think of injustices that we see in the world...

When we think of wrongs that we’ve experienced in our own lives... this Gospel seems completely unreasonable to us. We might want to go so far as to say Jesus, we like the whole turning water into wine thing... Really neat trick... Or those healing stories - awesome - great - those we can all get on board with – but this? Let someone who strikes me on the right cheek smack me again... Give someone who’s taking my tunic my cloak as well? Love our enemies? Come on Man It seems so unreasonable - so unfair. At a very minimum we demand justice – All of a sudden we become fans of the Old Testament - what was wrong with an eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth? Or "loving our neighbors and hating our enemies?"

But Jesus is pretty definitive about this. He’s not so interested in the fact that we as humans can become attached to things that can be broken as easily as stolen (and replaced). He knows that as His Father’s most prized possession - you and I are God’s most prized, precious creation – how bruised and wounded we are through the evil done by others and that our anger, our thirst not simply for justice but retribution can easily turn a loving heart into something quite different. That’s what it means when it is said that - Jesus has come to save us -

he’s come to save us from Sin and Death...

He’s come to save us from the evil that is done to us.

He’s come to save us from the evil that we can become as well.

Because the reality is that potential is all too real for each and everyone of us. The hurts and pains we’ve endured at the hands of others... The anger over the lack of justice whether it’s on some global scale or things happening right in our own lives that could all be legitimate things to be angry about - all of that can change us. And by giving into those feelings, we become what we hate... we allow the thing that has hurt us and inflicted pain on us to be the thing we go to as a source of justice. The Devil is clever, isn’t he?


It’s important to realize though, that Jesus isn’t simply spouting off trite sayings for us to follow when we are faced with trials and struggles. He’s giving us a preview of how He himself will deal with it. How he will endure beatings, how his clothes will be stripped of him and gambled away, how as he lays dying on the cross he will pray "Father forgive them..." In this, Jesus showed that there was nothing, nothing that the darkest, evilest of hearts could perpetrate on him that he would not endure. Knowing that by withholding even the slightest of remarks, resisting staging the meekest of defenses in an arena of such cruelty and injustice would thousands and thousands of years later still confound his followers.

We still marvel at that strength displayed in such seeming weakness.

We are at a loss to comprehend the most bloodless response ever mounted to such an attack.

We cannot deny how it unveiled the greatest victory that has ever taken place in human history in Jesus rising from the dead, destroying death forever.

That doesn’t mean we’re to be punching bags to the abuse of others. Allowing an abusive husband to continue unabated as we "turn the other cheek" - pointing out to a robber ransacking our homes "don’t forget the laptop in my office" all of that would simply enable our disturbed brothers and sisters who are doing these terrible things to continue unchecked, unapologetic - and further endangering their souls. Protecting ourselves, our loved ones - and loving the other to call light to the ways of darkness they’ve embraced isn’t violating what Jesus is saying here. At the core though, Jesus is sensitive to the fact that our longing for "justice" can easily blind us into rage and anger which makes these bad situations worse.

Which brings that horrible story of the innocent man sent to jail by a crooked cop back to mind. It would be hard for us not to argue that McGee the guy who lost 4 years of his life deserves, at the very least, to have a few minutes alone with Collins, the man who set him up. It was something that McGee had wanted during those 4 years of hell - to simply have an opportunity to "get home and hurt him." Even reading the story -my initial reaction was - wait, the innocent guy served 4 years for something he didn’t do and the crooked cop only got a year and a half? Doesn’t he deserve at least the same length of time as the guy he set up?

By sheer coincidence, the two men found themselves face to face - or rather, working, side by side at a coffee house blocks away from where their lives first intersected. They had both gotten employed by the "Mosaic Coffee House" and as CBS news reported, in these close quarters, they had no choice but to "have it out." Collins just went to McGee and said "Honestly, I have no explanation, all I can do is say ‘I’m Sorry.’" McGee said "That was pretty much what I needed to hear." The story goes on to say that today they're not only cordial, they're friends. Such close friends, not long ago McGee actually told Collins he loved him. To which Collins said "... I just started weeping because he doesn't owe me that. I don't deserve that."

Jesus knows all too well how hard this is for us to consider possible. And we have to remember that for McGee and Collins, this was an evolution of over 11 years. McGee shared that it was his Christian faith that made this possible. Adding that he didn’t forgive, or love Collins for his own sake, or Collins sake - but for our sake - for all of mankind. What Jameel McGee illustrates is that all of this is possible - for you and me. It is possible to stop returning hate for hate... It is possible not to let feelings of hurt and anger to continue a slow burn within. It is possible to experience reconciliation with that loved one, that co worker, that neighbor, that friend who we’ve written off. It is possible not to continue facebook or twitter wars over whatever political or social debate is trending today. All of this is possible if we’re in relationship with Jesus Christ. If we know, feel, experience that loving embrace of Christ then we can recognize how he is the only thing that ultimately matters. Then we won’t have room in our hearts for anger because we’ve allowed Jesus to abide there. And with that intimacy, we will authentically and sincerely find true peace, lasting joy; the ability to forgive and yes, even love our enemies.

FR JIM'S VALENTINE'S ADVICE:

Hi everyone, here's my homily for the 6th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - FEBRUARY 12, 2017.  The readings for today's Mass can be found at: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/021217.cfm.  Thanks as always for reading this blog; sharing it on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit - and for all your feedback and comments.  Have a great week - God Bless, Fr Jim


HOMILY:

So this Tuesday is Valentine’s Day. It’s been hard not to notice. The day after Christmas, the CVS drug-store - definitely the place you think of when you think Romance – had already cleared out the Christmas decorations and had boxes and boxes of cards, candy, Stuffed Animals (including my personal favorite, Snoopy) with ‘I love you’ stitched on it. A whole variety of gifts for people to take a moment to express their love for one another. While it’s not just a romantic thing – it’s common to see little kids share "valentine’s" with each other, children with their parents and grandparents to take a moment to say ‘I love you,’ – the greatest amount of stress surrounding this holiday seems to be among guys and girls dating. And call me biased, it seems 100 times worse on the guy side. Women seem instinctually to be more thoughtful, caring and creative.

Ladies, you can call guys boobs, insensitive, whatever - the fact is most guys don’t know how to find the best gift for Valentine’s Day! It can be hard to find the "right" way to express our love. Fortunately for my Mom, a nice card and some flowers suffices... The last Valentine’s Day of major consequence for me was in college. My girlfriend at the time was a classmate of mine who we had been dating for about 3 months (but we had been friends for about a year and a half) Anyway, I knew that she always loved the music from the musical Jesus Christ Superstar and that she had never been to a live theatre production- so when I saw that there was a Broadway production of it touring in Philadelphia (which was about an hour away from where we went to school) and that it was going to be there on Valentines Day, I thought that would be perfect!

$50 a ticket mind you - it’s a lot now, yeah, well back in 1993 and being a poor college student myself - it was a heck of a lot more! I share that not to complain, but as a preface to this next part that, in the light of the 24 years since I might understand a little better why the night didn’t go as well as I had imagined. After $100 on tickets, and knowing the parking, gas, etc was going to be another 30-40 bucks, well I was more than financially tapped out and I just hadn’t planned every detail correctly. So as we’re driving around 5:30/6:00 that evening to the theatre, I realized something important: I was kind of hungry... so I asked my Valentine "Are you hungry?" She said that she was, so being the gentleman I was, I asked her if she had a preference to stop at Burger King or McDonalds. Despite my friends who mocked me later about this, I did not purchase her a "Happy Meal." She had a Big Mac value meal (which I told the woman behind the counter to ‘super-size’ – since it was on me – I know how to treat a lady... I was even willing to splurge on an apple pie, which she had turned down)

Anyway, the show was great, very well done... and I thought that she enjoyed it all, but it wasn’t long after that we broke up. In fact it was less than a week. And in the interest of full disclosure, she broke up with me... citing this night as one reason "this isn’t going to work." Which, ladies, just an F.Y.I. - when you’re breaking up with a guy, telling him he just wasted about $150 on a date night isn’t the most sensitive thing to do... I remember her saying " I did enjoy the evening, but I’m sorry if I don’t find McDonalds for dinner followed by watching Jesus get crucified set to rock music the most romantic thing I would’ve imagined." The next fall I entered the seminary. (Kidding, it was 2 years later...)

It can be hard to find the "right" way to express our love. Not just between boyfriends and girlfriends, husbands and wives, or any of our other human relationships... How do we show our love for God? Is there a Valentine’s Day gift or card that would somehow be able to articulate I Love you Lord?’

If we look at what Jesus is saying in this entire passage from the Gospel of St. Matthew, we find that Jesus is telling us how to love our Heavenly Father. We know that God hates sin... Jesus hates sin. So Jesus tells us how we can demonstrate our love: If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away...if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off... No, there aren’t knives and saws in the back of the Church for us to make this a Valentine’s Day that God (or any of us) would never forget. Fortunately, even the thickest headed of men who loved Jesus – the apostles – realized that Jesus wasn’t looking for them to severely maim themselves.

But Jesus’ is using that to get our attention to something important God had given His people a covenant. He had said to them You will be my people... and I will be your God - and the expectations on God’s part was articulated in the Ten Commandments. By following those ten laws, the Lord had said - His people would demonstrate their faithfulness, their love for Him. But people being people; humans being human we always are looking for shortcuts and loopholes... to do the least that we had to do.

Which is why this Gospel is so real – it almost sounds like Jesus is fired up or being sarcastic: like he’s about to say ‘you think you’re being faithful? You think you’re loving my Father by doing what you’re doing? COME ON. Jesus being fully God and fully human is able to speak even more directly to us: Pointing out the inconsistencies, the loopholes we’ve created. How we fool ourselves into thinking that if we were on trial we could say to God - Well Lord, technically we were following your commands... Technically we never took a gun or a knife and "killed" someone – conveniently forgetting the butcher job we did talking about people... Lord, when did I ever commit adultery – me and the people I fooled around with were never married... And so on.

When we think about it - flowers die, candy is digested, cards - stuffed animals - gifts will fade and be discarded, even a night at the theatre will one day simply be a memory. In light of the fullness of life Jesus wants us to have right here, right now... Remembering the promises Jesus is offering us of the eternal life that is to come, what greater gift can we give to those in our lives that we care about not just on Valentines Day, but every day of our lives than to fall deeper in love with Jesus Christ?

Jesus is trying to help us in that pursuit.  Moving out of living a relationship that is shallow into a loving relationship. Which is why he uses ridiculous extreme examples like cutting off limbs that could cause us to sin to point out how ridiculous we can be. How we can fall into the trap of simply trying to fulfill an obligation rather than truly express our love. Because in the end, the body part that matters the most to Jesus is our hearts – our giving them completely to him, and He truly possessing them...living in them.

IT'S NOT ALL ON YOU - LISTEN AGAIN....

Hi everyone - here's my homily for the FIFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - February 5, 2017.   The readings for today can be found at: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/020517.cfm.  Thanks as always for reading, sharing this blog on Twitter, Facebook and Reddit - and for your feedback and comments.  Appreciate your interest!  Have a great week - Fr Jim


HOMILY:
This past June, a graduate student from London by the name of Sumeja Tulic shared how she had been having difficulty adjusting to life in the United States and in New York City in a story in the NY Times. She described how she was on the one hand enjoying the beautiful weather and the excitement of city life in that late Spring/early Summer (a nice memory in these wintery days of February). Yet now that she was here as a journalism student, she was tuned into the fever pitch of what was one of the most contentious political campaigns we’ve witnessed in our lifetimes (that seems, sadly to have continued almost 3 months after election day) as well as having to study a series of different terrorist attacks globally and here in the US. After a particularly grueling, on a Friday afternoon, she was depressed and discouraged as she made her way to the subway and thought to herself "Please, God, just something nice — I want to see something nice, Enough of this craziness..."


Moments later, after hearing the announcement that the next train was en route and was only two stations away, she noticed this 6-foot tall guy who had been leaning against the pillar waiting for the train, very suddenly collapsing forward onto the train tracks. He had some type of medical episode that caused him to pass out cold and now he was somewhat jammed on the tracks. Suddenly, these different New Yorkers, all of who were pretty oblivious to one another (staring at their phones, lost in their thoughts as we are all prone to do, lest we actually engage a stranger in eye contact or conversation ) heard the dramatic "thump" ran over to see what had happened, and as Tulic describes it, almost instantaneously they were on the tracks.... Trying, futilely to wake him up... another running to try to get help, another trying to run to the end of the platform to try to warn the train conductor of the oncoming train... in the meantime three men were finally able to prop the unconscious man into a seated position, were able to hoist him up and roll him on the platform onto safety. There he was surrounded by his rescuers who held his hand, and kept assuring the man who was slowly regaining consciousness saying "buddy you’re going to be fine." Tulic had recorded the entire event on her phone, which was seen by more than 2 million people, which is what got the attention of the NY Times. As they looked into the story, they learned that one of the men who went onto the tracks, had visited with the stricken man, who had no recollection of being in the subway or of the group of strangers who had gathered to save him.

The student who had prayed looking to see something "nice" reflected on that saying "That is the greatest thing... The infrastructure in this city of millions is the people themselves providing, being there for others. Without even knowing the person, who he is, no matter what denomination he subscribes to. It was beautiful to see." (The full story:  "In a Race to Save a Man on the tracks, a reminder of what's good in the world: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/15/nyregion/in-a-race-to-save-a-man-on-the-tracks-a-reminder-of-whats-good-in-the-world.html?_r=0  )


In quite a dramatic fashion, these nameless individuals not only saved this man’s life, but also demonstrate the importance of being "salt" being "light." If you’re like me, a lot of times when I’ve heard this Gospel passage, I kind of imagine it as a call to Sainthood, a call to Holiness, a call to Greatness that seems out of reach, a pipe dream, a fantasy to me as a mere mortals... The part of us that knows we are supposed to want to be like Mother Teresa, supposed to be selfless, loving, bold - to show the world the beauty, the power, the love that the Gospels call us to in a way that captivates and transforms the world. But then our sinfulness, our listening to the voice of the evil one who wishes to diminish and discourage us (by reminding us of our sinfulness, our limitations) kind of makes that seem if not impossible at least seemingly really, really out of reach.

Part of the problem with that mentality isn't just that we dismiss outright the possibility of our being holy - but also that we kind of take too much on ourselves.  As if to say, we have to change the world, we have to save the world ourselves - forgetting Jesus has already done that! 

If we look at it a bit closer, Jesus isn’t directing these words to people as individuals. This isn’t an individual call. He addressed these words to his disciples - to all of them... to all of us. The call to be salt of the earth, the call to be light for the world is what we are to do together as His disciples. That’s what we as Christians collectively are meant to do. Transform the world - being salt to the blandness of the world, bringing light to the darkness we see. That’s why we see the Church being so vocal about the right to life for every human being from conception to natural death. That’s why you hear the Bishops speaking out in support of refugees and the need for our government to not allow fear to blind us to the needs of those most vulnerable. That’s why in both of those examples you don’t just hear talk on those issues, but you see the Church involved in creating homes for mothers who have no one to care for them and were contemplating abortion – as well as setting up homes for refugees here in our own state and communities all the way to the Vatican itself.


Jesus is charging us collectively to work together to transform the world. That’s why that story of the poor man collapsing on the tracks came to mind. There was a lot of individual heroic acts - but it was a collective effort that saved that one man, and inspired and moved countless millions who have heard that story. The same is true of the Church. From Jesus’ first instructions to his disciples about caring for the poor, the sick, the prisoner, the dying - that caused a major shift in the entire world. Up until then, they would isolate those individuals who fell into those categories as somehow being divinely punished and needing to be kept away from (lest we somehow become unclean by being in contact with them). Jesus turns it around completely and tells us that we would encounter Him, we would find His face in these very individuals. That we as a Church, have a responsibility to care for them. We as members of the Church have to see them and love them as beloved brothers and sisters.

May each of us as members of His Church do our part - flavoring, brightening this world of ours - into the kingdom Christ envisions us to create.