TWITTER, BIZ STONE & LIMITED VISION

Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the FOURTH SUNDAY OF LENT - March 26, 2017. The readings for today can be found at http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/032617.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.  Thanks and have a great week! God Bless - Fr. Jim


HOMILY:

Whether you tweet or not, you probably have heard of Twitter... But more than likely few of you would recognize the name "Biz Stone." Biz Stone and two of his friends were the inventors of Twitter. Back in 2006 they recognized the number of people who have cell-phones had skyrocketed beyond anyone’s imaginations - and thought "imagine if we can create a social networking thing that people could use on their cell phones through text messaging. That’s why twitter is only 140 character messages so that you can send it over text message. Well you guys know the rest of the story (and are helping to write it) The phenomenon of it is only growing. Reportedly, it generates two and half billion dollars a year in revenue... over 100 million users post over 342 million tweets a day.

What’s amazing though is when you hear parts of Biz Stone’s life story it’s hard to imagine him being in this position. He grew up in a very poor area of Boston. His father abandoned his family when he was 10, battled substance abuse, and went on to father brothers and sisters that Biz doesn’t even know. In an interview, Biz shared a particularly sad story how several years ago he saw his dad, and the man didn’t realize that Biz was his son. As a result, Biz himself struggled through his formative years... He dropped out of two universities after attending each of them for a year each. He said that he was amazed that he was even able to land a job a few years ago at Google which he attributes more because a good friend of his worked there than because of his background or qualifications. Eventually he would leave that company with two buddies to create Twitter.


With all the obstacles, all the challenges, all the problems, it’s hard for many people to believe how Biz Stone’s story has turned out the way it did. He shares how many of his family and friends seem pretty surprised by it, even to this day... Asked in another interview whether his mother is proud of her son’s success, he replied: "I think so but she’s more the type to complain and point out flaws."

Often times when we hear a background like this, when we hear all of that brokenness, we fall into the same mistake that a majority of the people in today’s Gospel have: limited vision. Not daring to see or imagining things can be different for ourselves. Not believing things could change for someone else... Not realizing how we’ve confined God to a box of our creation.

In this Gospel, we hear a miracle story - this man who has been blind from birth is blessed with the gift of sight after this encounter with Jesus. But if we think about it - the bulk of the story is about all the outside characters who have limited vision. They put the blind man, each other, and God in a box.

Think about all of that back and forth -- at how the conversations go - "Why is he blind?" - Well he must’ve sinned or his parents did. Well now he’s cured - that’s not really the blind man, is it? No it just looks like him. NO IT IS HIM. Really? I don’t believe that, get his parents - ask them... The parents arrive and confirm he’s their son, but even they don’t know what to make of it "we don’t know how he sees nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him, he is of age, he can speak for himself." Even the blind guy now seeing is a bit cautious... he gives the very basic facts "that guy Jesus made clay, anointed my eyes, said go wash up in that pool and I did..." Why all the hesitation? Well the Pharisees had already had been frustrated with Jesus for doing things like this, curing people on the Sabbath which was technically against the commandments. So the Pharisees argue he can’t be from God. After all this back and forth the blind man argues - look I can’t say that he’s a sinner, I can’t say he’s not from God... [HOWS THAT FOR A RINGING ENDORSEMENT? JESUS HEALS THE GUY AND THAT’S THE BEST HE CAN SAY– HE’S NOT A SINNER?] The guy goes on All I can say is that I was blind, now I can see. It’s almost like the guy doesn’t want to be bothered anymore, he basically asks his interrogators Why are you hassling me as he asks them - Do you want to follow him? At that the Pharisees are done. They are know what they know: God spoke to Moses... They learned to keep holy the Sabbath from Him, Jesus is doing stuff he shouldn’t be doing on the Sabbath - so they don’t know where Jesus is from. Because He did this on the Sabbath, he must be a sinner and God doesn’t listen to sinners...

A nice little box they have there.

It’s easy for us to be critical of the characters in the Gospel - But as we hear this on this 4th Sunday of Lent we're meant to ask ourselves - how limited are our visions? Often times we don’t even realize how narrow our views have become – we’ve gotten into such a narrow view of who we are, who someone else is, who God is, or what’s possible when we let Jesus into our lives. Like the people in the Gospel, we allow ourselves to be trapped into these diminished limited roles:

- The guy who’s been blind since birth, probably thought he’s supposed to remain that way... that’s all he’s known, so nothing is going to change that.

- Most of the people in the Gospel had assumed that the blind man or his parent’s did something wrong for this to happen, so the whole family has been living with this cloud of shame for years.

- When Jesus Christ is able to do something incredibly miraculous, something that should have brought rejoicing and wonder and awe, look what happens. The parent’s who had already lived with this messed up belief that someone in their house must have done something wrong that caused their son to be blind - an accusation they believe because of some of these people from the temple – are now scared because of this healing they might be thrown out and rejected from that very temple!   How messed up is that???

Because Jesus didn’t do things the way "He was supposed to," because He didn’t conform to their understanding or expectations,- the Pharisees go for broke, they say he must not be of God. What’s so sad is that with these reactions, only one man’s sight is restored. The rest of this man’s family, the rest of this town miss the opportunity to have their lives changed by having their vision corrected by Jesus Christ.

We live In a world that is overly cynical, distrustful of anyone or anything. Biz Stone could have easily allowed all the negatives in his life to be an excuse to opt out of even trying to do something meaningful with his life and blame his father, his surroundings, everything around him for a limited and diminished existence rather than becoming the founder of something that has changed our culture yet again...

For you and I we might not even realize how blind we’ve become – to who we are...to what it is that blinds us, to what it is that diminishes us... blind to the sins that cripple us... to the lies that we’ve believed about ourselves because of those sins that trap us into thinking there’s nothing we can do - nothing’s going to change... Blind to how Jesus is among us, how he wants to save us – not just for eternity, but here and now. How Jesus wants us to experience miracles... unexplained, unexpected, life altering miracles where God blesses us with a new vision, a new perspective.  That enables us to see past the limited existence we experience now into a life we could have never imagined possible.

You can tweet this (and it’s under 140 characters so it will fit:) God never stops trying, we do... If we continue to have a limited vision of God, then his activity in our lives will remain limited.

EVERYBODY LOVES... JOSEPH

Happy Feast day of ST. JOSEPH - Foster Father of the Son of God, Protector of the Universal Church! Here is my homily that I delivered given at the 28th annual St. Joseph’s Novena -St. Agnes Church, Clark (this past Wednesday March 15th) and the 17th Annual St. Joseph’s Novena - Our Lady of Lourdes Church in West Orange (this past Saturday March 18th)



HOMILY:

It’s always great to be home - which is what St. Agnes is to me - and for something that is so special to my heart - this devotion to St. Joseph, which I was first taught here 28 years ago by Fr. Marcone. It’s hard to believe it’s that long ago! I want to thank Fr. Cohan for his kind invitation to be here for this St. Agnes tradition. But before I thank him too much, when he gave me the topic for tonight I almost did a "Uhm... wait a second... maybe I’m not available that night after all."

St. Joseph, protector of the Universal Church.

It’s an awesome sounding title... Of all the ones that we pray as we go through the litany, that’s definitely one if you had a choice over you would probably pick over some others (like Patron of the dying).

But for many of you who’ve made this novena in years past have probably heard drilled into your heads - there’s not a ton of scriptural mentions for St. Joseph (only 15 to be exact) - and in those, scripture doesn’t have him speaking any words. So that makes things even more challenging in trying to understand how do we get to this place of devotion where we refer to St. Joseph as protector of the Universal Church.

What finally helped me to understand this complex Catholic, theological, devotional concept - was a rerun of Everybody Loves Raymond - you know that fantastic sitcom from a few years ago that’s still on TV in syndication on cable. You can ask my mother, if I’m channel surfing and stumble on that show, even though I’ve seen every episode multiple times, I can’t turn away. They say "art imitate life" - well Raymond and the Barone clan definitely imitates Jim and the Chern family. Don’t worry mom, no family secrets tonight.

Anyway, the episode I stumbled upon has Ray, the Italian-American, sarcastic, sportswriter being awarded an Honorary Doctorate from his alma matter. After the initial excitement and pride from his wife Debra; the family dynamics quickly turn this notable achievement into a source of controversy. His NYPD cop brother Robert is jealous of "Doctor" Barone. His father Frank tries to feign some pride... His overbearing mother beams with excitement... and as the big day approaches where he is to receive the award, he gets more and more worried about the speech he has to make - to the point that he almost turns down the award because he’s so worried about speaking in public. But Debra keeps encouraging him - and the big day arrives, and the whole family goes - and he gets the diploma (which he gives to his mother since he figures she would want it for bragging rights more than he would) - and in his speech he mentions his family, talks about his father Frank, and brother Robert and thanks his mother Marie. And... forgets Debra. As soon as it’s brought to his attention by Robert’s girlfriend Amy - the usual sarcastic, jokey Ray becomes obviously ashamed at the oversight... and after trying to figure out some way to make it up to his long-suffering wife - he writes about her in his sports column...

"I'm often asked by people who want to be sportswriters, 'How did you get started?' And I understand this question, because of all the plum jobs, I've got the plummest. And it's a fair question to ask me, because I am, after all, mostly qualified to do something like deliver futons.

So, how did I get here? You see, there was this futon-delivery guy, and he met a beautiful woman. And even though she was way out of his league, for some unknown reason, she smiled at him. Eventually, and even more amazingly, she married him. And it turns out that when one of your dreams comes true, you begin to take the others a little more seriously.

So, even though I'm as amazed as anybody that I have any success at all, I'm pretty sure it all started with my wife Debra's smile."

What made me think of St. Joseph when watching this rerun I’ve seen at least a dozen times was that it reminded me of the beautiful fruits when marriage works. That the couple’s goal, and aim is to help each other get into heaven - so in the process, they work through the rough parts and hopefully bring out the best parts in one another.

When we first meet Joseph in the scriptures, he was already identified as a "just" and "righteous" man - terms that carry a lot of weight in scripture (which rarely uses those words for anyone other than God himself). He was of the lineage of David, the great King of Israel. So you can easily appreciate that this was a good, faithful, hard working Jewish man - who one day met a beautiful woman who was also way out of his league (being born without sin kind of redefines that category) - and more than likely she smiled at him as well.


This was a couple who had their own love story, their own dreams... Joseph the carpenter probably imaging a son to follow him in the trade... maybe a daughter that would remind him of the woman who captured his heart... And all of a sudden, things shifted in an unexpected way. Mary has an angelic visitor. She is to become the mother of God. Joseph in what had to have been a confused perhaps even broken hearted place accepts this thinking that somehow he is excluded from this divine event - when in a dream he is given new dreams - a new vision of what his life will be. He is told "do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.  She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." (Matt 1: 20-21)

In that, Joseph became the protector of Mary his wife, and Jesus, his foster son. Saving Mary from the shame and whispers of a society that would not understand (or care to) how she had become pregnant in this most unique of experiences... Saving Mary and Jesus from the threats of the maniacal Herod who upon hearing of the birth of the "King of the Jews" and unable to find him after the Magi skip town - slaughtered every male child who were two years old and younger - as Joseph takes his family to Egypt... Who when Jesus is "lost" in the temple, searches desperately with his wife Mary for three days.

In all of those ways, Joseph demonstrated he wasn’t simply a figure head. He wasn’t some man who lived with this terrible secret that the son of Mary was not his son - so it wasn’t his problem. He wasn’t some bystander figuring that the same angel who greeted Mary and visited Joseph in his dreams would take care of everything. His love of Mary - their mutual love for each other - enabled Joseph to do things he never imagined for himself . He truly became their protectors while on earth.

And as Catholics we believe that our connection with our loved ones doesn’t end here. That our loved ones continue to care, and pray for us. So it would be for St. Joseph... his love for his wife and his child would continue after his death. And the Church, which is the body of Christ, still looks to St. Joseph to intercede, to pray for us - to protect us from the trials, the scandals, the failures, the attacks that continue. Knowing that as Mary captured his heart, that forever changed him to want to continue to care and love for the things that Mary and Jesus cared and loved.

As we continue this annual novena - coming to a deeper love and understanding of this special man; seeing how God worked in his life and how Joseph responded to those movements; and yes, asking Joseph’s prayers for our many needs and intentions, may we do so with trust and confidence knowing that his relationship to us was born out of that love that he had for his wife Mary...

But may we also make room in our lists of prayers to continue to ask him to serve us as Protector of the Church. That as we face numerous challenges both from within as well as from outside, that St. Joseph may protect us from any threat as He protected Mary and Jesus from Herod; that He will inspire the Church to search for Christ when we lose sight of Him, just as He and Mary searched for Him in those days when he was "lost in the temple"; that he will pray for the us, the Church - that we remain faithful to Christ as He remained faithful to Mary and Jesus.

"THAT WOMAN"

Hi everyone, here's my  homily for the THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT - MARCH 19, 2017.  The readings for today can be found at http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/031917.cfm.  Thanks as always for stopping by to read this blog; sharing it on Facebook, Twitter & Reddit; and for your feedback and comments.  Have a great week!  God Bless - Fr Jim

HOMILY:

Over a year ago, I saw this article that really struck me - but that I was afraid to use because of the political overtones to it. Overtones that post-election I thought would have abated by now. But... well... anyway. That reality aside, the story is almost too important not to share. It’s about Monica Lewinsky.

For many of you (college students) you were probably 4 years old when this young woman became the center of attention, an international story. For those of you not aware, quite simply, she had an adulterous affair with President Bill Clinton (while she was an intern at the White House). After some press seemed to sit on that story, a few websites got a hold of it and published it online. Thereby this became arguably the first "internet" "viral" thing (remember this was in the early days of the internet... no facebook or social media...). While eventually President Clinton would be impeached for this whole affair, something that is rarely mentioned when discussing his legacy - for Lewinsky, her life in many ways has been solely defined and reduced to this sad episode. She had to give graphic testimony about the affair to a grand jury - after the President went on television and called her a liar denying he "ever had sexual relations" with "that woman." Here was a wide-eyed, naivete, young woman in her 20's who had gone from basically anonymous to enamored by a very powerful man who was attracted to her to a headline story. 

She describes it like this: "Overnight, I went from being a completely private figure to a publicly humiliated one worldwide. Granted, it was before social media, but people could still comment online, email stories, and, of course, email cruel jokes. I was branded as a tramp, tart, slut, whore, bimbo, and, of course, ‘that woman’. It was easy to forget that ‘that woman’ was dimensional, had a soul, and was once unbroken."


I must admit, having lived through this era, and having to hear and read chapter and verse way too many sordid and disturbing details about this episode, to my shame I must confess, I rarely had thought much about Monica Lewinsky other than somehow being connected to this really awful chapter of Presidential history. Reading this interview where she described the whole ordeal as "[feeling] like every layer of my skin and my identity were ripped off of me in ’98 and ’99. . . It [was] a skinning of sorts. You feel incredibly raw and frightened. But I also feel like the shame sticks to you like tar," really was a revelation for me.  (the full article:  https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/apr/16/monica-lewinsky-shame-sticks-like-tar-jon-ronson )

Feminists, politicians, psychologists, columnists can all pick Monica Lewinsky apart – in fact, they have and continue to do so all these decades later. What was surprising, even in the divisive political circles where one side would support their President and try to spin this as no big deal, a "private indiscretion" and the other side saw this as a way to oust a political foe - it seemed no one defended Lewinsky... and both sides treated her cruelly in their own ways.

For most people, their indiscretions, their mistakes, their failures, their sins - are things that they try to forget about; ignore; hide. Imagine those indiscretions, mistakes, failures, sins being known by the entire world. Imagine the lack of understanding, the lack of compassion, the ridicule, the shame being intensified... Late night comucs using your name as a joke. The more I read her article, - particularly when she talked about how she contemplated suicide and longed for anonymity - the more ashamed I was of myself for ever having laughed at a joke about her...

And even more, I began to appreciate this Gospel even more.

Because in it, the Samaritan Woman is suffering a similar fate. Here is another person who was probably called "that woman" as well as all those other awful, gross labels that were attached to Ms. Lewinsky. Here we meet another woman who felt the public scorn, the ridicule - so much so that she punishes herself to go and perform these normal, everyday chores - drawing water from the well - at the hottest time of day, when she knows it’s the least likely time she’ll have to bump into anyone who knows her, who mocks her and judges her. She’s resigned herself to a life of isolation from the world - after being hurt and experiencing brokenness that few understand (or even care to) where 5 marriages have ended and now she’s with another man who isn’t even her husband.

Why this story is so important for us this Third Sunday of Lent, is it gives us a chance to recognize important truths. One, that we’re no better than anyone else. Of all the beautiful, newsworthy, important, even controversial things Pope Francis has said - probably the most memorable in his 4 years as Pope was when he responded to the question "Who are you" as "I am a sinner." Some treated this as if it was breaking news. But the honest reflection of every single Christian ultimately has to begin with that truth. "I am a sinner." That is the reason we took time out of our schedules two and a half weeks ago and put dirty-ashen-crosses on our foreheads. Not to boast "Hey I’m Proud to be Catholic"... but rather the complete opposite. In humility, to acknowledge "I am a sinner."

But the second truth, the even more beautiful and more urgent one after that first one - is how desperately Jesus longs for us to turn to Him. He goes to this extreme length in this passage, to reach out to a sinner - defying cultural customs, religious traditions, every possible level of protocol that you could imagine (Jesus a Jewish Man speaking to a Samaritan Woman... it just didn’t happen) because He longs for every single person’s heart and soul. He knows how intentionally His Father, Our Father, worked to imagine and create each heart and soul. The Samaritan woman’s, Ms. Lewinsky’s, yours... mine.... And despite whatever messes we find ourselves in... despite how awful, and ashamed, and even lost we might feel (or the world around us tells us we are) God stepped out of eternity, into our world, and comes and meets us right there, as we try to hide our shame, hide ourselves. And He comes to say I love you... I have not forgotten you... You are not unlovable... You are not unforgivable... You were made for more than this...

There is nothing that we can do to stop God from loving us.

I was happy to read that Monica Lewinsky has turned her painful experiences into something positive... Trying to raise awareness on"internet shaming"; being an advocate against cyber-bullying. But I’m saddened to hear how she still encounters hostility, still is lampooned and that often times it causes anxiety, and other painful reactions emotionally and even physically. I hope and pray that somehow she too can experience the Love of our God - that she realizes she is a beloved daughter, made in His divine image - and that no one has the right to diminish that dignity. There is nothing that we can do to stop God from loving us. There is nothing we can do that will make Him ashamed of us.

More than anything else we do this Lent - all the great Lenten practices and disciplines that we participate in (not eating meat on Fridays, giving something up), the thing Jesus longs for the most - is for each of us to take time to truly own up to our sins, and experience his Love and Mercy and forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. So that we too can experience that joy of encounter that this Samaritan woman did... who drops her water jar, runs into town and shares the Good News - that she has met the Christ - with the very people she was too embarrassed to even talk to before. Something inside of her changed, and it made her stronger, made her braver, made her hold her head up, freed from her sins... once she came to realize for herself that There is nothing we can do to stop God from loving us. This Lent, may we be brave enough, humble enough, like the Samaritan woman to let Him and then to love Him back.

ITS SCARY TO TAKE THE LORD SERIOUSLY

Hi everyone, here's my homily for the SECOND SUNDAY OF LENT - MARCH 12, 2017.  The readings for today can be found at: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/031217.cfm.  Thanks as always for reading and sharing this on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit - and for all your feedback and comments.  Have a great week!  Fr Jim

HOMILY:
In all the Academy Awards drama of a few weeks ago - where La La Land won the Best Picture of the Year - and then didn’t... the other films nominated in that category kind of got forgotten about, including Hacksaw Ridge. Which sadly many dismissed as simply "that Mel Gibson film;" or another World War II drama - which might have people thinking they’ve already seen enough on that subject. Which is a shame, because it tells a most unique story about Desmond Doss, a Christian who because of his devout beliefs in the 10 commandments, (specifically, thou shalt not kill) refuses to carry a weapon or firearm of any kind. Despite that belief, he enlists in the army - hoping to serve as a combat medic. He endures harassment of fellow soldiers for refusing to handle a rifle or to train on the Sabbath. He is arrested for insubordination for refusing to carry a fire arm (charges which are eventually dismissed and he is able to continue to serve) You’d think that a guy who has such strong beliefs wouldn’t have bothered enlisting. Or that if he felt as strongly about his patriotic duty, that he would need to evaluate his beliefs in a different way. For example, There’s hundreds of thousands of brave soldiers, including many devout Christians, who struggled with that same issue - but recognizing the evil that the world was facing and the threat this evil was posing as it was spreading - how it needed to be faced with deadly means in order to protect many other innocent lives.

But the thing about Desmond Doss was that earlier in his life, he had almost killed his brother - and that experience, united with his religious upbringing was changed him. He felt in his heart that the Lord was asking him to take His words His commandments more seriously. Which made things even more awkward, difficult, tense for him. While some talked about this film as being "anti-war" or "pacifist" - those really are a bit too narrow and incomplete. In a sense, those types of characterizations even make a story like this a bit safe for us. Because at the heart of this story, what Desomond Doss demonstrates is that - When we take the Lord’s words seriously - it can be scary. Really scary.

That’s as true today as it is for the apostles in today’s Gospel. 

Six days prior to this scene we just heard, where Jesus is transfigured before them, the Lord had explained to them what was going to happen next. They were heading back to Jerusalem where he was going to be rejected, tortured and killed. When Peter attempted to offer Him support saying "NAH - THAT CAN’T HAPPEN - WE WON’T LET IT," Jesus who sees and knows their hearts rejects those noble, (but in the end what he knows to be empty sentiments) and calls Peter "Satan" and tells him not to be an obstacle in fulfilling God’s mission which is Jesus’ saving humanity. 

Fast forward to today’s Gospel. It’s a week later, Jesus brings Peter, James and John to this mountain where all these amazing things happen. He’s "transfigured" - or in other words - He appears in this glorious form – feebly defined with human words like "radiant," "shining like the sun," "white as light".  Oh, and by the way - Moses and Elijah - two of the greatest Jewish figures from the Old Testament appear. That had to have been a major WOW moment for the apostles.  It’s so amazing, they don’t want it to end... "Let’s stay here - let’s build tents," Peter says. 

Just then, the voice of God the Father is heard THIS IS MY BELOVED SON, LISTEN TO HIM.  And here’s what’s interesting – they go from excitement to terror.  The Gospel says, "They fell prostrate and were very afraid". What was it that made them so scared? Sure, we can imagine they felt reverence for the Creator of the universe speaking and that would inspire what is often called "fear of the Lord." But it was more than"reverence" - they were on the ground very afraid (images of cartoon characters with their teeth chattering outside of their mouths seem to come to mind).  Why would the voice of God make something so awesome and exhilarating, into something so frightening. I think that beyond the fact that this overwhelmed them on so many levels, it was what they heard from the Father that scared them. 

Here the apostles had been seeing, experiencing Jesus doing and saying things that 2,000 years later we treasure. Like the apostles, we want to stick with those good things. "Wasn’t it cool when Jesus turned water into wine..." (Have a feeling that would be an extremely popular miracle even today) - or healed the leper, made a blind man see... But when Jesus talks about other things - like calling his followers to deeper conversion, deeper commitment; like when he tries to prepare them for His impending passion and death... then there’s often times debate, confusion, disbelief, even rejection on the part of humanity. 

So, maybe the fear that gripped the apostles was the reality that - yeah this IS GOD and they had to take what he was saying seriously. 

They had to stop rationalizing things in their minds, trying to figure out what the Lord meant, what loopholes they could apply. 

They had to stop focusing just on the things they liked to hear and experience, and really listen to Him. 

And if they truly listen to Him, then,

- those words were calling them to stop living with their minds focused on this world,

- those words were calling them to turn away from sin - not in a "yeah I know it’s a bad thing" that is said with a shrug saying "what can you do..." but truly to take sin seriously and to hear his words telling us to turn away from them are a matter of life and death...

- those words were calling them to truly empty themselves - give themselves completely to the Lord

all of those words have to be listened to... Have to be heard. Have to be followed.

Maybe the fear that laid them out on the ground terrified was remembering what Jesus had told them days earlier. When Jesus told them what He would face in Jerusalem really was going to happen. Jesus was serious about it and was asking them to come, to continue to follow with Him.

When we take the Lord’s words seriously, it can become really scary.

Yet one of the things that makes this version of the transfiguration so beautiful is how St. Matthew recounts it.  As the disciples remain somewhat frozen in fear, we hear, Jesus came and touched them, saying ‘Rise and do not be afraid.’ And when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone. 

Looking into the eyes of Jesus, and Him alone, they found the strength they needed to get up... To continue on with Him to Jerusalem. And when they would fail as they would continue to do in their journey with Jesus – stumbling even after Easter, after the Ascension – it would always be (and still is) in turning their eyes back to Jesus alone in those moments that would remove the fears, the doubts, the lies that have the ability to convince his followers that they cannot do whatever it is the Lord calls us to do.

For Desmond Doss - his patriotism, his courage, and his faith would make him not only the subject of an amazing film - but ultimately, an inspiration to his fellow soldiers - not to mention a hero (the details of which I’ll leave out so as not to spoil the film). But suffice it to say, he was the first conscientious objector to ever have been awarded the Medal of Honor for service above and beyond the call of duty by President Harry S. Truman - demonstrating a most unique brand of patriotism and faith that people, decades later, still marvel at. Yes, listening to the words of the Lord was difficult in every sense of the word - and scary for Desmond... but his faith helped him save many lives and inspire, confound and challenge countless others.

For you and I, it can be scary when we take the Lord’s words seriously. We are surrounded by voices, influences, people who, whether they intentionally mean to or not, constantly stoke those fears and doubts.  Yet, we hear the Lord calling us this Lent to change, to conversion.  Maybe to confront a sin that we’ve become comfortable with.  Maybe it’s to honestly admit our powerlessness in the face of an addiction we’re struggling with and tell ourselves "I’m never going to be able to be able to combat that."  Maybe it’s a call into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ and realizing that in order for that to happen, I can’t live the same way, do the same things, be with the same people because they distract me from being with Him and listening to Him.

What the disciples found on the mountain of Transfiguration and Desmond Doss found is that it’s okay for us to have our fears. It’s human, normal for us, when we know we’re being challenged to grow and change, for us to resist.  But the reality is, we are left with two choices - to stay on the ground like the apostles riddled with fear, or to hear the Lord invite us to ‘RISE AND DO NOT BE AFRAID’ and take those words seriously...

TEMPTATION - We're not so different from Jesus

Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT - March 5, 2017. The readings for today can be found at: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/030517.cfm  Thanks as always for reading, sharing on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit - and for your feedback and comments. Hope you have a great week and a Holy Lent - Fr Jim


HOMILY


So you’ve got a term paper to do. Isn’t the internet great? Say you’re writing a term paper on Catholicism. As you lounge out on the couch watching The Walking Dead or The Big Bang Theory (hopefully the latter, not the former) – nowadays you’re free from the confines of having to scour the library for a book, or a document during the hours they’ve set. You don’t have to worry that some other person has taken out that book you needed before you got there. Nope, from the comfort of your couch - during the commercials - you can simply log onto the Vatican website; get any document the church wrote - you can check the citations or the different references with a point and a click of your mouse... It’s all right there... Then a voice seems to suggest are there really sites that will just write a paper for you? A quick google search and low and behold 20 different web sites pop up (how convenient). The commercials are done, your program’s back on and then the thought comes what’s the difference - what is this paper about Catholicism going to do for me anyway? And everybody does it - and the professor, they don’t even read the stupid thing. And low and behold - it’s time to turn a stone into bread...

Or - you get involved with a good cause... You’re helping raise funds for someone who’s sick with cancer. You set up the go fund me page... You’ve shared it on facebook and twitter. You’ve raised the goal that you want to reach three times already! All of a sudden you’re thinking "I hope so and so knows what I’ve done for them. I mean, I gave up all this time, and I’ve put in so much energy. I hope they appreciate all of this - I don’t see all these other so called friends doing what I’ve done... and wow - before you know it -make sure you’re the one the angels hoist on their shoulders...

Or - you hear something really unfair or unjust being said about a colleague or a neighbor. You’re not really close to the person, but you know these rumors, this gossip is most likely false and definitely not charitable. You’re about to defend the person... stand up for them when a voice says "hey, isn’t this that person’s problem... You’re not even friends with them.... You know that if you say something against the group think mentality here, people may turn on you next... and most likely these people aren’t going to stop saying it, they’re just not going to say it in front of me and probably talk about me as well. Forget it - keep your head down - your mouth shut - and your own little kingdom intact...

Today’s Gospel reading, this first Sunday of Lent, we always hear an account of Jesus being tempted by Satan in the desert from one of the Gospels. And there always seems like there’s a disconnect inside of us with this Gospel. Some national polls on people’s religious beliefs have said that while a great majority of people believe in God, a lot less believe the devil exists and even fewer are convinced he actually tempts us. With those statistics, its hard to conjur up an image of Satan sparring with Jesus.

But the reality is - we have all have heard the devils voice.

We’ve experienced different ways, different takes on those same temptations Jesus faced:

Jesus is fasting in the desert so he’s hungry and he’s tempted turn those stones into bread - haven’t we been faced with the temptation to find the easy way out?
Jesus is on the height of the temple, will Jesus prove to everyone how important He is - illustrate Who he is by jumping and watching the Angels hoist him from plummeting to the earth? That’s not too different from the temptation we’re faced with each time we want to prove our importance - maybe not expecting an angel to hoist us up, but willing to knock down anyone who gets in our way;

Or the final temptation - Satan says to Jesus, you can become king right now of the whole world - you don’t have to worry about saving the world, that whole Passion and Death thing - just worship me...you and I know in our heart of hearts how often we give into the temptation to make sure we take care of ourselves and our little kingdoms regardless of the world around us.

The Gospel today challenges us to move beyond seeing yet another example of how Jesus will always defeat Satan; beyond affirming that Good will always beat Evil... And instead raises questions for us at the start of Lent - when I make decisions, small decisions, big ones - the things of daily life - where’s God in this - what are the things influencing me one way or the other... What choices do I make and why? Can I recognize the voice of the Devil tempting me and resist those temptations? If I’ve failed in that regard, can I humble myself and go and make a good complete confession?

This Lent, we look to Jesus - and as we see how he struggles with the choices Satan lays before Him, we begin to recognize how we struggle with that same voice and those same choices. Do we respond as Jesus did? Will we be faithful to our Ash Wednesday call to "Turn away from Sin and be faithful to the Gospel?"