Hi everyone – here’s my homily for the 23rd SUNDAY OF THE ORDINARY TIME – SEPT 7, 2014. The readings for today can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/090714.cfm Thanks as always for reading, sharing it on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, etc. and your feedback. God Bless – Fr. Jim
For those of you who are Freshmen and living on campus, I was trying to put myself back in your shoes… Trying to remember what it was like back in August of 1991 when I left my home in Clark NJ – which is the southern part of North Jersey (Just to clarify since for some on campus there’s confusion – there’s no Central Jersey) driving out to Allentown College of St. Francis De Sales (which is now called DeSales University). Of all the nerve-wracking, challenging things I faced moving away from home and leaving the safety of my loving parents – was meeting my roommate. Mind you – this was before Facebook (even before Myspace… even before Email) So the only information I had about the guy was getting a card in the mail that had his name, address and phone number and then having a few phone conversations over the summer.
He sounded like a decent guy on the phone. We joked about different sports teams…that’s what real men do, you know. He was from an Italian family too, so it seemed like we would get along. But it still made me a nervous wreck … arriving on campus, getting to the dorm, finding the room, walking in and meeting the guy for the first time who you were going to be rooming with for the next year. There were so many fears. What if we didn’t get along? What if he was weird? I was always told that you never really know someone until you live with them. I wasn’t sure at that point if I really wanted to know him. But I felt we both tried in fact those first days we were working over-time to be understanding of one another: “You want that bed? Sure… that’s fine…” “We’re only allowed one refrigerator in the room – let’s buy one and split the cost.” We tried to work around each other’s sleep schedules, shower schedules. Things seemed to be going okay. It wasn’t perfect, and I knew that was part of the whole thing about living away was dealing with those “imperfections.” I was relieved he wasn’t a mass murderer on the run. So anything else was doable.
For example Chris liked to go to bed early. By early I mean 10 PM lights out. It was true, we both had early morning classes – we had the typical, terrible Freshmen schedule – meaning all the upper classmen had filled up the late morning/afternoon classes so we were stuck with 8 AM classes 5 days a week. But there was no way I was ready to go to bed that early – even if it was good for me. I wanted to hang out with friends – go to the Diner at midnight and eat cheese-fries and gravy (as a 40 year old I shudder to think about attempting to do that now… nor do I want to talk about the 30lbs I gained that year) Anyway, it was a bit of a challenge that basically I would have to leave my room by 9:45 pm every night and hang out somewhere else till I was ready to go to bed; then fumble my way around the room whenever I would get back in darkness; try to get in and out of the bathroom (which was near his bed) without making any noise.
A few weeks into the semester, I came in around 12:30. I was tiptoeing, using the sink (which was in our rooms) in the dark and all of a sudden I hear Chris just start cussing at me as he turned over in his bed. (Which obviously I can’t repeat what he said here) I think I said “excuse me?” (Something like that) and he mumbled a few more choice words as he turned again and then seemingly went back to sleep. I was ticked. I mean really perturbed. I was so angry that I stormed out of the room (slamming the door of course) and went down to one of the Television lounges and stewed for awhile. Barely got any sleep that night.
Next day, I got up, and took off for breakfast without Chris, thinking “that’ll show him that he can’t treat me that way.” I huddled with what I considered “real friends” and unleashed to them about what happened to me. “The guy’s a lunatic – he thinks we’re in West Point and that it’s got to be 10 pm lights out … no exceptions.” To justify my anger and play the total victim role even more I added “Then I’ve been trying to be respectful of the guy and all and what does he do? He cusses me out for brushing my teeth? Is he for real?” Of course my friends – being the good friends that they were – totally supported me. They probably threw a few more “dura-flame logs” onto a blazing fire – reminding me of other things that annoyed me about Chris – that I got more and more ticked off. So for the next couple of days I kept my distance. I knew what his class schedule was so I was able to avoid him, dodge him and blew him off a few times for at least three days.
By Thursday afternoon, we both happened to be in the room at the same time and he said to me “Jim are you angry about something… did I do something?” I was almost stunned by his arrogance even asking the question “Do something! Are you for real? Yeah you can say that… you rip into me because I happened to wake you up Sunday night, you cursed me out… and you wonder why I’m ticked?” And he looks at me with this complete look of genuine confusion followed by complete understanding. “Oh… I guess I forgot to tell you that sometimes I talk in my sleep.” He had zero recollection of this whole incident. Didn’t even hear me when I stormed out that night.Yeah. As I look back on that day, I know exactly how Homer Simpson feels when he slaps his forehead and grunts “Doh!” I felt like the biggest idiot in the world. Not because I didn’t know something that he forgot to tell me about. Not because this was my first time in 17 years of life that I had encountered someone who talked in their sleep (the worst I had dealt with was sharing a room with one of my brothers who would snore) I felt like an idiot because I had treated the guy like crap all week and really bashed him to anyone who would listen. I was hurt and needed to be built back up by my friends. I also wanted revenge for my mistreatment. Even retelling the story now some 23 years later I feel ashamed. And you know what, even though we both laughed it off that night, there was still carnage on our friendship to the point that by the end of the semester, we switched roommates.
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone…” I had heard that so many times before… This advice Jesus offers in tonight’s Gospel is so seemingly simple, it’s common sense logic to listen to when we are sitting here as mere listeners to his words being proclaimed. Being so simple, maybe I figured it wasn’t important when living on my own for the first time. But when any of us think back to our roommate, our relative, our friend – or depending upon how bad the misunderstanding, or dispute has gotten, our “former friend” – it’s hard not to succumb to being outraged, angry and give into the drama. Especially in this facebook age. I can’t tell you how many statuses I see flash by really berating someone – sometimes they’re named, but often times they’re not as it’s just posted “really sick of some people who all they do is take people for granted” – followed by a slew of “likes” and comments agreeing how such people stink… People are always ready to jump on the bandwagon against someone. I’d venture to guess that a lot of those people think it’s just easier to get it off their chest in this way rather than possibly have to confront them and possibly end up in a fight.
Why is Jesus making an issue of this? Aren’t their bigger things to worry about? Quite simply, He is telling us that if good is going to conquer evil; if love is going to conquer hatred in our day, in our age, in our lives - it has to start on the most basic level. It has to start in our own hearts. Sure we can look at all kinds of horrific things that are going on around the world – there’s no shortage of tragedies that we can point to as being terrible. Vicious, horrific evil – people being beheaded and that being shared on Youtube? – that so turns my stomach that I can’t even talk about it… But I think what Jesus is trying to get to is that each and everyone of us has to deal with the horrific things going on in our own worlds: the angers, the resentments, the hatreds that are there inside of our hearts and minds.
We need to take those thoughts captive (2 Corinthians 10:5) and allow the Holy Spirit to direct us. More than likely – if you can think of someone right now you’ve labeled your enemy – it wasn’t just one day they did one thing that just set you off. More than likely there were a lot of little things that preceded it, that maybe went unchallenged, undiscussed. You keep them filed in your mind (dates, times, occurrences). Those things started to build up to the point that ultimately something happened … a button was pushed and the file drawer flew open and all the evidence of that person’s wrongs against you come to the forefront of your mind. You are prepared for battle like a lawyer. You are going to completely trash this person and dismiss them.
Jesus’ point is that if we can come to that place of hatred and dismissal of one another on such a personal, “local” level – than how much easier is it for that to happen on a greater level? Racial tensions; religious divisions; wars; intolerance – we can see on much grander scales what happens when collective anger festers and is shared. The opposite is true as well. If we can take those first steps to heal whatever rifts and angers we’ve experienced now and in the manner Christ has said; if we experience that reconciliation and share the joy that comes from that healing on a collective level then we begin to live the Gospel and not merely listen to it being proclaimed.
Basically, we are setting ourselves free from the prison of bitterness. A prison we put ourselves in by building walls and bars of anger. Breaking free with the power of reconciliation and forgiveness is possible. If we take those steps of faith, then we are truly being a Church because then we genuinely gather in Jesus name and experience his presence in the midst of us.