Hi everyone – here’s my homily for ASH WEDNESDAY – February 10, 2016. The readings for today can be found at http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/021016.cfm . Thanks as always for reading, sharing this blog with your followers on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and for your comments and feedback. Grateful for your support! God Bless you and a Blessed Lent to you and yours… Fr. Jim


Anyone who’s been to Newman Catholic knows that we’re blessed to have two beautiful houses that make up our center – but two very old houses… both are over 100 years old. Over the years we’ve done a bunch of renovations and updates to make it comfortable, efficient and clean… attempting to do a few projects each year: A new porch one year; finishing the basement; painting, and so on. 

One area that for the most part was ignored was the upper level of the one house where I live. I don’t want to give the impression that I’m “roughing it” – not by any stretch of the imagination. My apartment is very comfortable, and very nice… But those areas have really always fallen last on the list of priorities – because they are. Who, but a handful of people see the old carpet that’s ripped, dusty, and worn going up the stairs? Who knows about the stove top and oven in my kitchen where two of the burners don’t work and the oven temperature is at best an approximate guess (I don’t cook, so as long as the microwave works, I haven’t cared about the stove or oven for over the 9 years that’s been the case). For the most part that’s been, and continues to be my attitude.

But I do have ADD and if something does grab my attention it can be like a rabid dog grabbing onto raw meat… I can’t stop thinking about it or noticing whatever that thing might be. Which is what happened this past summer. The hallway on the second and third floors of the Newman Center had this old, yellow-ish colored – burlap wall paper that honestly – anyone who saw it would say – was disgusting. There were stains on it – so the ugly color of it was even more discolored. It had collected visible dust. And was starting to peel in different corners. So, this caught my attention in a new way back in June. Everytime I left my apartment I would look at that ugly wall paper, see it’s disgustingness it would look more and more gross by the day and I would get more and more frustrated. To the point that on a rare weekend where I had absolutely nothing to do – no pastoral responsibilities at any local parishes I help out at (so no need to write a homily) and things quiet here on campus – I decided that was going to be the weekend I would get this awful mess down and paint it. How long could it take? It should be easy, the paper was already starting to peel itself I figured.

I went to Home Depot, bought the “wall-paper tiger”, scraping tools, sprays etc that I

Pictures are worth a thousand words… Actual wallpaper, before
and during with bottom right being where I ended

knew you needed for this project, remembering how my father and brothers and I had done this a couple times when we were growing up (which my memory told me wasn’t too bad a job). In any event, very, very quickly I realized how horrible an idea this was. About 5 hours into this project on a hot Friday night I had gotten about two large strips down. Yes the initial corners came down easily but then I’d come upon massive sections which had the most stubborn, old glue holding that burlap tight as I scrapped and was putting scalding hot water mixed with fabric softener on the walls to try to get it down. Where’d I get that little tip for hot water and fabric softener on removing wallpaper that (as it turned out was put up in 1961?) The two people I choose to blame for subconsciously getting me into this mess. That’s right – Jonathan and Drew Scott – the Property Brothers from HGTV. That hit me probably mid-day Saturday as I continued to inhale this toxic brew and was covered once again with glue and grime and desperately looking for a scapegoat. For 9 years I didn’t care about this stupid wallpaper, now because I had seen the Property Brothers show while running on the treadmill and not having anything else to watch a bunch of times … I started to get hooked on their show. Seeing them talk people (or rather highly encourage them) to buy a fixer-uper and then watching them do renovations to these homes to make them their dream homes -all in the magic of TV in an hour time – had obviously a bigger impact on me than I imagined. As I cursed the two of them for the remainder of Saturday and the entire Sunday – where I worked till about 9 PM and at that point abandoned my DIY (Do it yourself) project (and called someone the following morning to finish the job) the whole experience stayed with me.

Why are shows like “Property Brothers” – or for that matter the entire HGTV network appealing to so many? If houses aren’t your thing, there’s all kinds of successful variations of them suited for almost every interest: “Bar Rescue” does the same thing for bars; “Kitchen Nightmares” for restaurants; there’s tons of car-repair/refurbishment shows. We even have shows that do makeovers for people – how they dress, how they look, how they eat, how they live (“The Biggest Loser” for one). Huge numbers of people are drawn, are fascinated seeing something that’s unattractive, that’s broken, that’s been neglected, that’s been ignored – come back to life in a dramatic way.

Which is what this day, Ash Wednesday – and this season of Lent is all about. Jesus Christ invites each of us to look at our inner selves, at our relationship with Him and with one another and see what interior “jobs” have been neglected, been ignored, that are desperately in need of attention. Particularly looking at our own individual sins that we’ve committed through our own faults; whether they were uncharitable thoughts or words, sinful acts (where we made a bad choice), or sinful non-actions (when we knew what the right thing was and decided not to do it). All those things cluttering our hearts and souls; all the things deflecting our true, God-given beauty and dignity which he created us to be.

On Ash Wednesday – it kind of reminds me of that first rip of the wall paper back in the summer… We start off excited, energized, hopeful – thinking “yeah, there are things I want to look at – there are areas in my life I want to change… I do want to grow closer to God… over the next 40 days. ” But very quickly it can be scary, it can be intimidating, it can be overwhelming. But this isnt a DIY job. That’s why we come together and we put these dirty ashes on everyone of our heads –> this guy being one of the first to do so…. because we’re all in the same boat. We’re all sinners. We all have stuff that needs to be dealt with. Whether it’s the priest standing here preaching or the person that this is the first Mass you’ve been to in a while.

Jesus looks at each one of us with love, with joy. Joyful that something moved us to move

ourselves to be here today. Something within us knows and wants to see something or somethings in our lives changed. And he plots out the plans for renovation. The Gospel tells us what to do: to FAST – to PRAY – to GIVE ALMS.

Fasting – so today we have only one meatless meal and every Friday we’re supposed to avoid eating meat. Sometimes people add something else – like they give up coffee (God Bless you folks who do that) or something else. Doesn’t seem like a big deal. But by breaking us out of our routines, our patterns – forgoing something, it helps us to be a bit more thoughtful about our priorities. A friend told me that one Lent he gave up television. Once he had, he quickly realized all the things he said he never had time for – including prayer, he did have time for all along, it had just been wasted. That’s one of the fruits of fasting – to help us re-prioritize things… hopefully making God the center, where He should be.

Prayer – the most important prayer that we as Catholics have is Mass. So whether here on campus Sunday nights or at your home parishes, that’s where we worship – we give praise, thanks to God. In our world that is so often so self-absorbed – worship helps us to look out of ourselves – to see our many blessings, to see the many gifts we have from our very lives, to our opportunities to be a student here or to have a job here, to family, to friends – to see that God has been very generous to us and so at Mass we gather together as his Family with our brothers and sisters to give Him praise, and to receive His word and His Body and Blood in the Eucharist. Along with that, maybe it’s been awhile – a long while since you’ve been to confession. In our Mass booklets today theres an explanation of why confession is a good thing, how to go and an examination of conscience to help jog our memories of areas of failure, mistakes where Jesus wants to meet us, heal us, and forgive us. Maybe make that promise to yourself this Lent to make it to confession.

And Almsgiving – giving to those less fortunate. That helps us look at those struggling, those in need and seeing them as our brothers and sisters… and not simply feeling sad about it, but doing something. Maybe you’ll join our community service who are serving the Homeless or doing a Habitat for Humanity build (giving the gift of your time) A student a few years ago told me that they gave up their MoccaFrappucinoLatteCappucino from Starbucks which cost them about $3 a day. Saved that $120 (40 days of Lent times $3) and donated it to St. Jude’s Hospital for children with cancer. (Nice combo – 2 for 1- fasting and almsgiving together, very efficient!)

Those are ways we can make Lent meaningful, even life changing. It’s not supposed to be a suffering olympics that we try to tough it out to Easter and then go on some over-indulgent extravaganza celebrating our achievement. But rather taking a step back… recognizing that each and everyone of us needs Lent. We need this opportunity to do some interior renovations. Clearing out what is dirty, what is broken, what is ignored and renewing ourselves, experiencing what Jesus’ redemption and salvation are all about – making us new creations.

And more importantly, it’s not just our work. It’s not a DIY job. If we treat it like that, then fear will enter in, or our enthusiasm will wane in the days and weeks ahead. No, Jesus himself wants to walk with us, work within each of us. C. S. Lewis, one of the greatest Christian writers of the modern era gave one of my favorite quotes of all time. He said: “Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”

My brothers and sisters – may you and I, this Lent, let Him do the work he needs to do, to re-create us into those palaces He intended us to be so that we may be a worthy place for Him to live in.