The hardest part of being a disciple of Jesus Christ for me has nothing to do with Jesus. The hardest part is me. That’s not to diminish the difficulty of journeying the path Jesus calls us to, the example He sets for us to follow – it is difficult… but so often I find that I make it much harder for myself when I get lost or fixated on the wrong things. What do I mean? For example, as His disciple, who He’s called to a particular vocation as a priest, its very easy for me to get tied up in my day to day, priestly responsibilities and be highly critical of that, or evaluate how I’m doing by – looking around at a Sunday Mass here on campus, notice that not every chair is filled and at let the devils stupid voice, stupid lies enter in and say “look at those empty seats, you’re obviously not doing a good job.” When I want to make matters worse, I’ll add some comparisons, some sins like envy and jealousy and look at some other priests who must be more successful because they have more people or other things that make it appear that that’s what a successful priest looks like – that’s a good disciple. I know intellectually – and most times in my heart and soul – how foolish that is. But those lies and temptations from the devil when I do let them in can be discouraging and rob my joy. And being a disciple of Jesus is meant to bring joy… being a disciple of Jesus’ isn’t something that you put up for a performance evaluation. It’s a call into a loving, intimate relationship with Him.
Hi everyone here’s my homily for February 9, 2020- THE FIFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME. Thanks so much for stopping by to read this and even ore for sharing it on your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and everywhere else people share social media posts and your feedback and comments! For the audio version you can get them at SOUNDCLOUD click HERE or from ITUNES as a podcast HERE. Thanks again – I hope you and yours experience all of God’s blessings today and always! In Christ – Father Jim
We know that on some level: that this is all about relationship with Him. But for whatever reason, maybe because so many other aspects of our lives are evaluated, critiqued, and judged – sadly, even some of our family relationships, friendships have had those distortions affect them – that we can lose sight of how Jesus loves us: Jesus loves us as we are – sinners in need of a Savior. As our Savior, He loves us for the potential that he sees within us… – and His call to be his disciple is a call to love – and a call to share that love, that joy with the world. How do we do that though? How do we avoid the temptation of falling into crazy critiques of ourselves. Thinking that He must have a quota for us to fulfill – a checklist we need to complete.
That’s the good news that He shares with us tonight: “You are the salt of the earth” “You are the light of the world.” He’s telling us that, when we’re in relationship with Him, when we are our best selves – You and I have the ability to affect and persuade and transform the world.
The great thing about those images is that they are common, everyday examples that every single person, doesn’t matter what country or culture you’re from, people of every time and age, young or old, rich or poor and everyone of us in between- can all relate to. Anyone of us who’s taken a bite into an unseasoned steak or been in a black out where all the power is out – we know that adding these things – salt, light – has transformative power. Jesus’ uses everyday elements – he uses those examples telling us we are the salt of the earth, the light of the world to challenge us how we to see that we too can have transformative power in our everyday experiences. It sounds poetic or idealistic… In some ways it might be easier if we had a quota or checklist. Because this is really a mindset and a daily decision we have to make… to choose. We have to decide to be salt, light…
I had an experience that made this click in the most bizarre of ways for me a few weeks ago that I’m still trying to unpack. It was the Thursday before classes began for the Spring Semester and I was involved in a car accident. I was coming home back to Newman from an appointment. I was turning into a parking lot of a shopping center (I had to have that cup of Dunkin Donuts – I just had to…) This woman who was at the stop sign hit the gas turning her car right into me.
After checking to see if she was okay, moving the car and then sitting waiting for the police to arrive, that was when this bizarre part occurred. Right then and there I felt like I was at a fork in the road in my head, my heart. I can remember hearing this voice inside asking “are you going to be ticked off right now” (I used a different term… rhymes with hissed but I digress) are you going to be ticked off right now or are you going to be thankful… are you going to give thanks to God, count your blessings, and acknowledge His presence?” (In other words, act like a disciple)
I wanted to be ticked. I really, really did. As an Italian man, that’s my default. This wasn’t my fault – the inconvenience this will be – the fact that now we had to wait for the police to show up – the fact that this happened now – at the start of the semester, one of the busier times of the year – and how much is this going to cost, and now I have to deal with insurance people and blah blah blah blah blah – (I’m actually getting tense just recalling that list) I literally could see going down that path. It’s familiar, (too familiar) path that I’ve gone down many, many times. I know and see all the potholes along the way, the bumps and how its really really not a good path to travel, yet, I choose it way too often.
Or did I want to choose to be a disciple stay in a place of Gratitude… of thanks… acknowledging the blessings, knowing that God was with me and somehow be “salt” and “light” in that instance? Full disclosure, Italian guilt did click in on this… In a homily just a few months ago I mentioned having a terrible car accident when I was in High School where a friend had been seriously injured. That accident was my fault. One of the points I made was how heavy that burden of worrying about my friend weighed on me that I only wished I had stupid temporal things to be worrying about like getting a car fixed. So that also helped to nudge me as I was sitting in my car trying to decide what was going to be my mentality and approach.
I just made that choice, that decision to go down to stay focused on being a disciple. Counting the blessings, seeing God’s presence, being thankful… and being that way to everyone else involved (trying to be salt and light) I just sat there and said “ok how am I blessed?” “You’re alive, dummy…” Yeah that’s the biggest, most obvious and the one that we all seem to take for granted the most. I’m alive, and the lady in the other car is as well… no one is hurt, or injured… we’re okay… But the car – “You have insurance – insurance is rarely something that we associate with blessings, people often get frustrated about deductibles, dealing with agents, the paperwork, etc. but talk to people who don’t have insurance and how devastating things can become… so yes, this isn’t something fun, or that I want to deal right now. “You have a friend who owns an auto body shop” – yeah so I have someone I know and trust that can help me with all of this… Just a few minutes of reminding myself of these blessings calmed me down.
What was amazing was how many temptations though to get off track and give into the ticked off side. We waited an hour and a half and the police hadn’t arrived – am I going to get ticked off about that or not… The lady who hit me was getting very upset and started saying to me “this is unbelievable we’ve been waiting this long and they don’t show up? What if we were injured?” I could have agreed with her, unite with her and make the police our common enemy. But I tried really gently to say “I know it’s been a rough afternoon for us, but they did ask me if we were aright…There’s probably a lot of other people who are dealing with a lot worse things right now which is why they’re not able to come. When I called back they said we could just exchange our information and file a report.” I was proud of myself thinking – that’s not so bad. So as we’re doing that, the lady snapped and just blurted out saying “Didn’t you see me????” Again, I wanted to snap – and go all Italian and point to the big Red thing with the word STOP on it that she had been sitting at when she didn’t look and plowed into me – but I just took a breath and said “No” – and almost immediately she calmed down and said “I guess the important thing is that no one got hurt.” Honestly, through the whole process though – with whoever I was encountering, whenever details continue to pop up – or people ask about it – I’ve been able to see that fork in the road “It’s three weeks and you still didn’t get your car back???” “How much longer” “That’s gotta be frustrating you.” Even my brothers were saying things like that to me the other day -not to bait me or anything. But we’re all so programmed to be ticked off. – Each time I’ve been trying to stay in that place of gratitude, of thanks, of awareness of the blessings – and respond that way. In a way that might be a small, be meaningful way of putting salt or bringing light to the situation. One friend of mine said to me -when he called and was asking for an update the other day “I’ve gotta tell you, I’m shocked – you’ve been so calm about all of this and all” (He asked if I was on medication or something)
I’m not – well not for that – the reality is the clarity of this being a choice registered for me. And it’s something that I’m trying to bring with me in non-car-accident related incidents. But day to day. And it’s hard to keep making that choice. Even with the seemingly small insignificant things. Just walk around campus – it’s not hard to hear people complaining “this place stinks” (usually it’s something worse, rhymes with ducks) “this professor stinks” “my roommates stink…” “My job stinks…” “PARKING HERE REALLY STINKS” – Before we’ve even gotten till mid morning how many of these small things will we encounter that calls us out to make a choice. We don’t have to guilt or shame people who are having those feelings or reactions. But it’s amazing how easy it is for us to jump into the complaining session add a few other things that make this place or that professor or other things about those roommates that they forgot that stink as well. How quickly our reaction can turn things into a pity party – or by just being a bit of salt, casting a bit of light for them – how we have the ability to stop it, to snap them and ourselves out of that and transform the situation…
But this is more than just being a good person or having a positive attitude or something like that. I think that’s one of the points that Jesus is getting at in this Gospel. So often we categorize the work of discipleship to these big things – like going on a retreat, a mission trip, being in some level of leadership or ministry -and we can limit them to a select few – I’m not holy enough – I’m not important enough – that’s for someone else to do. And can diminish the day to day moments and opportunities to be a disciple. Not where we’re being asked to make a big Gospel presentation to this person in my class or invite this complete stranger I’ve met to join me at Mass – but the daily, routine things that pop up where we have a choice, a decision to be salt, be light for the world — or not – to join others in complaining how bland, how dark everything is. When people see and experience our joy – our peacefulness, that’s contagious, that’s intriguing… they want to know why, how it is we’re able to be like that. And eventually they can come to see how it’s Jesus who’s flavoring and enlightening our lives… It’s His love – for us – His love for them that enables and empowers us to live differently to treat people differently. If we’re able to show them how we can all be experiencing many similar things and obstacles but remain aware of God’s constant presence – that we are experiencing His love, His Blessings, His favor every moment of every day – in abundance, and overflowing – to the point that we can’t help but bring a little salt, bring a little light to those around us…. then we can begin to change, soften hearts… and help] this world of ours become a little bit more the Kingdom Christ envisions us to create.