Tuesday night my good friend from college, Fred, at 8:17 PM sent me this text: Are you watching? I happened to be in the middle of an event with our students and laughed when I saw the text come through thinking how there are certain people, certain situations that they literally can drop three words like that with zero context – that countless other people would have seen and been clueless thinking “what’s this about? Even though Fred has moved out of the state, and our texting back and forth is maybe once every couple of months and it was such a random, minimal message, I knew exactly what he was asking about – he wanted to know if I was watching the wildcard baseball game that was going on between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox.
Thanks so much for stopping by to read this, my homily for the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time -October 10, 2021, for sharing it on your 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
When Fred and I had graduated from college we had become season ticket holders for the New York Yankees. Well, partial season. We had tickets to every Friday home game starting in 1998. 1998 was a historic record-breaking year for the Yankees… they won 114 games. Of the 14 or so home games we went to, I think we saw them lose twice all year. And because we had this ticket plan, we were able to go to one game per round of post-season that they would play. So that year we ended up at Game 1 of the World Series when they defeated the San Deigo Padres; the following year, in 1999 we were at game 4 not only when they beat Atlanta in that game but won the World Series- I’ve never been to something like that where people just went nuts for well over an hour after the game. In 2000 we made it to game two versus the Mets (which they won that night, which made it almost more enjoyable than seeing them win the whole world series the year before) – we somehow got tickets to games 3 and 5 in 2001, weeks after September 11th – so we were there the night George W. Bush threw out the first pitch.
Along with attending all those games, over the years I had amassed an impressive collection of memorabilia. There was almost a dozen Bobble Heads of players that they would give away at the stadium (I remember one year they were only giving them to kids 14 and under and seeing a bunch of kids who had just gotten in and were standing around I just said “Hey do any of you want to sell your bobblehead and this one kid said I do so I asked “how much” and he said “$20 – I mean $10…” He obviously hadn’t learned the art of negotiation) Friends had given me gifts with autographed baseballs of Derek Jeter; Bernie Williams and my favorite player of that era – Tino Martinez – for Tino I not only had a signed ball but a bat as well. My copy of Yankee magazine came every month and was kept in pristine condition in order. Suffice it to say I was a pretty rabid fan.
I was – past tense.
That came as a bit of a shock to Fred when I texted back Tuesday night “haven’t seen a game probably in two years.” What happened? Covid for one. Last April during lockdowns – shelter at home and two weeks to flatten the curve that turned into 4 months, (like most people) I was a bit stir crazy. One day I decided that I needed to clean my memorabilia – dust off the bobbleheads and clean the massive panoramic pic I had of inside the old Yankee stadium. As I was cleaning that massive pic and frame which had been in that exact spot for over 10 years, one of the nails holding the picture up came out, the pic fell down (crashed and broke), knocked the shelf down, and decapitating three of my bobbleheads (Joe Torre, Tino Martinez and Roger Clemens… truth be told I wasn’t too upset about that last one) But overall I was upset. Really upset. I think I said “crap” – or something along those lines. I know the kids that live upstairs from me heard the crash and probably could give you an exact quote since I’m pretty sure I didn’t whisper that to myself. I was pretty fired up and angry. Ridiculously so. A reality that clicked when one of the kids asked me later, very calmly and with compassion and care “Father what happened?” When I saw the look on his face and saw his legitimate concern I realized – especially during the pandemic – that my over the top reaction when people were sick… were dying… were struggling with isolation and issues about work and finances was asinine – worse than asinine – it was asi-ten or asi-eleven. The more that clicked – the more I started to really kind of evaluate my “fandom” – and was embarrassed about it.
How many times even before Mass was getting ready to start that I had to run and check the score of a game which often helped dictate my mood? How many times had I arranged my schedule around games that I had to watch? Here I had all this stuff these collectibles with special cases and certificates of authenticity…a collection of stuff that up until Tino’s smashed bobbled head was on the floor I treated like a curator at a museum as these highly valuable things that were to be looked at but never touched. I sincerely doubt I would have ever said something so objectively stupid and heretical like these things were more important than God – but the reality was they had a far more exalted and important place in my heart and my life than I realized. And that was the beginning of the end for me.
That’s not to say that having collectibles is wrong that being a fan of the Yankees can endanger your soul or even that the Red Sox are the spawn of Satan (which is probably not something I would’ve said a couple of years ago). But rather what is the thing that is hard to imagine letting go of? What is the thing that you’ve told yourself you can not ever imagine not being a part of your life that it actually has a grip on your heart or soul that could possibly be a bit tighter than your devotion, your commitment to God?
The Rich Young Man from today’s Gospel is often misunderstood. Some deliberately will use this as a launching-off point to blast wealth and conclude that money is the root of all evil and that if you want to go to heaven you’ll empty your accounts, give to the poor. But that’s a gross misunderstanding of this and another way where we, who aren’t wealthy, can sort of exempt ourselves from doing some uncomfortable reflection. Because wealth, money in itself is not evil. And the Rich Young Man isn’t evil either. Look at the journey that brings him to this encounter with Jesus in today’s Gospel. He recognizes that something is off, something is missing. He’s been following God’s law and the commandments – which anyone of us knows isn’t easy. He hasn’t done that perfectly – no human being with the exception of Jesus, and Mary would be able to… But he knows what is right and what is wrong and when he has failed he repented and asked for God’s mercy. So he’s tried to live in obedience to what God had already revealed to His people.
At some point this young man has seen and heard Jesus speak and act, he’s experienced something in his heart and soul that desires more. He calls Jesus “good” – which is an acknowledgment that Jesus is God… He sees and hears in Jesus the promise, the fulfillment of eternal life. Which isn’t just a place that we go to at the end of time (whether our own ends or the end of the world for all humanity) – but a loving relationship with Jesus then and there for him (or here and now for each of us). He sees he hears, he wants it. Jesus wants him to have it.
But he can’t do it: His wealth was the obstacle. He thought about how much he had wanted the things he had purchased, the wealth he had acquired. He was remembering what it took to accumulate, the sacrifices that he made for it. He couldn’t imagine life without it. He couldn’t let go of the very thing that even though moments earlier he realized wasn’t fulfilling that deepest desire within him as He came face to face with Jesus, who could. He saw the wealth he possessed as a sure thing and tragically – at least at this moment – put more faith and trust in that wealth than in the Lord, who was offering him a peace, a freedom, a joy greater than he had ever experienced.
In the last few weeks, the Gospel readings at Sunday Mass have been upping the ante considerably. We’ve heard about the centrality of the Cross in terms of following Jesus. We’ve heard Jesus tell us that when we’re aware of sin in our lives, we have to take it seriously, we have to be vigilant to the point he used hyperbolic examples like cutting off hands, feet, plucking out eyes before allowing them to in any way to align us with sin. Last week, Jesus pointed out that we can’t try to be cute to look for loopholes or compromises with God’s law to allow ourselves to somehow excuse ourselves from the challenge that they pose for us when our humanity wants to do what it wants…. Which leads to today and gets to the heart of things. God doesn’t want us to follow His law to prove our goodness. He gave us His law for our own good. And He’s not asking this Rich Young Man to give up his wealth as a test of whether God is truly the center of his life – he’s showing this guy what is at the center already… That his wealth has become his god that he will not forsake or make compromises with regards to.
What is it for us? What are the things that have taken up a more exalted position in my life than I ever realized? What is the show that you cannot even think of missing – and if by chance your DVR didn’t get it you’re searching on google to find when it will re-air or is there some website where you can watch it – but when it comes to Sunday Mass we’re way to casual about things “if something suddenly comes up?” How many hours overtime are we willing to put into that job without even a second thought but we somehow dismiss waking up 15 minutes early to pray, or to say a Rosary? How quickly do we blow $20 purchasing something on Amazon but when it comes to offering something for someone in need we become very budget-conscious? Which are the podcasts that instantly download that we allow filling our ears and spirits on a regular basis – but that Bible in a Year Podcast that we started listening to in January has stopped downloading in our que? What is the thing (or things) we’re holding onto – that’s become a bit more important than it should be?
As I held in my hands a few weeks ago, what I referred to at one time as “one of my prized possessions” – the signed Tino Martinez baseball bat it hit me – why do I have this? If Tino Martinez bumped into me on the street he would not know my name… he would have no idea who I was… he probably couldn’t have cared less that I had something that he signed on my wall or even how much I spent to get it. When that clicked, I knew I had to get rid of it (which I did…I sold it for a mere fraction of the cost it took to purchase it). Not because it was something evil in itself – but it reminded me of some attitudes, behaviors, and feelings that I was embarrassed about. Because Jesus knows me intimately. He knows me inside and out. He knows my strengths, my successes, my best moments. He knows my sins, my failures, my weaknesses, my insecurities, my fears. He not only knows me, He loves me – in the truest sense of the word – that He suffered and died on the cross for me.
The same is true for each and everyone of you. He knows you. He knows you inside out the best and worst things about you and He loves you – enough to suffer and die on the cross for you. May that truth penetrate each of our hearts so that we can truly see who or what may be distracting, obscuring our making Him the center of our lives. May we respond to His grace that will help loosen whatever it is that we’re gripping onto right now and just let go – so that we cling to Him and Him alone.