There’s been this Catholic Men’s Movement that first started maybe a decade ago called Exodus 90.  I believe it began at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, where a group of men preparing for the priesthood decided they needed to embrace greater scriptural-based spiritual practices to help in their formation.  The blessings of that experience led the organizers to start inviting other men’s groups to participate in this 90-day focus on prayer, asceticism, and fraternity to where it’s become a global thing that tens of thousands of men are engaged in right now.  In our day and age, where comfort, convenience, and pleasure have been advanced as the most important of goals, it’s been interesting to see these ancient practices being rediscovered and embraced and the growth and transformation that comes from them.

Thanks so much for stopping by to read this homily for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time – January 21, 2024.  I appreciate your sharing this on your social media posts and your feedback and comments…  I’m also grateful for all those who’ve asked for the audio version and share them as well at SOUNDCLOUD click HERE or from ITUNES as a podcast HERE.  May the Lord be glorified in your reading and sharing- Father Jim

A few years ago, for the season of Lent, a group of our men in our Catholic Campus Ministry center at Montclair State had heard about it and thought it would be something that they’d like to do as a way of entering into that sacred season a bit more thoughtfully and intentionally.    It was Ash Wednesday morning around 10:30, and I was in the hallway getting things together for our Masses and confessions that we would be holding on campus. The Exodus group was holding their first weekly meetings.  They were reviewing the list of things they had committed to – for prayer they had agreed to daily prayer with a morning offering, an examination of conscience before bed, following the reading plan, and trying to make a holy hour and get to daily Mass at least three times a week; for the fraternal aspects they each had an accountability partner to check in with daily and a weekly meeting for the whole group; and then for Asceticism,  doing acts of self-denial and making some sacrifices –  included in a somewhat lengthy list they were to take cold showers, fast and abstain from meat on Wednesdays and Fridays, cut out Television, and unnecessary computer and smart-phone use.  That’s when (I promise I wasn’t eavesdropping) one of the guys kind of connected a bunch of things and said, “Wait, so I can’t play any video games?  What am I going to do from 9:00 to 1:00 every night?”  And I just busted out laughing.  They all got quiet, and I heard the kid say, “Father Jim, is that you?  Are you laughing at me?”  And I just said, “Yes and Yes…”

These kids and I know that they’re 18-24 years old, and all these professionals at the University keep emphasizing that we’re not to call them kids but supposed to emphasize that they are young men and women (well, maybe even that’s too controversial these days – young adults) – but the reality is my beloved young men and women are still kids.  So I was laughing first off that my young friend played video games for 4 hours every night; second that he didn’t seem to have had any issue with the whole list of other things that were being laid out – which, by the way, all of this (including the video game ban) had already discussed, this wasn’t just being sprung on them on Ash Wednesday, it was like my friend had just read the fine print – and now he was looking at 40+ days of being disconnected from Call of Duty or Fortnight or whatever it is he plays regularly and he was kind of disillusioned thinking it’s not possible.  That’s what made me laugh.  Playing video games to that extent seemed silly to me… but the reality is every one of us has something or something like that… things that we can’t imagine living without, with not doing.

A friend of mine a few weeks ago sent me these health articles that proposed not picking up your smartphone and not drinking coffee for at least the first 30 to 60 minutes after you wake up in the morning. My first reaction was, how the heck am I supposed to wake up and get going?  Between the phone having my alarm as well as some of my prayer resources that I use as apps and the first of my pots of coffee for the day are part of what gets me out of bed.  And I had my usual go-to response, which I offered back to my friend: “As a priest, haven’t I given up enough? Can you leave me alone with my cup of coffee?” 

The word “detachment”  – that idea of not letting ourselves fall into habits or routines that might not even be morally bad but can become things we don’t even realize we’ve come to rely on and give greater importance often comes up like New Year’s resolution, something we see value in, something we know is good for us, something we consider and maybe even try but often quickly abandoning as unpractical or for any number of reasons.

But spiritually, detachment is seen as a virtue, a way of freedom, and is essential in the life of faith to be a disciple of Jesus Christ because being a follower of Jesus Christ is supposed to be the thing that defines everything for us and our lives.

That’s what came to mind with today’s scriptures, in particular, this excerpt from the letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians that we heard as our Second Reading.  We get these snippets of Paul’s letters at Sunday Mass, and they don’t always line up with the other readings of the day, so I often don’t find myself spending a lot of time with them.  But today’s is so short and dramatic – it’s just three sentences – that was shocking itself… and the words just on face value are a bit unnerving-

I tell you, brothers and sisters, the time is running out.
From now on, let those having wives act as if not having them,
those weeping as not weeping,
those rejoicing as not rejoicing,
those buying as not owning,
those using the world as not using it fully.
For the world in its present form is passing away. 

It’s easy to think there St. Paul goes again, speaking in puzzles or riddles.   I mean, obviously, the Catholic Church still believes in marriage – it’s a Sacrament… and “time is running out” – well, he said that over 2,000 years ago, so it’s hard to be anxious about ‘time running out.’  But what is St. Paul trying to tell us?

He’s not saying husbands should ignore their marital vows and their commitments to their wives (and the same is true for wives with regards to their husbands – Paul’s writing is not to exclude anyone but coming from his vantage point as a man) – nor is he saying to ignore our feelings and emotions that cause us to weep or rejoice; nor to act as if we don’t own things – like just leave your keys in your car in the parking lot.   The whole thing comes together in that final sentence – the world in its present form is passing away.  In this world, our time here is limited.   We know we might get a hundred-plus years if we’re lucky…  And in that time we have – whether we are going through a great time right now that causes us to rejoice, or we might be going through a difficult season in life that causes us to weep – hopefully, we’ve realized through those different experiences that yes, life happens good times, and bad times and that those times will pass …  While all of the things that we own things that we’ve invested in or worked hard to purchase they will eventually break, or get run down, become obsolete…  Even the most important relationships we can find on this earth – the bond between a husband and wife, will eventually end when one of those partners dies.  Couples acknowledge that on their wedding days, “…till death do us part.”   Those are just objective facts.

St. Paul is encouraging us to take the focus that we can often apply to those other realities where we can treat our possessions, emotions, and relationships as the most important things in our lives and stop.  And recognize that as good as they may all be, we’re supposed to be pursuing and applying that energy towards the source of all life, the creator of all things, the Lord God.   Recognizing that He has revealed Himself through prophets like Jonah and most fully in becoming one of us and one with us in the incarnation of God becoming man in Jesus Christ… And what Jesus reveals is that  God pursues us and desires a relationship with us.  When those truths click for us, it demands a shift in what I think is most important.  It means I no longer have a list of priorities; I have a priority, which is a who – God Himself.

This means I need to have a healthy detachment from the things, from even my emotions and, yes, even people of this world, not because they’re not important – they are – but only in light of how they are drawing me closer to God (or not).

That’s what we see in this Gospel.  As Jesus announces the start of his public ministry with the words, “This is the time of fulfillment.  The kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent and believe in the Gospel.” He is ushering in the eternal kingdom that is not passing away.   These men had encountered Christ and started to come to know Him.  Their minds and hearts had already begun to get re-ordered with each of those meetings that they recognized that divine light radiating from within Him.  God Himself is walking, talking among them and as Jesus calls these first apostles – we see and hear how he pursues them.  The one who knew them better than they knew themselves had found them.   That’s what causes them to let go of their possessions, whatever feelings and emotions they had were eclipsed, and they are not disavowing their families – they’re trusting that the same loving God who called them would be calling them too.  They knew they had to let Jesus lead and guide them.   This is the truth for every one of us who wishes to follow Jesus.

For us, we’re in a unique spot as Catholic Christians.  By our Baptisms, Confirmations, and receiving the Eucharist, we have heard that call and declared that our lives have been re-ordered by Him.  But so often, we don’t recognize how our living in a world that is growing more secular and hostile to Christians, that is blasphemous and disgustingly hateful to God himself, that we find ourselves torn with one foot in Mass on the weekend and the rest of the week trying to fit in with that world.

That’s why I was so proud of that young guy who actually stuck with giving up his video games for 40 days.  Because what he found was it wasn’t meant to be an endurance contest, a suffering olympics, or even some penance or punishment like he had done something wrong.  He saw how this thing, this entertainment, this game had taken on greater importance than he had even realized.  As he had grown in his faith, grown closer to Jesus, and wanted to take his discipleship more seriously, he went from almost in shock at the thought of not playing these games every day for 40 days to being in shock that it had ever become that important in his life. 

What is it for you and I?  Two weeks in, I’ve survived without touching my phone for a few hours first thing in the morning and holding off on that first cup of coffee.  More seriously, I am evaluating how I can continue to integrate my life as a Christian into my daily life and detach from other things that might simply be distractions.  We’re less than a month away from the start of Lent, and so these scriptures are meant to get us to start thinking about where am in my life of faith and how (or does) Jesus impact the entirety of our lives.  How is he calling me to come and follow Him more fully and completely?

There’s a beautiful prayer that a priest by the name of Fr Pedro Arrupe wrote in the 20th Century that is a favorite of mine to help me constantly check myself in my life of discipleship that I’ll share to close this with hopes that it can maybe be a source of reflection for you as well in answering those questions, it goes:

Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is,
than falling in love in a quite absolute final way.
What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination,
will affect everything.

It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning,
what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekend,
what you read, who you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.

Fall in love,
stay in love,
and it will decide everything.