Tag Archives: North Jersey

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2018

In my 20 years as coordinator of the team ministry in a North Jersey parish, we 11 members (three priests, one deacon, two Sisters, and five lay men and women) would meet twice a month to plan the activities of the parish and to review how things were progressing and learn how we might work together more closely.  Twice a year we would go to a retreat house for an all-day session.  At one of those meetings in the mid-90s we chose as an overriding theme for the coming Lent the slogan, “Let It Begin with Me.”  Our hope was that we and the people we served would accept that invitation and apply it first of all to our actions and attitudes in the pursuit of peace in this troubled world.
One of the priests with whom I shared the rectory in that parish was always quick to offer his assistance when he thought that I was having a difficult or over-crowded day.  When I would thank him for his brotherly thoughtfulness, he’d say jokingly, “Ah, forget it.  I’m just piling up graces.”  He used the expression in jest, of course, but that is the way many people seem to think: that the good we do is like an investment that we can cash in on later!  A matter of quid pro quo.
But what leaps out at us from today’s Scripture readings is the idea of response to God — response that is definite, sincere, and generous.  St. Paul was dead wrong about the world coming to an end not long after the time he wrote the letter of which we heard a small part today.  But his emphasis that we not allow anything to stand in the way of doing what God directs us to do is as valid now as it was then.  God’s will is not found in a book; it is discovered only through prayerful — sometimes painful — interior listening.
The brief story about Jonah in today’s first reading picks up long after his refusal to do God’s bidding; we meet him only after he had finally said yes.
And, in the Gospel, those apostles who dropped everything, including the fishing nets by which they earned their living, and followed Jesus are the same men who later on shamefully deserted him as he moved toward his violent death.
We can feel at home in such company as we recall our own infidelities!  And yet, like those imperfect persons, we also believe in Jesus, whom we recognize as our most direct link to the unseen God.  What should be our response to God?
Our response to God has to be, as was theirs, a radical, lifelong commitment to conversion — a lifelong process that ends only when we die.  We don’t have to continue the destructive behavioral patterns we seem to be stuck with now, or the bad relationships we have with certain other persons, or the negative view of life that has become habitual to us, and so on.
An American professional athlete wrote several years ago that, for him, prayer is just asking what God would have him do.  Not a bad definition, I’d say.
We can’t stop  war and put peace in its place.  But we are responsible for the development of our own individual lives.  God has given us Jesus as the perfect model for human life along with God’s own Spirit, the same Spirit that Jesus recognized and collaborated with throughout his life.
A simple prayer, but much to be recommended, might go like this: “Change me, God, make me what you want me to be.  Give me the wisdom to hear your voice and the courage to follow it.
“Let it begin with me!”


I was born and raised as the first of four children in a typical American home in North Jersey.  I don’t know much at all about what we call the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph – I think it’s true to say that nobody does.  What we say about that family is largely conjecture drawn from the little that we know about them from their later and last years.  But I do know a lot from the imperfect home of my origin.  What I learned and experienced there has offered me insight into what Jesus and Mary and Joseph very likely were to each other.

The one incident that always comes first to my mind occurred when I was 16 years old, a car-crazy kid who couldn’t wait to drive.   On a Sunday afternoon, I took my father’s car on a brief jaunt, no matter that I was unlicensed.  I struck another vehicle, badly injuring the elderly woman in the front passenger seat.  We drove our cars to my home, no police having been around to take over.  With the very kind Jewish stranger who had been driving the damaged car my father quietly settled the financial issues involved.  He said not a word to me – no scolding, no anger or humiliation, no punishment, no threats.  Never a word from that afternoon until the day he died 23 years later.

To understand what this has meant to me, you have to know that my father was a lifelong alcoholic, whose disease never came under management or control.  My now-deceased sister said to me a few years ago, “When you consider all the pain and suffering we endured with Dad’s curse and Mother’s reaction to it, don’t you think that it was love that pulled us through and saved us?”  She said, “I mean the love they had for one another, the love they had for each of us children, despite the hell that we were all going though.”

Of course she was right.  What else could it have been?

Who knows what personal problems the Holy Family might have struggled with?  We have at least a couple of hints in the Gospels that there were times of stress, worry, confusion.  One was when Jesus as a pre-teenager was lost for three days in Jerusalem, where his parents feared he may have been kidnapped and sold into some kind of slavery.  I know that my mother could never have survived those days had that happened to her child.  The panic would have killed her.   And then there was the advice given to Mary and Joseph later on when Jesus was becoming known as an increasingly popular and challenging, though unorthodox, preacher:  “Why don’t you consider putting him away?  Don’t you realize that he’s crazy?”

What was conversation like at their table?  It could not have been all pious sweetness and light.  There was too much going on in their lives that could not be ignored.

I cannot imagine that his boyhood indiscretion was the subject of parental nagging for the rest of his life, or even that it was ever mentioned except possibly in the context of love.  They might have said now & then, for example, how his reunion with them that day was one of the greatest joys of their lives.  However Mary and Joseph handled the incident, and perhaps a few others like it, they must have done it in such a way that Jesus was encouraged to think over the decisions of his young life and to develop gradually into the secure, self-possessed, clear thinking, highly motivated human being that he became.

We all need such compassionate acceptance, and we are all capable of giving it.  Now that our Christmas gifts have been unwrapped, and some of them successfully exchanged for the right size and color, let’s resolve to give one more: the gift of allowing everyone in our lives to be the best they can be, to accept their flaws as fully as we welcome their virtues, to hope that we’ll get the same charity from others (especially from those persons who know us best!), and to enjoy the greater peace that this will bring to all.