From the Tee Box

A Blog by Father Trey Nelson

Homily for Epiphany 2017

One year, on the Feast of the Epiphany, little Tommy was so inspired by the story of giving gifts to the baby Jesus, that he walked up to his pastor on the front steps after Mass and made him a promise: "Father Bob?," he said. "Yes,"  his pastor replied. "Father, when I grow up, I'm going to give you some money." The priest, a bit confused, said, "well, thank you, but why's that?" Little Tommy then said, "because, my father says you=re one of the poorest preachers he's ever heard."

So, there you go.  A little Epiphany humor on the tail-end of a few dreary days of weather. My family and I had a real "epiphany" the other night, if you will. It was my Mom=s eightieth birthday, and we all surprised her. She wanted to go to dinner at Gino=s, so my brother, his wife, and I said that we would take her. What she did not know was that our other siblings and their spouses were already at the restaurant waiting. My Mom, who will tell you that she does not like surprises or any fuss made over her at all, was completely surprised. As we sat there that night, we told stories, of course, dating back to childhood. It was something really special to celebrate "coming full circle," if you will. It was a real blessing to remember all of the gifts that our parents had placed before us during our lifetime and to then simply be in this moment, to "give homage" in the best sense of the word. Everyone in the room celebrated the blessing of being away from work and busyness for just a moment and just simply being there with each other and recalling, celebrating the journey.

This weekend and tomorrow marks the end of the Christmas season in the church year.  Tomorrow we celebrate the feast known as The Baptism of the Lord. After that, the color will return to green, and the season will be referred to as "ordinary." Hopefully one of the things that has happened for us during this Christmas season and during this past year is a greater ability to see God's extraordinary presence in ordinary, everyday life. In the difficult and traumatic moments, yes, such as violence and flooding and the like. But in the everyday moments of life together also. In order for this to happen, however, we have to desire such vision. In part, this is what today's feast is about.

I could stand here and explore with you the traditional or usual questions about the actual event of the Epiphany itself: did it really happen? Were there 3? Were they kings, or magi, or astrologers? What gifts did they actually place before Jesus, and what did they symbolize? In this moment, however, there are 2 prominent statements made. The first is obvious: Jesus Christ is King. The second is not so obvious and can only be understood if we consider other details in the story. Why, for example, does it specifically say that they Acame from the east? Why does the story go out of the way to clearly say that these 3 wise men were from another land? And why have these 3 visitors always been depicted throughout history as different, even in skin color? The answer is in the message conveyed by all of this: for Jesus Christ, there are no outsiders. There are no foreigners. All, indeed, are welcome.

So, if we want to allow ourselves to really be challenged by the event that we celebrate today, we could simply ask ourselves: who are the outsiders in my life? This question can challenge us personally and as a community. Saint Jude Parish has often been described as a very welcoming community. (I think back to a gentleman and his daughter who stopped in here for Mass one weekend this past year, traveling from a State in the East, on a journey to Houston for his cancer treatment and an update on his condition. A father and his daughter trying to stay focused on the star, if you will, Jesus Christ who would give them hope. And they encountered that star here, in our midst.) But when we leave here today, however, we will have missed much if we will not have seriously asked ourselves-each of us-who are the outsiders in my life?

One of the most painful stories that I heard in 2016 was that of a young high school girl who would sits alone at lunch. She had a regular little lunch group, but they left her and started sitting with another group. She did not feel welcome. And while chose to sit alone, no one invited her either.Outsiders can be found in our schools, in our families, in fact, in our own homes. An outsider is that person who we go out of our way to avoid, someone to whom we don=t even give a chance. Someone who, on the inside, feels the agonizing pain of loneliness and no self-confidence. An outsider is a person who feels unwelcome, unfortunately, because of one unfair and discriminatory reason: simply because they're different. They didn't do anything to hurt us. We just, either, don't like them or something about them, or there is something about them of which we don't approve. And for that reason, we keep them at arm's length, on the outside.One of the songs that we sing often here throughout the year is entitled, "All Are Welcome." We sing, "let us build a house where love can dwell, where all can safely live..." When we go home today, we can ask ourselves how hard we are trying to build that house.More importantly, as Catholics we worship at a table. Jesus could have chosen any tradition or ritual or way or remembering him. But he chose a table and a meal. And every single time that we celebrate and receive his real presence in this eucharist, we pray these words, "humbly, we pray, that, partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ, we may be gathered into one by your Holy Spirit." Better yet, in the eucharistic prayer for Masses with children, it comes to us in these words, "remember, Father, our families and our friends and all those we do not love as we should." Wow. Power in simplicity.

Who, then, are the outsiders in our life?

Who do we "not love as we should?"



Where do you need to go one step further---and what's holding you back?

I have some friends who live in the north, and they related to me the following story of something they experienced last winter. The Mom walked up to the main entrance of their local mall one day, and she found a young boy standing outside collecting money. It was freezing cold, and he was shivering and sniffling. She also noticed that he had no gloves. In one hand he had a piece of paper–a list of some sort, and in the other, an ink pen. He was collecting donations for cancer research. She asked him why he was outside in the cold and not inside in the lobby. He explained to her the rules of the mall. “Besides,” he said, “I like doing this.” She told him that she wanted to contribute but had no cash on her. She asked him if he could wait until she came back out, and he told her that he would definitely still be there. While she was inside in the warmth of the mall, she decided to purchase a pair of gloves for him. A little while later, as she left the mall, she found him in the same spot. Handing him the gloves, she said, “these are for you. I’m sure you just forgot yours at home.” He took them without hesitation. In speaking with him about why he was there, the little boy told her, “my friend, Pete, has leukemia, and I am trying to help out his family.” She noticed that his list of donors only had a few names on it and asked him, “do you have to fill that entire list?” He said, “I don’t have to, but I want to.” She then said, “well, I certainly hope that the group you’re doing this for will give you some kind of award if you fill up your list.” She was thinking of some type of toy or something like that. He responded, “I’ll definitely have an award.” She asked him, “what kind?” And he told her, “a brand new, empty list.”

Last week, I shared with you the quote (from Bishop Sheen, from the 1960's), that, “there are two kinds of people in this world: those who are up on the cross with Christ and those who are simply standing at the foot of it as observers.” Today, a similar distinction comes to mind for me, in light of our Gospel reading and my friend’s story of that little boy: namely, that there are those of us who “go the extra mile” and those of us who do not. There are those of us who try—and those of us who just “coast on through.” Or, to use the words of Jesus today: “those of us who only do what we’re required to do, and those who are willing to go further,” like raising money for a sick friend, whose family does not have enough. “I don’t have to—but I want to.”So, ask yourself, right here, right now—today—which of the two are you? Are you the kind of person who “does JUST WHAT YOU NEED TO DO—to get by?” Or, are you the kind of person who “does what you NEED TO DO?”

Now, there are moments when we get tired—legitimately tired and run down; moments when we get sick; moments when we get sick and tired—burned, hurt, burnt out, discouraged by life, people, our own dependencies and inadequacies—and we pull off to the side of the road for a moment. That’s not what this is about. IT IS all about the general way in which we are living our life, daily, week after week.

It’s all about how we treat people, how far we’re willing to go with patience and forgiveness, making sacrifice for others where we need to, how far we’re willing to go in applying ourselves in school, work, and healthy living. So, if you really want to let the words of Jesus challenge you today, then ask yourself HONESTLY, how far are you going right now: for your parents? Are you as parents giving your children, your spouse, your leftover time or the time that they need? How hard are you trying in school—really? And what about our faith? Prayer? Our attitude about church? (I have a really good friend who I care for deeply and have known a long, long time. Once, they said to me, “sometimes I wonder how you feel—about us being friends and me not really going to church that much...” And I said, “it’s not about me. This is about you and God and your happiness. I love you, period. But it’s not about you and me.”

There are those of us who “live simply” so that we can care more abundantly. And there are those of us who “just simply live,” as if we have no desire to go as far as we need to go. Jesus said, “when you have done only what you have been required to do, and no more, then you might as well say, ‘we are unprofitable.’” Another translation says, “then we are useless.”

Either way, where do you and I need to go one step further? And what’s holding you back?”


“Did You See Lazarus Today?”

Homily for the Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

(Fr. Trey Nelson)

OK, it’s always good to laugh a little. An older lady and a younger man end up sitting next to each other on an airplane. About half way through their flight, the lady takes out her bible and begins her devotional. While she is praying, the young man–a bit arrogant–asks her, “do you really believe everything in that book?” She replies, “of course I do.” He then says, “even that story about–oh, what was his name? The guy who was swallowed by a whale?” She exclaims with excitement, “oh! You mean Jonah!” “Yes,” he says. “How in the world could anyone survive 3 days in the belly of a whale and live to tell about it?!” She says to him, “well, I don’t really know, but I’ll ask him when I see him in heaven.” The young man, even more sarcastic than before, says to her, “well, what if he’s not in heaven? What if he’s in hell?” To which the old lady grins a mischievous grin and calmly replies, “well, then, young man, you can ask him yourself when you see him!”

There are hundreds of funny stories out there about heaven, hell, and the pearly gates, as they’re called, but all of them speak to the same very serious part of life in this world: how we treat each other–and where we hope to be when our time here is over. The reality for a lot of people, however, is that they keep putting off seriously asking this question. Such is the case with the rich man in today’s Gospel. I’d like to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he was a good man at heart, but reality is, he spent all of his life focusing on himself, so much so, that he missed someone right in front of him who needed his help. The rich man’s sin was not that he was rich. It was that he never even noticed Lazarus. And the question should not be, “will I go to heaven?” but, “who is Lazarus in my life?”

I read recently, that, “there are basically two kinds of people in this world, two kinds of Christians: those who are up on the cross with Christ–and those who are just standing at the foot of it–as observers.” To use that image, “being up on the cross with Christ” means that we are willing to immerse ourselves into the messiness of other people’s lives–to be with them in their pain–whenever and wherever and however they are hurting. To neglect this is to put off the most important part of Christian living. We meet Lazarus the beggar every day. The question is, do we even see him? Or her? And, even if we do–do we take the time to stop and help?

I could stand here and offer you example after example of “who and where and how we meet Lazarus in daily living.” I could mention that the “begging” we encounter is often for nothing more than a little attention, a moment of simple kindness. And I could remind us that Lazarus is found on the row next to you in class, on the other end of a social media post of some sort, or under the roof of your own home. Lazarus could be seated next to you right now. What I will do instead is simply share with you something that I witnessed the other day. It did, on one hand, make me very sad, but I chose to take it as a reminder of reality and allow what I saw to challenge me.

Every now and then I will go to lunch with a friend of mine, and the end of our time together usually concludes with a stroll through a book store and a cup of coffee. As I stood in line for my coffee one day recently, there was a young lady in front of me. The worker behind the counter, also a young lady, looked really sweet, but it was obvious that she was very sad and upset about something. In fact, she was crying. Still, she sniffled a little, wiped away her tears with her hands, and proceeded to politely ask the other young lady, “yes Mam, what can I get for you today?” The young lady-customer had her face and all of her attention buried in a very lengthy text message. She didn’t respond at first. In fact, it was as if she wasn’t even hearing the lady behind the counter. Two more times, the worker asked the same question, in the most polite fashion. Finally, the customer, without so much as looking up, just casually waived one hand as she continued to type with the other, and rattled off some complicated coffee order, which included several, “none of this and none of that, low-fat this, a touch of that...and please, put it in a real cup this time.” She didn’t miss a beat and was oblivious to the server’s pain. Eventually, she had to look up to pay. And when she did, she realized what she had missed and was pretty much speechless. Their transaction concluded. The worker then politely looked over the customer’s shoulder to me and asked the same thing, “sir, is there something I can get for you today?” The lady in front of me awkwardly moved to the side and walked away. I stepped up and asked, “is there something I can do for you?”

We didn’t talk long that day, but we talked a little longer than normal. She told me what had happened. Not knowing her, I asked her if she could choose to believe that all would be well. She smiled, still crying, said to me, “there really is no other way to go, is there.”

And so, you see, the story of Lazarus and the rich man doesn’t tell us much about the afterlife. It does, however, tell us a lot about the human heart.

Where is our heart? Focused on ourselves? Or on the Lazarus at our doorstep?