Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the 22nd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – August 29, 2010. The Readings for the day can be found at Thanks for reading and all of your feedback and comments! God Bless – Father Jim

You have to wonder if there’s ever been the number of athletes who were considered sports heroes, legends, “greats” who have been accused, or proven to be cheaters, dopers, roid heads like there has been in recent years. People cheating in sports (or in anything for that matter) isn’t a new thing, but, it just seems to be happening so much more frequently now… I wonder do guys your age even care, even get excited when there’s a major sports accomplishment anymore? Does it even surprise you when some of illegal act of cheating comes to light? In recent weeks, former Major League pitcher Roger Clemens has been on the hot seat over allegedly using steroids. Lance Armstrong, who’s a Cycling champ, cancer survivor, this inspirational hero to others fighting that disease has been too. The sad thing is that whatever happens in either of those cases I probably won’t be surprised. I’m normally not that cynical… but in the area of professional sports I’ve become a bit jaded. And I think I know when this doubt about professional athletes and their amazing abilities began.

The year was 1998. (13 years ago) Well that summer, for the first time in a long time, everyone seemed into Major League Baseball. People who weren’t normally fans were tuning in; Former baseball fans who were furious that back in 1994 – that season ended in September because there was a contract strike between owners and players, so there was no playoffs or world series… even those angry fans started to get interested in the sport again. All because there was a historic feat was in the making.

Since 1961, no one had hit more home runs than Roger Maris (a Yankee by the way) when he had hit 61 home runs in a season, taking the crown away from Babe Ruth (another Yankee, by the way).

Well, in the summer of 98, it was exciting to see not one, but two players on the verge of Baseball history… Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals and Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs were in a race to see who could break Maris’ record first, and then after that feat, who would end the season with the new record of most home runs. Throughout the long baseball season, it went back and forth – McGwire was ahead of the race then Sosa would catch up. People’s curiosity grew not just to see if the record that had been set for 47 years would finally be broken – but who would do it first and when – especially when these two athletes had hit over 50 home runs each by mid-August. Record numbers of people watched on TV, attended the games all because of this home-run race. Well it finally happened, on Sept 8 of that year Mark McGwire had finally broken the record, and he would finish the season with a total of 70 home runs in a year. Sosa didn’t do too badly either, he finished right behind him with 66.

Sadly, this past January after 12 years of allegations saying he had used steroids, and years of denials Mark McGwire finally admitted to using illegal, performance-enhancing drugs. Sammy Sosa also has been accused of using those drugs, but his reputation had already been pretty badly damaged. During a game in 2003 he swung at a pitch, which shattered the bat he was using. There it was for everyone to see, Sosa was using what’s called a “corked bat” – which basically makes the bat lighter and faster for the hitter to swing at, and is also a way of cheating. The embarrassment of seeing the corked bat right there on the ground, watching the umpires huddle together to investigate and then eject this “baseball great” from the game, and then hearing his lame excuse after the game “I used that bat by mistake…I use that for batting practice…” effectively ruined his reputation in Chicago and he left that team not long after.

The thing that’s frustrating to me about Sosa and McGwire is that had they just played the game fairly, honestly… they might not have broken that record, but today they would be considered role models, and sports legends in their own right. Probably would be considered Hall of Famers, particularly in this steroid age. McGwire had consistently hit over 40 home runs for years. Sosa was a fast, smart player. They had both been respected and admired as hard-working, good guys. Yet at some point, something more than just the competitive drive took over. That question“would anyone ever break Maris’ record?” went from being a goal to aspire to, to a temptation to cheat which obviously became too hard for them to resist. All of a sudden 40 or 50 home runs wasn’t enough.

They couldn’t rejoice in who they were… they wanted to be something greater than who God made them to be. They decided to take whatever means necessary to achieve that image of who they wanted to be, even if it meant cheating or doing something illegal. If they were at this dinner in today’s Gospel, it’s obvious they didn’t think they were sitting at a good enough table.

Why do we get sucked in by those temptations so often? To want to see ourselves differently than how God sees us? To think we have better plans than He does? And than to do anything, anything to achieve them?

In today’s Gospel Jesus doesn’t have a problem with the Pharisees wanting to have this dinner party (otherwise he probably wouldn’t have attended). The problems begin, as they always do, whenever God is removed from the picture. Which is what happened here. All of a sudden this dinner party isn’t a dinner party. These Jewish leaders start to see the gifts of wealth that they enjoyed, being people of power and influence as things they deserved, were entitled to, and became obsessed over. They forgot that those gifts had come from God and that they were still His children. They stopped remembering that. They saw themselves as something different, greater, more important than God’s children. So first they exclude some from there banquet, then they start trying to outdo, outshine each other (I should sit at the head table!)

But this is about something more than seating arrangements at a dinner party.

Look carefully, Jesus doesn’t say “don’t desire to be honored” – He’s not surprised that we have feelings of wanting to be admired and exalted. He’s trying to correct, even make that desire, that feeling holy. How do we do that? He teaches us that Humility is about knowing who we are. To rejoice in who we are. To see how good, beautiful, & unique we are – not because we’ve outsmarted the competition, cheated and won some achievement or been honored with a seat of prestige. No, we can rejoice in who we are because we have been lovingly made by God. Because we possess the beauty of the Creator… Because all the things that we possess, the quirks, the talents, make each of us the most unique you, the most unique I that’s ever been on this planet. And each of those gifts, all of those talents, the beauty, the uniqueness of who we are shines more and more brilliantly when we are living in selfless, loving ways.

The sad thing is that so many of us have been led to believe otherwise. We’re not as smart as “her.” Or we’re not as talented as “him.” We start to believe those lies, that diminish us and so it’s understandable that we find it hard to resist the temptation to see ourselves as better than everyone else, to try to become someone greater than everyone else, and to do whatever we have to get there. When we buy into that lie, we find that we end up pushing God aside as we rush to the head table too.

This past week would have been Mother Teresa’s 100th birthday. It’s amazing how 14 years after her death, this woman from Calcutta still captures our attention and affection as people remember that at the Banquet of Life, she didn’t even care where she sat and in fact didn’t even take a place at the table. She showed us the incredible joy that can be found in not having a seat but being a servant at the dinner. Sadly, despite all the good that McGwire and Sosa did, both on and off the field, the lapses they made when they jockeyed for better seats than they had will always be remembered, will be a part of the story. The question we’re left with, where do you want to sit?