NOT A HERO - JUST DOING A JOB

Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT - December 14, 2014 - the readings for today’s Mass can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/121414.cfm. Thanks as always for reading this blog, for sharing it on Facebook, Twitter and on the web (always surprised when I see the different countries people visit from) - and for your comments and feedback. God Bless - Fr. Jim

As Christmas preparations begin to hit a fever pitch, could I ask you to consider a gift to our Newman Center in our Christmas Appeal?  We conduct these fundraising appeals only twice a year to help our mission of bringing Christ to our students and campus - and your generosity is greatly appreciated.  Read more at www.MSUNEWMAN.com.  Many thanks for your support and consideration.

HOMILY:

The last few weeks, police officers have been in the news a lot.  Often times those stories focused on tragic, terrible incidents that became national stories for weeks and months because some public or media figures learned a few details of those stories and for a variety of reasons, that range from the pursuit of noble ideals like examining what is "just" to far more sinister opportunists who seem to want to use these incidents to promote a particular agenda (or themselves). As a result, there’s been some decent debates; sadly a tremendous amount of stupid, lawless, criminal behavior and even more sadly, further division among communities and peoples of our great nation.  

Another consequence of all this has been that the focus has been fixated on a few incidents and that other stories have been somewhat ignored. Stories that happen far more frequently than we would ever hear about in the national news.
Like Sgt. Patrick Hildenbrand.  A few weeks ago, this cop from New York thought he was pulling over a speeding driver. What he found was a panic-stricken father who was frantically carrying the seemingly lifeless body of his 22 month old son.  The boy had suffered a seizure, and collapsed. The father, obviously desperate, was racing to the hospital when Sgt. Hildenbrand came upon them and stopped them.

The 17-year veteran of the police force asked the father where he lived and knew they didn’t have time to wait for the ambulance. He knew he would need to take the father and son to the hospital himself in his Police SUV.  What he did next is what is even more remarkable. As he is driving with the lights and sirens going to get to the hospital, he simultaneously performed CPR on the boy in the backseat.

Yes, you heard that right. As he was driving, he was performing CPR on the kid at the same time.  As he explained it: "I reached my hand back here as I'm driving, moved my body over and started doing all the compressions and feeling for a pulse while I could still operate the vehicle."  When they arrived at the hospital, Hildenbrand continued CPR while he carried the boy to doctors: "The medical staff did their stuff and the baby started crying," Hildenbrand said. The Emergency Room Physician put it simply: "I really don't think this child would be here today if it wasn't for those efforts."

If anyone would seem to deserve the recognition of "Hero" it would be Sgt Hildenbrand. But, like thousands of other officers who encounter life and death situations on a daily basis, he is much more matter of fact about it in saying he doesn’t consider himself a hero:  "A lot of cops do crazy things to save peoples' lives and don't get recognized."

Stories like that don't absolve the few bad cops who do bad things.  But it should give us pause for thought and recognize how the vast majority of them do encounter life and death situations – situations that to many of us would be some of the most dramatic, vividly memorable days of our lives – but for the police officers it becomes routine to them that this one cop driving while performing CPR at the same time doesn’t really see it as being anything other than his job.

That’s not just true of cops. Being chaplain to the West Orange Fire Department, I know
that’s very true of firefighters and the EMT squad. I come from a family of public school teachers, and I know that’s true of them - how my Mom and my brothers and sister in law all sacrificed more than any contractual obligation, not because they were being "heroic" but because they saw it as doing their jobs.  There’s something beautifully matter-of-fact about these and I’m sure countless other examples in which we so often lose sight because they are so matter of fact.

That’s what came to mind praying with this Gospel passage. No doubt some of you might have been thinking as you heard it, "didn't we just hear this gospel last week? Did the priest read the wrong reading? Or -  Do they do reruns or repeats in Church? Because there's a lot of similarities between last Sunday's and this Sunday's readings.  They're both about John the Baptist; they both contain the quote from Isaiah about "the voice in the desert" calling people to prepare the way of the Lord. They both talk have John's testimony about who he is and who he is not.

But there's a very curious difference from last Sunday's reading from the Gospel of Mark to this reading we just heard from the Gospel of John. The Jewish priests, the Levites go to John the Baptist and the gospel paints a scene that's interesting. In the course of a few sentences you heard him being interrogated:

Who are you???

What are you???

Are you Elijah???

Are you the prophet???

Who are you???

What do you have to say for yourself??
To this somewhat unrelenting questioning, John the Baptist refuses to make himself out to be more than simply doing what he perceives as his job... Yes, it’s a divinely ordered job, coming from the Lord... It’s anything but routine. But John is amazingly matter-of-fact about it. He responds to there questioning: "I am not the Christ" - I am not Elijah - I am not the prophet.   Who is he? I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘make straight the way of the Lord’.

John the Baptist, just doing his job.

His personal humility though similar to the heroic actions we see in our fellow citizens who serve us and consider it routine should only serve to underscore for you and I the importance of his job... the importance of His message.  The original listeners to John were arguing about who he was.  Some wanting him to be someone more than he was, or something he wasn’t.  Others worried he would undermine their exalted senses of themselves, their own personal agendas.    John the Baptist has none of that. He rebukes the temptation to exalt himself. He doesn’t let the others off the hook trying to ignore the message that God has put into his heart, his soul - being proclaimed from his mouth and lips, even thousands of years later.

"Jesus Christ is the Messiah, the Prophet greater than any prophet, the One who came to set all things right - he alone, and no one else. John had clear and distinct ideas about Jesus, do we?" (Fr. John Bartunek, The Better Part, p 798)

As Catholic Christians, with the countdowns continuing and sounding louder and louder to prepare for the celebration of Christmas with greater urgency, this Third Sunday of Advent reminds us of the importance in rejoicing in God our savior, and the importance of our jobs as Jesus’ disciples, to humbly "do our job" - an amazingly important one, a job that in some ways takes heroic efforts in our day and age, but one that we are called to engage in... To Prepare the way of the Lord once again. As one "meme" that floated around the other day put it: It is up to us to keep Christ in Christmas - how?  Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, forgive the guilty, welcome the stranger and unwanted child, heal the sick, love our enemies, come together as brothers and sisters at Mass.

In doing so, we may feel the continual pull of the world that we are "going the wrong way." We are swimming upstream in a downstream world. It is not normal or natural to "do our jobs" as light-bearers for Christ, but people will notice the light and be drawn to it. We are not the light, but we carry it deep inside of ourselves. In doing our job, the Light will shine, sometimes in very dark places. When that happens, others will know that God's presence is there for them. They will know His great love for them and understand a  little bit more not just about the specialness of a baby born over 2000 years ago; but the living, risen Christ, who is alive in our midst, and if we let him, alive in our lives as well.

ENDING THE "WAR ON CHRISTMAS?"

Hi everyone, here is my homily for the SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT - December 7, 2014. The readings for today can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/120714.cfm . Thanks as always for reading this blog, for your sharing it throughout social media and all your comments and feedback. It’s much appreciated. God Bless, Fr Jim.

As Christmas preparations begin to hit a fever pitch, could I ask you to consider a gift to our Newman Center in our Christmas Appeal?  We conduct these fundraising appeals only twice a year to help our mission of bringing Christ to our students and campus - and your generosity is greatly appreciated.  Read more at www.MSUNEWMAN.com.  Many thanks for your support and consideration.

 
HOMILY:


Between friends posts on Facebook; overhearing random conversations and just a quick glance around town you get the sense that a lot of people are working overtime in preparation for "the Holiday’s." That’s not my attempting to be PC and not say "Christmas" here - but rather to cover everything from Thanksgiving through New Years with some made-up things like "Festivus"; office party’s, Friends-givings; and so on. It’s a celebratory time of year which means a lot of different things to a lot of different people.

The thing that hit me though with all of this celebratory stuff going on is how - no matter what people believe or think - a common bond that everyone seems to be sharing right now is we’re busy preparing. Very busy preparing for these annual celebrations. Just look at that beautiful tree in Rockefeller Center that was just lit up this week - there’s been crews of people working full-time, non stop for weeks on that - just to cut the tree, transport it to New York, get it up, put scaffolding around it to put miles upon miles of lights on it... that took the work and effort of a small army of people.

Far less visible to the entire world than that tree - and we can attest to how many of us are doing the same things in our own homes, offices, dorm rooms. A friend shared before and after pictures of her house online that chronicled how she had spent the days after Thanksgiving decorating with the update "three-days of non-stop decorating and I’m finally done!" I saw this other house that did a "Frozen" theme light show that I can’t imagine how many days, weeks took to put together.

Objectively speaking, when we look at it, all of it is quite impressive. Whether people or communities are going with the non-holiday-specific white snowflakes on lamposts or places that have nativity scenes complete with live animals roaming around - in a lot of ways, it’s beautiful. We see how people put forth so much work, so much creativity, so much effort to turn this environment of ours - which at this time of year, with the leaves from the trees gone, the weather making a dramatic turn which has made everything feel and look a bit barren, a bit cold, a bit deserted - to see all of that transformed to make it feel alive, colorful, joy-filled even. For those who’ve done that work, you know how much preparation goes into each of those things.

The thing for us as Christians, we have mixed feelings about "Christmas being co-opted." I must admit that the so-called "War on Christmas" has angered me in past years, and at times, still does, especially when it seems some people go out of their way to attempt to remove any connection to the religious aspect of the season or feign they’ve been hurt or slighted by any reference to it being Jesus Christ’s birthday that we’re celebrating... that’s called being extreme.

But on the other hand, I know that when I get sucked into those debates, those arguments, I can get drawn into the other extreme... where I lose sight of the signs, the sights of the season. Do I really want to argue whether that store that has a "Happy Holiday’s" sign up because they hate Christians? or if that other guy who doesn’t even believe in God has "Merry Christmas" hanging in his store window is just doing that because he wants my Christian money (which has as much value as atheist dollars and cents). We can get distracted, wrapped up in so much of that stuff... and can come here to look to rally together for this fight in this so-called War on Christmas for our side.

But I really don’t think that’s what the season of Advent is about.

Maybe we can look at all of this from a different perspective this year. Because all of the physical efforts we’ve seen to make our winter wonderlands, Santa villages, even Frozen -theme light shows so elaborate is really a modern metaphor to some of what we just heard in the readings.  check out this house if you want to see the epitome of elaborate!



We just heard the beginning of the Gospel of Mark proclaimed, which tells us that John the Baptist was fulfilling the role of Isaiah the prophet from the Old Testament. John is speaking to the world as the voice of one crying out "Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths." That ties the Gospel to the words from the prophet himself that we heard in the first reading. If you missed them, they are words of tremendous expectations: A voice cries out - In the desert - prepare the way of the Lord - make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God! Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low... and so on.

Again, it took weeks (months even?) and a small army of people to bring one tree to Rockefeller Center, can you imagine what type of effort, time, resources it would take to fill in a valley, to level a mountain? You see in, our day and age, thousands of years since those words of Isaiah were first uttered - we can drive to the George Washington Bridge and see how excavation crews can cut through a mountain to build a highway for cars - we might not realize that’s no easy task to accomplish. These types of things take a lot of time, a lot of effort, a lot of energy and resources to accomplish.


All of those poetic images are meant to point out for each of us the difficult, the extensive, the time-consuming, all encompassing efforts it takes spiritually for us to prepare a place for Christ to enter in. We can sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that just getting here to Mass has us covered. But that would be like those of us who going into New York looking at the tree and say "how beautiful" as we stare at it for five minutes, take a few pictures and then go sight-seeing and shopping-- having no idea the effort to put that up - or if some friend walked into your elaborately decorated home and simply saying "Oh that’s nice" as if they looked at some store bought plant that you have on a table.

We can’t simply be in the presence of the Lord and think we’ve got it, we’ve done the work to welcome Him in ourselves. When someone comes to the door, it's easy to leave them out on the porch talking through the screendoor. But if you ask them inside, you are taking more of a risk in being vulnerable. That is not a bad thing, especially when it’s Jesus Christ who is at our doors. Don't leave Him on the porch. Invite Him in and make room for Him in your life.

That takes real personal preparation on our parts to prepare the way of the Lord. To make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God - to invite Him in from the porch. I am recognizing my need for God, my absolute dependence on Him - that I need and want Him to come, to come into my world, come into my life. I need Him and so do you. We can’t fool ourselves that we don't … if we do, we will fall short.

There are valleys that need to be filled in each of our lives – valleys of selfishness, of self-centeredness that have led to an arrogance, a false belief I can do things on my own, where I forget my need for God in my life. There are mountains and hills need to be leveled in each of our lives – – Obstacles preventing God that seem insurmountable for Him to truly entering my life and yours.  He has seen it all:  the mountains of sin, addiction, struggles those things which allows the devil to repeat lie after lie to the point that we can start to believe those lies and forget that God loves me so much. Have we forgotten that? He wants so much for me and you to be His sons and Daughters. He loves us so much that He sent His son Jesus to come to us, and desires Him to make a home not simply among us- but within us....


This is the hard work of the season of Advent, to prepare the way of the Lord, to welcome Him anew. And if we allow it, we can let the beauty of the "holiday season" constantly make us aware of the Advent Season – a time of waiting and preparing our hearts. Pope Benedict XVI a few years ago put it like this: "Let us remember... as we look at the streets and squares of the cities decorated with dazzling lights, that these lights refer us to another light, invisible to the eyes but not to the heart."

If we keep that advent focus - to be aware of, attentive to that light - of Christ...

If we become aware of how perhaps that light has dimmed in our own hearts, we can engage in the difficult preparations, the hard work of straightening, filling and leveling that needs to take place in us for the light to be brightened and glow in our lives...

Then the true meaning of the season will be recaptured, not in a "war" being won, but in the lived witness and testimony we offer. As we prepare to commemorate the first coming of God in the special package of a little baby at that first Christmas, May you and I encounter Jesus Christ here and now, prepare to welcome him anew and experience the empowerment of God's Holy Light in the houses of our own hearts.

THANKSGIVING DISASTER AVERTED - NOW FOR AN ETERNAL ONE...

Hi everyone, hope that you all had a blessed Thanksgiving and Happy New Year!  That's right, tonight the Church begins it's new "Liturgical Year" with this season of ADVENT.  Here is my homily for the FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT -November  30, 2014.  The readings can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/113014.cfm.  Thanks as always for reading this blog, sharing it and your feedback.

As Christmas preparations begin to hit a fever pitch, could I ask you to consider a gift to our Newman Center in our Christmas Appeal?  We conduct these fundraising appeals only twice a year to help our mission of bringing Christ to our students and campus - and your generosity is greatly appreciated.  Read more at www.MSUNEWMAN.com.  Many thanks for your support and consideration.


HOMILY:


A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine called and asked "what are you and your family doing for Thanksgiving." Even through the phone I could hear his shock when I told him I was hosting my family.  Quite simply, he knows me well enough that cooking a "Hot Pocket" can be a bit of a challenge at times and that my improvisation in the kitchen could include me trying to google if there’s a way to cook a Turkey on a George Forman grill.  At any rate, I quickly confessed that I had planned to order everything pre-cooked from a local supermarket. About a week and a half ago, I ran over there to put the order in. I never realized how complicated even ordering a meal could be.  Do you want an organic-antibiotic free bird that’s been brined? (What? Ah, yeah, that sounds fine...) What sides do you want. You need to order 2lb minimum per side (okay is 2lbs of mashed potatoes enough for 6 adults and 3 kids?)

I was getting antsy just making these choices but it seemed like it was going okay. Then the lady asked me "Father, when do you want to pick this up? Wednesday night? Because Thursday from 6- 8 in the Morning it’s going to be a mob scene here..." I thought for a second - I didn’t want to get everything the night before and then have it sit till the next day - I mean, again, I’m not a cook, how would I fix it all so that it still tasted fresh from the oven/stove overnight? So I said "well what’s the latest I can come and pick it all up?" She said "well I’m not sure how late the store is open till, but our department will only be here till around noon" - so I said "Okay, how’s 11:00 on Thanksgiving?" She stopped and said "Well, yeah, we can have it ready for you then." Perfect... I thought. Then she asked a strange question "What time are you having everyone for dinner" - I’m not paranoid or anything but was thinking why is she asking that, is she looking for an invite or something? But I let that random thought fly out of my head and just responded "1:30/2:00" She then said "you do know that you have to cook the Turkey..."

Uh.... what?

And then she pointed to the text just above all the different bird options that clearly said "OVEN READY TURKEY" - meaning they have it all set for you to cook. "OH NO - NO NO NO" - "Father it’s really not that hard..." as she pulled out the directions. After I explained this was definitely not going to be my year to experiment cooking a Thanksgiving Dinner and that if need be I would go to Boston Market, buy a bunch of there rotiserre Chickens and pass it off as Turkey, she came up with another Turkey option which didn’t involve cooking the bird.

In a lot of ways I’m extremely grateful that she pressed me on the details. The fact that I hadn’t really paid close enough attention to something clearly stated right in front of me could’ve resulted in a lot of anxiety, frustration, embarrassment on Thanksgiving. (I’m imagining that I would’ve decided to double the temperature of the oven to cook the bird in record time) If not for this stranger’s care and concern, Thanksgiving dinner could’ve been a bit of a disaster.

In tonight’s Gospel, we hear words of care and concern - not from a stranger, but rather the one who knows us most intimately: Jesus Christ. And he’s offering this very short, somewhat abrupt little parable to help us avoid not some kitchen nightmare but a real, eternal disaster for us individually. 

Are we prepared for the day when we meet Jesus Christ face to face? We don’t know if that will be at the end of the world (whose date is a mystery that only God himself knows) or our own "end" (whose date is also a mystery that only God himself knows). But in either case, this Gospel opens up a new year in the Church - a new season in the Church called "Advent." It’s hard with Black-Friday, Cyber Monday and all the other Christmas commercialization for us not to apply that here as well. Advent isn’t meant to be the pre-Christmas season in Church...  True, Advent will (the last week of the season) recall the anticipation of the world at the first coming of Christ at the first Christmas.  But Advent means a lot more than that. At it’s core, Advent is about welcoming Christ not just back then- but knowing and anticipating his return at the end... and the best way to do that; to be prepared for that is to welcoming him here and now. 

That’s why this brief Gospel parable of the master of the house, Jesus gives us the perfect summary of what Advent is about. Waiting.... Watchfulness... Readiness.

Jesus calls us to realize our responsibilities in the present as we dare to look forward to the promise of the future. As many times as we’ve heard similar messages, we realize we can sometimes miss by obliviously moving through, thinking everything’s fine, we’ve got it covered, we’ve got plenty of time to get all that we need to do.

But Jesus reminds us that we simply don’t know how much time we have.  And the preparations we need to undertake really vary from person to person - because it’s not holiday preparations like gift buying, sending cards or even cooking a Turkey.   Things like Love and Compassion... Forgiveness and Healing given to and received from those around us... yeah that’s hard, difficult work, without real time-tables attached to each of those things. Jesus tells us to watch and not be found asleep. It's easy to fall asleep when surrounded by blessings, like a turkey dinner. Life can get so comfortable that we can nod off. But in doing so, we are missing the brunt of what is needed; we need to be aware and ready.

But here’s the thing, Advent isn’t meant to add stress to our already stress filled lives. We’re not to anxiously run through all those things in a mad dash to check them off our list, but rather to reflect, and confront with the preciousness and fragileness of our lives what choices, what values, what beliefs are important enough to LIVE for.  Because in the end, life is a constant Advent experience:
the world is not as just,
not as loving,
not as whole as we know it can and should be;

we are constantly waiting to become,
to discover,
to understand,
to change,
to complete,
to fulfill.

Hope, struggle, fear, expectation and fulfillment are all part of life's Advent. The coming of Christ and his presence among us -- as one of us now -- gives us reason to live in hope:
that light will shatter the darkness,
that we can be liberated from our fears and prejudices,
that we are never alone or abandoned by our merciful Father in heaven.

He walks with us through the advent opportunities He gives to prepare ourselves for His return. What a great day of celebration and feasting that will be!

WELL THAT SHOULD BE OBVIOUS





Hi everyone, here's my homily for the feast of OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, KING OF THE UNIVERSE - Sunday, November 22, 2014. The readings for today's Mass can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/112314.cfm .  Thanks as always for reading, commenting, and sharing this blog on Twitter, Facebook and Reddit... and for your comments and feedback.  Thanks and God Bless - Fr. Jim

HOMILY:
For you listeners of Lino Rulli’s "The Catholic Guy Show" this would be a perfect story for his "What’s up with that segment" that he plays when I’m on the air, coming from NBC News:
A Southern California man’s job prospects are not looking good after he allegedly stabbed the boss during an interview Monday afternoon. El Cajon police say the applicant, Jose Lopez, showed up drunk to a job interview at 207 South Sunshine Avenue. When the business owner smelled alcohol on Lopez’s breath, he confronted the interviewee about it. In turn, Lopez became angry and then got physical, police say. A fight ensued, but when the boss got the upper hand and put the suspect in a headlock, Lopez stabbed him in the arm, according to investigators. Lopez then ran off, leaving behind one very important piece of evidence: his job application. When El Cajon police officers responded, the victim showed them the paper that listed the suspect’s name, which they used to find his address. They arrested Lopez in his home later that day. He has since been booked into San Diego County Jail on charges of assault with a deadly weapon. The victim was taken to Sharp Memorial Hospital for a minor stab wound. The El Cajon business will undoubtedly be taking more applications.

Do people really need a reminder that when going on a job interview that you shouldn’t show up drunk, stab the potential employer – and then leave the completed application (with your name and address) behind for the police? You would think that such things we would know instinctively. Those are things that you shouldn’t have to be taught in a career counseling course or a suggestion posted on Monster.com.  It’s basic common sense.  But evidently, we as human beings still need reminders of even obvious things. (Today’s Public Service Announcement: Don’t touch a boiling pot of water with your bare hands... it will burn) Really? When reading the warnings on appliances, it's really comical how specific they are in the "do nots" they list. Perhaps the legal system has something to do with this.

In reading today’s Gospel, aren't the points that Jesus is making somewhat obvious? As we celebrate this feast of "Christ the King," we hear very familiar directives.  His expectations of us as members of his Kingdom seem fairly obvious: Take care of the poor, the sick, the stranger, the imprisoned – even people who don’t identify themselves as Christian will often characterize those actions as a "Christian" thing to do.  And when we’re found not doing these things, not doing what Jesus expects us to, just look at how quickly some individuals (rightly by the way) will point out the hypocrisy when someone claims to be a devout Christian and ignores the poor or takes care of themselves to a luxurious extreme. 

On the flip side, and from a more positive perspective, there have been numerous stories showing how the Catholic Church is widely seen as the single largest charitable organization in the world - and when you include our brothers and sisters of other Christian denominations - that gap would grow considerably.  That goes from everything from providing health care, education, shelter, chaplaincies, rushing into lands and areas suffering devastation from natural disasters. Even last month, as people panicked over the Ebola virus, most people overlooked that  the first Americans who were infected were a part of missionary teams doing medical care in those African regions that were hardest hit by the virus.

All of this isn’t meant for us to congratulate ourselves and pat ourselves on the back for a job well done. I think for a lot of us, we can fall into the trap of thinking that it’s like throwing a Yankee shirt on and thinking I’m part of a winning team because I do that (when in reality I’d be arrested just walking on the field during a game!) We’re not "covered" because we're a Christian and belong to the Church. Yes, the Church and Christians around the world do good things for people who are suffering. But the question remains, are we personally doing something to serve in the name of Christ?

Jesus is pretty explicit here. Saying that at the end of time, the judgment of our lives is simply going to be centered around one question. The question isn’t a surprise. It will be pretty obvious to us.  And even with the obviousness of it, even though we shouldn’t need these reminders, he goes ahead and reminds us once again – that it won’t be our GPA, our awards, how many Facebook friends, or how much fun did we have in life that will matter.

It will simply be what have we done for Christ and our neighbor? What did you do for Christ? Are you prepared to answer that question right now?
 
He begs us not simply to do that to be "good people" or to be "good ambassadors" as members of His Kingdom.  He is telling us that the secret to eternal happiness begins right here and now, in this life - when we live selflessly, sacrificially for one another - seeing one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.  In this self-giving, self-forgetting love, we begin to reverse what is the core of the "original sin" - self-centeredness, self-indulgence, self-sufficiency which has been a problem for every human being since Adam and Eve left that garden. What things are we spoiling ourselves with while our brothers and sisters are hurting and going without?

It’s true, some of the greatest of Saints (like St. Francis of Assisi and please God, soon-to-be Saints like Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta) became such because they responded to this Gospel in such radical ways the entire world admired their example and witness (while they still doubted whether they were doing enough) But that doesn’t mean you have to run to your ATM empty your bank account, drop out of school, sell everything and give it to the poor. With all the gifts, all the talents, all the opportunities we’ve been blessed with here and now, the question is how will we allow that question to shape our present, and our future:  what are we doing for Christ and our neighbor. It's a moment by moment decision.

How is your dorm rooms, your class rooms, your work places, your families, your tables in the cafeteria different because of your response to His command?  How are we practicing charitable living not simply dropping off groceries to a food drive or a Toy for an underpriveleged child at Christmas a few times a year.

Do you feel the tension? It's a tension built on what we want to do and what we should do. It's felt at those times when we feel we should be somewhere else, doing something else, and this is in response to the call on our lives that we read about in the Gospel. Tension here is a good thing for it shapes us into the person God wants us to be. Because truth be told, Jesus Christ our King’s expectations are difficult, are challenging to respond to. But at the same time, they are also incredibly obvious to us. And we can never say we didn’t know what He expects of us.

DOOMSDAY! Are you prepared?


Hi everyone - here's my homily for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time - November 16, 2014.  The readings for today can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/111614.cfm.  Thanks as always for taking the time to read this blog, sharing it on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit and all your comments and feedback. God Bless - Fr. Jim

HOMILY:


Doomsday … it's a term that we consider when our world is in horrible shape because of some catastrophic event. How many of you have ever heard of the show “Doomsday Preppers?”  When a commercial for the show came on, I never took it seriously.  I just imagined it was some bizarre TV drama - like “Lost’ or “The Walking Dead”– something that’s fictitious, something that’s not real but is sort of presented like it is or could be.  For whatever reason, not too long ago, a preview of an upcoming episode of Doomsday Preppers caught my attention and I realized this isn’t some fictitious show, it’s a sort of reality TV/ documentaries that follows people who are “prepping” to extremes that it consumes their entire lives.  My immediate thought was -“Oh boy, this is a whole new sort of crazy.”  Each episode follows a different group of people who are prepping for all sorts of threats - real or imagined.  They anticipate all kinds of disasters, calamities, unprecedented happenings and try to plan accordingly.  For example, there have been episodes showing individuals preparing for when the Chinese take over our country.  They’ve highlighted people who are preparing for a terrorist attack or when the Russians launch a nuclear attack.  There have been episodes where people anticipate the electric grid going caput and for all of us being without electricity for months, even years.

Living in this area of Northern New Jersey - not 15 miles from New York City - where we suffered through the horrific 9/11 terrorist attacks; where we survived “Super-storm Sandy” - if anything those terrible events have taught us - just as Hurricane Katrina taught the people of New Orleans and the earthquakes of the past have taught the people of California - certainly, it’s understandable - it’s important - it’s essential - for us to have plans in case of emergencies.  It’s not an unreasonable expectation for us as citizens to hold that our government officials conduct drills and contingency plans to prepare for worst case scenarios.  It’s responsible for us to have some supplies on hand in case something happens and for families and friends to come up with some plans of what to do in an emergency.


But thats not what this show is about.  They introduce viewers to people, often living in rural places in isolation who have turned their homes into bunkers. You see pictures of these places filled with wall-to-wall canned goods.  They have built escape tunnels, hideaway places.  They spend most of their time drilling, stockpiling items all based around their belief that when the end comes - they will be the ones prepared to deal with it - they will survive because they took care of themselves.

I hate even giving attention to this show on so many levels - seeing these people being exploited for being obviously eccentric (and in some cases, legitimately they seem to have some serious psychological issues).  Had this show never existed – nor been a ratings powerhouse for the Discovery Channel – I doubt I would’ve ever known there were people who view life, live life (if you can call this “living”) with such a doomsday perspective.  But it’s hard to ignore such a colossally sad existence.  How fear is the guiding principle to their lives.    They’ve based their entire life preparing for the worst.  They’ve invested their time, their abilities, and a heck of a lot of resources towards this.  They’ve isolated themselves from the rest of civilization. They miss the irony that the very life they are somewhat desperately trying to protect from exterior forces they are themselves diminishing, squandering - losing.

In some ways these “preppers” reminded me of this poor shlub we just heard about in this Gospel.  In this parable Jesus talks about a man entrusting to his servants his possessions.   One gets “5 talents” the other 2 talents and the final guy 1.  “Talents” in this context represents huge sums of money... 1 talent could represent something between $1,000-$30,000.    So let’s just say $10,000 to illustrate what’s happening.  The guy with $50,000 through his investment makes it $100,000 - The guy with $20,000 makes it $40,000 - The guy with $10,000 gives him back the initial $10,000 - having done nothing with it.

If you hadn’t guessed by now, Jesus is the Master and we are the servants.  And the great “sin” in the parable is that this one servant (who Jesus calls “useless”– ouch!) lets fear inhibit him from even trying to do something with that $10,000.  He didn’t look at what the other two servants were doing for inspiration.  He doesn’t ask for any advice or help.  Just like the doomsday preppers - fear becomes a fixation - which turns inward into selfishness, into self-centeredness - and isolation.  The guy with the one talent is so cautious - he does nothing with it - it provides no benefit for he himself who has been entrusted with it, and its value remains unchanged for the king when he returns.  The time, the opportunity to do something or make something is wasted.

Working with college students - I can’t help but think that this parable is so incredibly perfect for you all.  You are at a time, a place in your life where you have possibly the most freedom and most opportunities than you will ever have.  You have more independence than you have ever had.  Most of you are blessed not to have many responsibilities apart from “finding yourself” - and dedicating your efforts to pursuing whatever it is that you’re passionate about.  What are the “talents” - not monetary things - but rather traits, passions, desires, gifts that you have locked within you - that are looking to burst out.   And even more, are you connecting the dots to see who they originated with? Seeing how you can glorify - not yourself- but the Master who has entrusted you with these talents? What will you do with them? It's a choice.

I encourage you to people watch around campus. It grieves me that there are plenty of examples of people who are squandering this opportunity.  Skipping classes, cheating, abusing themselves, using one another.  It’s a sad reality that some will barely get by, barely survive mid-terms, finals and scrape by and somehow manage to graduate.  Others don’t participate in anything but the bare minimum. Why? Laziness.  I remember a group of seniors one day walking past Kasser Theatre last year and laughing as they said “I’ve been here 5 years and never been in that place.”  That’s pretty sad.  Their 4 (or 5 or 6 years) these gifted students have been given will do little to glorify God or anyone else except perhaps themselves.   But it’s not the only way these years can be taken for granted.

Self-indulgence, laziness, fear - they don’t just blow opportunities in the here and now.  This isn’t just about making the most of your college years and giving you the “Carpe Diem” (the Montclair State University motto) motivational speech.  Jesus is going further, deeper.  Asking are you allowing those sinful attitudes and behaviors to blow this opportunity - this life you’ve been given?  How is your life, your existence, your time on this planet going to be used to glorify God - enrich His kingdom?  Every day we are given opportunities to make the most of what we have been given. The minor choices we have for our resources - whether it’s the money we spend, our creativity, our freedom of speech to either glorify God or bury that talent where it will never be seen or experienced.  Those day to day decisions start to impact your life decisions as well...  I can’t tell you how many times someone talks about picking a major or a career simply because it’s seen as “secure” … it's safe. Perhaps you are living up to someone else's expectations. (I’m studying to be a doctor because my father is one and he really wants me to - but I really wish I could be a teacher...)  Or even relationships “I know that he/she isn’t perfect; we fight a lot; but we’ve been together for so long and I don’t want to give up after we’ve spent so much time together.”

God has not created people to live in a fearful or doomsday mentality and go underground. He has created us to shine His light. That is kingdom investment that will make a good return because it is backed by the power of the Holy Spirit.  To step out into the unknown, directed by the hand of our Loving Father – to take advantage of the different talents he has entrusted to us, knowing that He sees the potential – the life-giving, life-changing potential each of us possesses since He created us for that purpose.  That’s the heart of the message Jesus is sharing in today’s Gospel.  The question is, will we need Jesus warning?  Because the alternative - to choose to stay in whatever comfort zone we’ve created for ourselves; to at the end of our lives seeing these blown opportunities; to have the Master find us – secure, but useless… that would be the epitome of a "doomsday” we should have been prepared to avoid.