9/11; 7/26 - DARE I SAY ‪#‎IAmJacquesHamel‬

"The world looks to the priest, because it looks to Jesus!  No one can see Christ; but everyone sees the priest, and through him they wish to catch a glimpse of the Lord!  Immense is the grandeur of the Lord! Immense is the grandeur and dignity of the priest!" - Pope St. John Paul II 

After September 11th, it was observed that for some people around the country, they didn’t feel the same emotional impact as those of us living in the New York Metro area.  That’s not meant to sound judgmental or have some sort of claim on what was the worst terrorist attack in American history.  It’s simply the reality.  Those who were killed were our relatives, our friends, our neighbors.  Those fighting to rescue and save them came from our communities.  The twin towers weren’t sites that we visited on a sightseeing trip - they were apart of our daily landscape.

It was an unwanted education.  Before that fateful day, seeing and hearing of other atrocities that had occurred around the world where “hundreds were killed, thousands were injured” - there was something anonymous about it that made it unreal.  September 11th was very real.  Speaking for myself, I know I’ve never been the same.    Every fall, the calendar feels different.  The names of the men whose funerals I concelebrated immediately come to mind (though I never knew them before).  The New York City skyline, visible from our Newman Center - while in one sense is a testimony of how we were resilient in “rebuilding” - the “Freedom Tower” to me still doesn’t look right and remains a daily reminder of what we lost in the horror of that day.  I still can’t bring myself to see the September 11th memorial.

Today July 26th I feel similarly.  I didn’t realize that at first, when I just heard short headlines, brief reports:  ISIS attacks at Normandy Church; Priest killed at Mass.  Later getting a fuller picture of the true horror, it’s rocked me in a way I haven’t felt since September 11th.

Father Jacques Hamel, an 84 year old priest, was filling in for the local parish priest at Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray Church in Normandy, France.  He was celebrating the daily Mass for the parishioners who were, just like Catholics all around the world, honoring the grandparents of Jesus, the parents of Mary - Sts. Joachim and Ann.  That’s when two ISIS terrorists burst in, wielding knives.  Congregants; turned Hostages; thankfully now turned witnesses say that Fr. Hamel tried to protect his people - a crowd that included nuns, lay people who had gathered to hear God’s word and receive Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.  Fr. Hamel was forced to his knees, beheaded before the congregation, while the terrorists went on an angry rant spewing their hate before being gunned down themselves.

It doesn’t take a therapist to explain why it would hit somewhat personally.  Mass is not simply something “we do” it’s essential to who we are as priests.  Mass, the Eucharist is that essential to us as Catholics that it is offered every day (sometimes multiple times a day) throughout the entire world.  So it’s not uncommon that when one of us is away on vacation, on retreat, and is away from our local assignment, we have another brother priest “fill in” for us.  So technically, the people of St. Etienne-du-Rouvray’s Church weren’t his people -  But they became his people as he put on the same vestments, putting the ribbons in the pages of the same Roman Missal; checking that the scripture readings were turned to the same readings that millions of us priests were all doing around the world this very day - July 26th.   He was helping a brother priest out by assuming his daily responsibilities.  Fr. Hamel had come to stand in the person of Christ.  He was there to offer Jesus’ once and for all time sacrifice on the cross, making it real to those gathered... never imagining that he would be called to lay down his life literally after decades of doing so humanly, spiritually, emotionally as a priest.

There will be plenty of ink about ISIS; political pundits will weigh in and assess the impact this attack will have in France, in Europe and the world over... sadly I suspect more blood will be shed at the hands of terrorists and in response to them.  And when I allow my mind to go in those places, I feel the same anger, the same fury I did on September 11th.    Tonight, I’m reflectively wondering how faithfully, how fully do I live out the promises I made on my ordination day - when I became a brother priest in Jesus Christ with Fr. Hamel?    Even more, as has become custom, there was a hashtag that was trending where people reflecting on the tragedy and solidarity with this simple parish priests said - ‪#‎IAmJacquesHamel‬.  For me, I wonder if would I ever be able to “fill in” for Fr. Hamel?

Eternal rest gant unto Him O Lord, and let the Perpetual light shine upon Him.  May He Rest in Peace - and Pray for all of us, especially his brother priests - that we be as selfless in our sevice of Christ and His People.

HOW TO CHANGE HOW YOU LOOK & FEEL ABOUT YOURSELF

Hi everyone, here's my homily for the SEVENTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - July 24, 2016. The readings for today's Mass can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/072416.cfm Thanks as always for stopping by to read this blog; for sharing it on Facebook, twitter, Reddit and elsewhere on the Internet - and for all your feedback and comments.  God Bless You and Yours and have a great week! Fr Jim


Quick commercial... thanks to everyone who's helped with the NEWMAN CATHOLIC 2016 SUMMER APPEAL - please check out our website for information:  http://www.msunewman.com/#!appeal/cbjb  We appreciate your consideration and your support!

HOMILY:

Some random night I was skimming through Facebook - reading a variety of statuses that were absolutely essential for me to read -including a friend ranting about how some birds are waking him up at 5 in the morning each day, a student asking "Why did I think eating 2 boxes of fiber one carmel bars was a good idea?" and someone sharing a very important link to a story on NBC revealing that Cap’N Crunch is not really a captain (glad that the journalists out there are tackling the really hard stories in investigative journalism...) Interspersed with these posts they mix in advertisements. So out of nowhere I see this post that had one line that was hard to ignore:

Our underwear will change the way you look and feel about yourself


That’s a pretty bold claim. Curiosity no doubt gets a lot of people to click it. Heck, it can even disturb a priest enough to wonder – Can underwear really do that? It might be made of a different material, manufactured in a unique way that can be new to you. But I wonder after wearing them once or twice, (and hopefully laundering them in between those uses) - how many people would recognize that life has pretty much stayed the same as it was before they ever heard of this new underwear.

Marketing executives who create these campaigns are good in knowing how to target their goods to their potential customers. How to pitch things in such a way that it somehow addresses something bigger that you desire, something you need, something you want. These underwear advertising executives are trying to be clever, catch people’s attention, and curiosity - which is pretty impressive when you think about it. How do you make something so ordinary, so routine stand out?  

By tapping into deeper desires of humanity:
that there’s some part of ourselves that we want to experience change in -
something that affects the way we look and feel about ourselves -
that we can experience that...

Hopefully all of us here at least realize that some underwear can’t do that. But we can’t lose sight of the fact that an underwear company can make that ridiculous claim because they know that people are searching for that something... Desperately longing, searching for that thing – whatever that thing is - that can accomplish a radical change in their lives that alters the way they look and feel about themselves.

In this Gospel, however, what Jesus offers us has the potential to do just that... change the way humanity does look and feel about itself. We just heard St. Luke's version of "The Our Father" - The words of this prayer are so memorized and known that it was observed that on Easter Sunday at some point over 1.5 billion people were uttering them that day alone. That familiarity makes us lose sight of how incredibly powerful this prayer is– and especially how incredibly radical this prayer was that day Jesus first uttered it.

Up until the moment when Jesus first utters this prayer - and commanding us that this is
how we are to pray - humanity never referred to God (or‘gods’) as Father. Even our Jewish ancestors, while they acknowledged God as the "Father of their nation" they never went so far as to address Him personally in prayer as "Father." Dr. Scott Hahn explained in a lecture called Allah or Abba - where he was pointing out one of the major differences, even obstacles, between Muslims and Christians discussions - one major source of division is that we dare to refer to God as Father. For Muslims that is seen as blasphemous to ascribe a human characteristic to God.

To a world that seems more unpredictable with each passing day; with people (even some of those who closest to us) sometimes acting irresponsible or self-focused; to a culture that seems more disconnected, more buying into a commercialized, materialistic society that wants us to keep consuming and purchasing things promising to meet our ever need – including those deepest needs about our identity - how we look and feel about ourselves... we can’t lose sight of the radicalness of what Jesus offers us:

A God who is Father...
who is close,
who is caring,
who is generous,
who is kind,
who is forgiving,
who is attentive
who makes us a Family.

Pope Francis a few weeks ago explained - Jesus always used the word "Father" in the most important or challenging moments of his life, saying our Father knows the things we need, before we even ask Him. He is a Father who listens to us in secret just like Jesus advised us to pray in secret. It’s through this Father that we receive our identity as children. And when I say ‘Father’ this goes right to the roots of my identity: my Christian identity is to be his child and this is a grace of the Holy Spirit.

May our daring to utter these beautiful words daily remind us of this essential truth, and offer testimony to all humanity of the only way that we can truly change the way we look and feel about ourselves – in knowing Jesus has revealed God as Our Father and we are His beloved children.

PRAYER SHAMING - IN DEFENSE OF PRAYER

Hi everyone, here's my homily for the SIXTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - July 17, 2016. The readings for today's Mass can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/071716.cfm  Thanks as always for stopping by to read this blog; for sharing it on Facebook, twitter, Reddit and elsewhere on the Internet - and for all your feedback and comments.  God Bless You and Yours and have a great week! Fr Jim

Quick commercial... as we enter into Summer, it's time for the NEWMAN CATHOLIC 2016 SUMMER APPEAL - please check out our website for information:  http://www.msunewman.com/#!appeal/cbjb  We appreciate your consideration and your support!

HOMILY:

Last December, after the terrorist attack in San Bernardino which left 14 people dead and 22 injured, which was horrific enough, sadly there was an ugly episode that followed among politicians, celebrities, and media - on social media.

In the immediate aftermath, a number of individuals in the public eye simply shared the sentiment “Thoughts and Prayers” to the victims and their families.  Which somewhat shockingly received a backlash.  “GOD IS NOT FIXING THIS” one NY newspaper had on their cover as they angrily argued that the attack was the fault of not having more stringent gun control laws.  This wasn’t the first time that praying was demeaned.  In the wake of other terror attacks, like the ones in Paris last November, when the phrase and image #PrayForParis was trending, some media outlets pushed back with images saying “Don’t Pray for Paris - Religion caused this tragedy in the first place.”  When the terrorist attack occurred just a few weeks ago in Orlando, killing almost 50 people, one late night TV host sarcastically responded to the call to pray for the victims and families -The biggest, most helpful thing you can do to ensure this never happens again is sit quietly in a room with your eyes closed, talking to nobody.

An article, which appeared in The Atlantic - after the San Bernardino attack called these responses “Prayer shaming” - which they explained was when one side seemed believed they were more caring because they were advocating doing something, taking action - while the other was in their opinion offering meaningless prayers.

There’s probably many reasons that this is happening.  The most obvious that some point to is that we are living in an increasingly secular/non religious society is one.  But even more likely, the fact that there has been more and more violence, evil, killing in terrifyingly extreme ways has left many scared and angry.  So there’s this frustration that we want to immediately see some action.  And we see it from every political angle one side wants the violence to end by demanding we “Pass new gun laws” the other side responds “Bomb them...” or that we need to “take the fight to them...”

I’m not getting into those different viewpoints.   Not because these, and many other serious issues don’t need to be discussed and important responses on how best to protect people enacted.  These discussions, debates, politics - they’re all important.   it’s understandable that as we feel more vulnerable and angry the calls for someone to do something - anything begins to get louder.  We see, yet another horrific terrorist attack Thursday night, with a man driving a truck into innocent people simply out enjoying the fireworks on Bastille Day in Nice France - leaving another horrific toll of those killed, those injured - and countless numbers of people who’s lives have been shattered once again.  And our frustration, our impatience grows as do our fears over what next?  There’s that impulse within ourselves to do something.  And sadly, prayer seems less and less a priority.

But one of the points that The Atlantic article so accurately made in their article on Prayer Shaming was that Prayer and political action have a deeply entwined history in America. From civil rights to women’s suffrage, nearly every social-justice movement has had strong supporters from religious communities—U.S. history is littered with images like the one of pastors and rabbis marching on Selma, side by side with political activists.

Prayer and actions shouldn’t be seen as mutually exclusive things.  Nor do they need to be competing activities.  Like if you’re a person of faith that you can’t be in favor of gun legislation; or that a member of the military who is out in battle isn’t prayerful.  But for some reason that seems to be a mentality that some have loudly argued is the case.

This debate between doing something and praying isn’t a new one... as we heard in today’s Gospel. This classic episode of Jesus coming to the home of Martha and Mary.  The encounter is often described as a metaphor of one who is active (Martha) and the other contemplative, prayerful (Mary) On the surface, Martha’s working her tail off, trying to be a good host, Mary’s simply enjoying being with Jesus; and when Martha’s overwhelmed by the tasks and complains to Jesus, he seems to side with Mary, the "slacker" in the story.

But it goes a lot deeper than that. Jesus isn’t judging the tasks or the work that either sister is doing. He’s not unappreciative or dismissive of Martha’s contributions or even saying that Mary’s doing something more important when he says she has "chosen the better part."   Jesus is speaking of what is going on in each of these women’s hearts. Martha has made a judgement about Mary’s responsiveness to the Lord as less important than what she’s doing. She’s determined that Mary shouldn’t be doing what she’s doing and she’s become bitter about it to the point of complaining openly about it.   In doing so, whatever generosity of spirit Martha may have had is pushed aside as she goes about her tasks, more and more frustrated that Mary hasn’t offered simply to help her (I wonder if Martha even thought to ask for help or had she simply expected Mary to read her mind and offer to help her?) Perhaps as all of this was going on Martha might have forgotten who it was she was busy preparing the meal for in the first place - that Jesus was right there in their midst.  That lapse causes her to become judgmental and critical kind of ruins the atmosphere.  Rather than Jesus being welcomed into their home and experiencing true hospitality, being welcomed, attended to and responded to in appropriate ways, he ends up mediating between the two.

That’s what evil does.  Turns people against one another.  Sure in this Gospel encounter, it’s a momentary lapse that Jesus gently corrects and the sisters are reconciled (as they will both be looking to Jesus later in the Gospels when their brother passes away).  But I can’t help but think that as we are facing so many incidents of diabolic evil inflicting such brutality and chaos on the world - that one of the devil’s bigger successes is turning us against one another.

For us to confront the great difficulties of our day, the evil that is unleashed in violence, terrorism, extremism - we as Christians need both - we do need to act, we do need to protect, we do need to examine laws and policies on a whole host of fronts that seem to be playing out in dramatic, violent ways all at the same time.

But the foundation for that is sincere, deep, genuine prayer.  And that means it’s not enough to simply tweet “PRAYERS FOR (insert latest tragedy)”.  We have to actually do that.  Connect with the Lord in our prayer.  Prayer which opens us to hearing and responding to the Holy Spirit’s promptings; Prayer which keeps me open to the Word of God; Prayer that is attentive to that which is good, which is beautiful, which is just.  Prayer that is loving, that is focused on those who are suffering and in need.

A few months ago, Pope Francis, on the feast of Sts Peter and Paul, preaching to a gathering of new Archbishops, being sent to their various Archdiocese’s around the world, emphasized the need for prayer in the face of difficulties, of trials, of persecutions, of evils.  He said:  
Fear paralyzes us, it always paralyzes us; it makes us close in on ourselves, closed to God’s surprises... Prayer enables grace to open a way out 
from closure to openness, 
from fear to courage, 
from sadness to joy. 
And we can add: from division to unity. 

Our being here is an important first step.  To hear God’s word, to receive Jesus’ Body and Blood in the Eucharist - as Catholics, this is the foundation of our faith lives, our prayer lives.  But if you’re like me, it’s easy to run out from Mass and get consumed by the day to day challenges, obstacles and try ourselves to fix, to mend, to heal, to attend to each and every need we encounter.. . without first pausing for a moment, and connecting with the Lord, asking Him to direct our words, our actions.  

A priest one time said to me when I had lost sight of how much emphasis I was putting on fixing a couple of different problems saying to me “We already have a Savior and you ain’t Him”.  And he was right.  I laughed and said “yeah I guess the best I can say is I’m one of Jesus’ customer service reps... and it’s my responsibility to tell him he’s got a problem call on Line 1, 2, 3, 4... - and what if anything he’d like me to do about it.”   Probably not the most eloquent or pious of images - but it’s an image that works well for me.  And keeping that image in mind, when I look at the boss - Jesus that is - and recognize he always prayed, especially before doing something big, then it’s important for us, His followers to as well.

God moves through prayers... He loves us and desires to give the best gifts to us.  In a world that seems spinning out of control, where evil is on the move in dramatic and frightening ways, may you and I continue to reach out to Him, who has promised He will never leave us as  orphans with no one to run to.  He is here for us... always.  Amen.

POST DALLAS: NOT OTHER... BUT BROTHER (and Sister)

Hi everyone, here's my homily for the FIFTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - July 9, 2016. The readings for today's Mass can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/071016.cfm  Thanks as always for stopping by to read this blog; for sharing it on Facebook, twitter, Reddit and elsewhere on the Internet - and for all your feedback and comments.  God Bless You and Yours and have a great week! Fr Jim

Quick commercial... as we enter into Summer, it's time for the NEWMAN CATHOLIC 2016 SUMMER APPEAL - please check out our website for information:  http://www.msunewman.com/#!appeal/cbjb  We appreciate your consideration and your support!

HOMILY:

I’m a bit frustrated today. I had spent a considerable amount of time working on my homily and had finished it Thursday Afternoon. And then in light of the assassination of 5 police officers in Dallas Texas, the shooting of 7 other police officers and 2 other civilians, I didn’t feel my homily for this Sunday was appropriate. So I’m frustrated... angry.

Not that I had to pull other words together - but the reason why I had to. This wasn’t some natural tragedy like, God Forbid, another Super Storm Sandy - or massive earthquake - resulting in massive devastation, and injuries and deaths to innocent people - which would also demand attention. This is, once again, the manifestation of true diabolical evil - the second time in less than a month - that has caught our collective attentions. A few weeks ago it was 50 individuals who were simply out for a night at a club who were gunned down by an Islamic Terrorist in Orlando. This week, these police officers were fulfilling their sacred oath - to protect and serve - at a rally which wasn’t exactly pro-Police. It was a rally, where people gathered to express their outrage over the deaths of black individuals in police-related shootings - most recently in Minnesota and Louisiana. 

Like I said, from this pulpit just two weeks ago - we as a nation need to get back to basics - first as human beings to remember how to simply be empathetic, compassionate, caring to people who are hurt and suffering losses - rather than immediately jumping to facebook groups and twitter posts -retweeting or "liking" whatever angry statement most closely captures my agenda and ratcheting the rhetoric up even more with outrageous responses, more debates with those on the other side - while in the process forgetting those who’ve died, those who are mourning, those who are in pain. It’s human to be empathetic to people in pain. And as Christians, we’re called to a lot more than simply that call to empathy and compassion.

This latest escalation has me even more troubled. Because it’s becoming more obvious that we’re not only forgetting the basics of humanity and Christianity - we’re seeing citizens turning on one another in a way that some are comparing to the civil unrest that happened around the nation in the 1960's - but I’ve never seen or experienced in my lifetime.

That is what it is that is so worrisome. That there is this general distrust, dislike for

"others." That other who we label as"those" people who are blank - and fill in the blank by race, ethnicity, religion, gender, and so on. Which is happening on all sides of every issue by the way. That distrust, dislike is turning to hatred, to evil in our words, our thoughts, and in sadly some dramatic ways like the horrific actions we’ve seen, where those we look to for protection and keeping order have been made out to be the bad guys, are literally assassinated on television.  EVEN THAT has not been enough to cause everyone to stop in their tracks and do some soul-searching.

That’s the devil at his finest - causing division, stroking fears by our constantly looking at "the other" as the problem, the blame, the cause of our problems. The devil not unique or creative... just an honest look in history we can see similar things that triggered horrific movements where on the other side of them, humanity promised "never again" to allow those things to happen.

Yet here we stand. Another crossroads as society.

All of these realities are causing widespread fear, anger, tension. People seem more unsettled, more unsure - which if we’re not careful, can cause any one of us to make some bad decisions moving forward that will only further isolate and divide us as we continue to look at one another as an "other".

God’s word today - as it always does - demonstrates how eternal, universal it really is. Here Jesus’ encounter with a scholar some 2,000 years ago can speak right to our experience, right to our situation. This passage is simply referred to as "the Good Samaritan." Most of us Christians, on hearing the title recall pretty instantly the main outline, the cliffs notes version of the story: Jewish guy gets robbed, beaten up and left on the road. Three different Jewish religious leaders see the guy and step over him... ignore him. A Samaritan guy sees him, physically takes care of him, then takes him to an inn and pays them to attend to the guy and promises on his way back, if the innkeeper spends more to take care of him he’ll pay for it.

For the most part, we look at this as Jesus talking about radical generosity and calling us his followers to imitate that. And that’s true to a point. But it kind of misses an even deeper point that Jesus was making.


Just a quick historical context to explain that. We often hear that Jews and Samaritans didn’t get along... even though for the most part, Samaritans were Jewish. You might describe Jews and Samaritans as "cousins" - who like many families, had a history of fighting. In their case, it went on for almost a thousand years! On everything from how they worshipped, their relationships with pagan people (Jews forbid any marriage outside of Judaism; Samaritans had inter-faith marriages, hence Jews saw them as "unclean") So there was long hostility brewing that got worse the 100 years before Jesus was born. At that point, it’s a toss up if the Jews hated the Romans, who had conquered their territory and basically occupied them, more than the Samaritans. And that was true on the other side. Samaritans despised the Jews for their looking down on them, for treating them unfairly. Jewish leaders had destroyed Samaritan cities, their capitol, some of their important sites. Samaritans would attack Jews enroute to Jerusalem on feast days. It was so bad, the hatred, the animosity was so deep that not only didn’t they have anything to do with each other. They avoided each other at all costs. Jews would go through the much more difficult, challenging task of crossing the River Jordan to avoid walking through a Samaritan town in their travels. Calling someone a Samaritan was on the same level as saying they were possessed.

So that’s how hated they were. That’s how deep the bitterness was. So when Jesus is asked by this Jewish scholar, who has already demonstrated an ability to do the basics that were expected (following the commandments) - What do I have to do - how do I achieve eternal Life? And Jesus responds to this Jewish audience by sharing this story of radical generosity being offered by a Samaritan - the epitome of "the other" to this man a Jew (after the Jew was ignored by his fellow Jews), he is calling us not simply to radical generosity, but radical Love - a Love that extends to our enemies. And not love in simply a ho hum, begrudging, generalized, let’s add it to the list of petitions "Pray for my enemies" - but a true love that demands much more. A love that transforms the other... into brother  (and sister).

A truly personal commitment to reach out; to care - without counting the cost; doing so not for notoriety or accolades (notice the Samaritan is nameless... we simply know him to be "Good") This gospel of radical Generosity, radical Love, radical Mercy - in answer to the question "What must I do" attaches to us the same responsibility.... the same demands.

While our hearts and minds are deeply troubled and thinking at these global, societal
examples and wonder is this possible? - Republicans and Democrats; Muslims and non-Muslims; Different racial groups - - we see the anger and hostility erupting as it did in Dallas Late Thursday / Early Friday morning where a protest went from angry (but peaceful) to horrifying and violent as a madman shot down 12 Police Officers, brutally killing 5 of them... We see these, and sadly countless other really evil stuff going on and probably feel defeatist and want to isolate from the world - away from any potential threats, any possible confrontations.

Yet Christ calls us to do just the opposite... Not to let that darkness intimidate, defeat or frighten us. And instead to begin to take this challenge of the Good Samaritan on a more local, more personal level. To think of the neighbor who because they played their music too loud and you called the cops on them you have never spoken to again. The friend who no longer fits in that category over whatever fight it was that ended that - who you learned just got horrendous news about their health. The co-worker who deep inside you’ve allowed envy and jealousy to color your image of them into something that’s probably not accurate at all. The relative - that son, that daughter, that parent -you haven’t spoken to in months, years because of that hurt, that pain, that wound that hasn’t been healed or even acknowledged at this point.

When we summon those types of examples, when the feelings and emotions that are attached to them come to mind and we supplant us and "them" into this story, the reality of just how difficult Christianity really is becomes apparent once again. But Jesus doesn’t present this to us to make us feel badly about whatever brokenness we have in our life; nor to make us feel defeated as we think "there’s no way I can love like that to whoever it is that comes to mind as we fill in the blank..." He wants us to realize how freely, selflessly, completely he loves us. When we’ve sinned, when we’ve turned away, when we’ve in a sense made ourselves enemies of the Lord and wallowed in our own messes and found ourselves poor, beaten down... kind of like the poor man in the story- when our friends and those we expected in this world to be there for us and they weren’t, the Lord is the Good Samaritan to us, He doesn’t abandon us, ignore us and pass on the other side of the road.

Love, the Lord tells us, is never abstract or distant; it "sees" and it responds. The compassion shown by the Samaritan is an image of the infinite mercy of God, who always sees our needs and draws near to us in love. Pope Francis.


Can we perhaps even begin to imagine letting go of some of the bitterness we’re nursing; the anger we’ve gone from being justified for to using as an excuse for not doing something we feel that nudge in our hearts to do (making that phone call, sending that card, reaching out to that person) Can we look at those we despise and imagine trying to be loving to them simply because that is as deep as Jesus loves us? Jesus showed us the best in the Samaritan. Can we really settle for anything else? What does our hearts tell us?

The evil, the hatred we see between groups of other people - we can feel powerless to change. But the amazingly beautiful point of today’s Gospel isn’t about how Samaritans and Jews as groups reconcilled. They never really did. But how two individuals from those two different groups chose not to let that evil "group think" confine them, define them, determine their responses. The Jew was in need, the Samaritan lovingly responded. And 2,000 years we’re still moved by that encounter.

How will you and I respond? Black lives matter... Blue Lives Matter... All Lives Matter. These camps, these movements all contain nuggets of truth that demand our rational, reasonable, attention. But Christ makes it clear in today’s Gospel, we’re called to more. Much more. May you and I leave here, having been nourished by Jesus word and His Body and Blood - with the resolve to at least begin to try to move beyond seeing, labeling one another as"other" and instead as beloved brothers and sisters.
 
 
 

DISCIPLESHIP LESSONS FROM A NAVY SEAL


Hi everyone, here's my homily for the THIRTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - June 26, 2016. The readings for today's Mass can be found at http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/062616.cfm  Thanks as always for stopping by to read this blog; for sharing it on Facebook, twitter, Reddit and elsewhere on the Internet - and for all your feedback and comments.  God Bless You and Yours and have a great week! Fr Jim


Quick commercial... as we enter into Summer, it's time for the NEWMAN CATHOLIC 2016 SUMMER APPEAL - please check out our website for information:  http://www.msunewman.com/#!appeal/cbjb  We appreciate your consideration and your support!
 


HOMILY:
A couple of years ago, an author visited Montclair State University to speak about his new book.   Just the title was intriguing - "The Heart and the Fist: The Education of a Humanitarian, the making of a Navy Seal."  The author, Eric Greitens  had studied  at some incredibly prestigious institutions like Duke and Oxford.  He became a Rhodes Scholar, then spent time outside of the classroom on mission experiences that brought to places of great need like Rwanda and Croatia and then decided that he wanted to become a member of one of the most specialized military forces – the United States Navy Seal.  It was definitely one of the most unique stories, journeys that I’ve ever heard.  He gave such an incredible presentation that even though I have a pile of books that have collected dust and not been opened, it just seemed to be a "must" read.

One thing that has always fascinated me – whether it’s the SEALS or the Marines or some other elite military group – is what these individuals endure physically and mentally to complete their training.  To have that something it takes to become a SEAL.  They go from some minimum goals like having to complete a mile and a half run in 11 minutes to doing some seemingly impossible, grueling and increasingly difficult challenges for 12 weeks of training, culminating in the appropriately named "Hell Week" in order to become this warrior.  It’s something few will succeed at.  I think Mr. Greitens said that his class started with 200 candidates -- in the end only 21 would graduate. And Greitens was able to pinpoint the reason,  the difference between those who would make it and those who wouldn’t.   While obviously a person needs to be in good physical shape, the biggest thing was the person’s mind.    The thoughts, the mental toughness of the candidate would ultimately determine if they had the mindset to go all the way.

He shared an example from "Hell Week."  That is the week – which is make or break time - the instructors work the recruits non-stop.  They get something like 3 hours of sleep the entire week - while undergoing all kinds of tests: Running, swimming, experience terrible extremes in weather.  They endure a "Drown Proofing" exercise where their feet are tied together, their hands are tied behind their backs - and they are expected to swim fifty meters like that, retrieve a face mask from the bottom of the pool with their teeth, and bob up and down a bunch of times.


Throughout this entire week, they can quit at any time - which is something their instructors remind them of constantly.  In fact they make it very easy for them.  There’s a bell mounted outdoors, right near where they candidates are training.  That bell is visible throughout this entire experience that at any moment, they can just go and ring it, and they’re done...

This one particular day they had just finished one of these torturous exercises.  The men were exhausted and struggled to remain standing at attention.  At that, the instructors said to them, "OK the next thing we’re going to do is have a nice 5 mile run, so you can go grab your gear, and lets move out." At that, Mr. Greitens said you heard "DING" – one guy quit; and then another "DING" - and then several more "DING’s".    That one afternoon was the moment where they lost the most guys at one time than at any other time that week.  Moments after the last guy quit and was walking away, the instructor looked at the remaining candidates and said "Just kidding, let’s go have lunch."

Can you imagine?  I know, that would’ve been me - one of the dings would’ve been me (probably a lot sooner than that if I’m really honest).  I kept picturing the last guy ringing the bell, just starting to walk away and hearing the "just kidding, let’s get lunch" and thinking "that would be me."  It sounded just so cruel.  But Greitens said that epitomized this essential part of this whole test.  It’s part of this process... those guys at that moment they showed they didn’t have the mindset of a SEAL.   Because the thing that made the difference was that those who quit at that point weren’t even willing to take one step on that 5 mile run – weren’t even willing to give it a try.  They had made that decision completely in their minds that they couldn’t, they wouldn’t even attempt to go any further.  Once they had done that, there wasn’t anything else that could be done.

It’s just another example that - What you think;  how you think; is one of the most important factors in determining who you are.  That’s not just a truth in becoming a Navy Seal, or in our personal lives, but it’s a truth in the spiritual life as well. 

That came to mind looking at today’s Gospel.  Jesus sounds tough today.  Harsh even:- Foxes have dens...birds have nests... the Son of Man has noplace to lay his head ...

- Let the dead bury their dead ...

- No one who sets his hand to the plow and looks to what he left behind is fit for the kingdom of God. 


But if we look closely, Jesus is being clear, honest, upfront about all that’s required in following Him.  It’s not just enough to let our hearts buy into a romanticized notion of discipleship.  It’s a serious commitment with great demands.  So we need to be clear, to get our minds right...

-Are we willing to give up security and sign on for the unpredictable adventure that comes when we set our feet on the path and follow Jesus?  That means our mind has to reject the natural impulses – that even foxes and birds have – of their instincts, their habitats in order to make the choice to let Jesus direct our paths, our agendas. 

- Are we willing to risk the comfortableness of our lives - the relationships, the projects the plans, that we’re attached too when Jesus is calling us to something that upsets them?  Jesus telling the young man to "let the dead bury their dead" isn’t an insensitive response and an unreasonable demand made to a grieving son.  Most likely, the young man was saying I want to follow you Lord - but I have things to do, things to attend to here - once my father gets old and dies, then I will follow you.  Christ wants us to heed him without delay.

- Are we prepared to expect difficulties in following Jesus?  When you see fields of crops or flowers - you see the beauty of the finished project.  Rarely do we realize the difficulty, the dedication, the perseverance required to get those fields from seedlings to an abundant bounty.  Once we start pursuing Christ, it’s tough, it’s hard - particularly in a world that is growing increasingly hostile to Him, to His message, to His followers.  Jesus isn’t asking for a perfectly cultivated field but that we keep pushing, keep plowing with all that we have within us.

Very beautifully, in today’s second reading, St. Paul made the point that Jesus has set us free from the "yoke of slavery"; we’re to use that freedom to make a choice to be clear, unhesitating, unambiguous and whole-hearted in our commitment to be his disciple.  The work of establishing God’s kingdom of justice, reconciliation and peace has no time for "yeah but first..." "In a minute" or "on second thought".  The Gospel is not some noble ideals we aspire to or words that we memorize - but a spirit we commit ourselves to; a mindset that we need to daily embrace, struggle with, work for.  When we struggle, when we get exhausted, when we feel ready to quit and "ring the bell", we’re not to give up - but to call on one another as brothers and sisters to strengthen our resolve.  In those moments we do fail, we need to call on the Lord to experience his mercy, especially in the Sacrament of Reconciliation where we confess our sins, and they are forgiven and we start over re-committed. 

May you and I have that mindset, recognizing that discipleship is not about being spectators of God’s presence -but rather a commitment to engaging in the hard work of building up the Kingdom of God, no matter the cost to us. Knowing that when we do, we’re following the one who always has us in mind, and always has our good in mind.

A WEEK AFTER ORLANDO - GOING BACK TO BASICS


Hi everyone, here's my homily for the TWELFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - June 19, 2016. The readings for today's Mass can be found at http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/061916.cfm  Thanks as always for stopping by to read this blog; for sharing it on Facebook, twitter, Reddit and elsewhere on the Internet - and for all your feedback and comments.  God Bless You and Yours and have a great week! Fr Jim


Quick commercial... as we enter into Summer, it's time for the NEWMAN CATHOLIC 2016 SUMMER APPEAL - please check out our website for information:  http://chernjam.wix.com/classisite#!appeal/cbjb   We appreciate your consideration and your support!
 HOMILY:

Since early Sunday morning, we as a nation slowly came to learn of the horrific atrocity that took place at a night club in Orlando Florida, when a terrorist went in, and doing what terrorists do - targeted innocent people, minding their own business, living their lives - and slaughtered them, robbing them of their lives, inflicting unimaginable pain and heartbreak on families and friends who lost loved ones in one of the most horrific ways imaginable, and ultimately spreading fear and terror throughout the world, which is probably the primary goal of evil individuals like this.

But something else happened this time. I’m not sure if this is new or it’s more pronounced or what - but it was definitely more obvious to me in the hours after the news first broke out of Orlando: We as a nation didn’t pause and unite and rally together - but seemed to be responding by fighting with each one another.

When 9/11 happened, and the Sunday after the terrorist attacks I stood in this very pulpit; the shock, the fear, the anger - these were all new things. We didn’t quite know what this was - terror in our midst - nor how to wrap our minds when confronted by evil in such a destructive manner. We filled this church - over 800 people crammed into every seat, people standing - in a deafening silence before a Eucharistic Holy Hour.

Fifteen years later, we’re not shocked by the carnage. We’ve become used to it. Perhaps that’s the result of too many similar atrocities occurring. We’re so desensitized now. We use an app and change our facebook picture complete with a hashtag to somehow indicate our care and concern. We say we’re praying for the victims and their families (not quite sure how many of us follow through on that)

A generation of children have grown up with these incidents happening - kind of like hurricanes or tornadoes - terrible things that they hope they never have to experience. And the adults, we have gotten into the pattern of retreating to our different corners, with our different agendas - speaking whatever talking points the leaders of those perspectives offer, and either trying to out scream one another on a cable news program; slam each other online in a virtual debate; and so forth. We don’t come together to unite in our grief in prayer. Which is perhaps the greatest success of this terrorist.

Even as Catholics - I saw many good priests who I respect for their ministries, their service - who seemed to jump into a whole host of other issues that are all important topics that we as a Church, we as a nation don’t want to talk about - gun control, LGBQT people, Immigration, mental health issues - and got into as spirited (and sometimes, sadly, as ugly) debates as you would see on any of the hundreds of news channels pitting politicians against one another. Which is another success of not just the terrorist, but the devil himself.

I really don’t want to add to that. It’s bothered me for some time, but as I see one side using this tragedy to advance one agenda and then another side to use this tragedy to advance some other cause - I just was sickened and saddened and angry. And as I prayed with the scriptures and prayed for the victims, I was trying to think of what to say today.

I really fear we’re so adrift right now and that we need to go back to the basics. Both as human beings and as Christians:

It should simply be a human response, to be empathetic to someone when they’ve suffered the loss of someone they loved. It should be a human reaction to be angry, to be sad, to be attentive to the victims and their families when they are killed in a terrorist attack. We shouldn’t have to hear details about who the victims were - or the political, religious, ideological backgrounds of the killers to decide what our reaction should be. It shouldn’t matter whether it’s 20 6 and 7 year old children and 6 teachers killed by a mentally troubled kid at school in Newton Ct; 9 people including a Senior Pastor at a prayer service killed by a Neo-Nazi, white supremacist in Charleston SC;  or 50 LGBQT people killed by a Muslim terrorist in a night club in Orlando Florida - the destruction of human life should be the thing that sickens us, repulses us, unites us to be against that evil act. How do we ever hope to confront the causes; how do we prevent these things from happening, if we can’t even find a starting place of love, of care, of empathy for one another.

As Christians, our basics demand even more than that. I couldn’t help but think about that reflecting on today’s Gospel. In it we heard Jesus asking his disciples "Who do you say that I am?" This is after he hears them share what the buzz around town is about Jesus - some say you’re John the Baptist; others Elijah; others one of the ancient prophets has arisen." In Luke’s version of this incident, Peter professes Jesus as "The Christ of God" - meaning the anointed one, the Chosen one sent by God to lead his people to peace to prosperity. Peter has come upon a profound truth and something that differentiates Jesus from all those proposed understandings, or other expectations or misunderstandings out there. Jesus is not a politician or revolutionary or ideological leader or Philospher. He is not some pundit, or commentator or community builder or ogranizer. His message will touch, affect, challenge all of these and more - in fact it will call each and everyone of them out in different and various ways. That’s why Jesus recognizes that the world would ultimately reject him.

And the same is true today. As Christians, we can not allow Jesus and his message to be manipulated to fit any singular agenda, or cause, or ideology. We can’t simply quote Jesus in response to evil in a nice 140 character tweet. We can’t allow our biases to make us arrogant in the belief that we’re right because we believe or do certain things while others don’t. If we choose to follow Him, If we recognize Him as "The Christ of God" Jesus tells us what to do - deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow Him. Back to basics my brothers and sisters -

Deny ourselves...

deny ourselves of the desire to be right;

deny ourselves of the attempts to convince someone they are wrong and I’m right;

deny ourselves of our comfort, deny ourselves our most precious resource: our time; deny ourselves of our selfish desires and choosing to be merciful, to be loving, to be selfless to those in need.

In the back and forth of the divisive debates over the last week that I kept seeing online, there’s a feature on Facebook that recalls things that happened or that you shared online in previous years. One memory from maybe 5 years ago was a quote that I had shared from Pope Benedict XVI. He said: "God personally looks after me, after us, after all mankind. I am not abandoned, adrift in the universe and in a society which leaves me ever more lost and bewildered. He is not a distant God, for whom my life is worthless. God looks after me."

I must have gone and looked, and read, and thought about that quote over a dozen times this week. So many people do feel adrift, do feel abandoned, do feel unloved. Don’t just think God is distant, don’t even think he exists. Which is the devil’s primary goal...

Can you and I simply as human beings start to work to recapture a basic respect for all life; Can you and I as Christians recapture a basic sense of our mission, our call as followers of Jesus by being selfless, being loving to all of our brothers and sisters whoever they may be - especially those who are in most of need of our love, our care, our concern? Then the basic truths become more apparent again:

The reality of God’s closeness, His care for each of us, personally,

That there is a reason, a purpose to this universe to our lives -

That evil works to undermine that and destroy it in every way possible.

That if we keep our lives fixed on Jesus’ call, despite whatever evil that is inflicted, we will never be lost.

In order to do that, we need to ask ourselves - Is God’s closeness a reality to me? If not, why? Have I distanced myself from Him and it feels like He is not around? Then I need to to reconnect with the One who loves me more than I can understand.

Once we grasp and apply the truth of God’s love, we are closer than ever to picking up His cross. Jesus denied Himself for us because of His great love; this is the model for us to deny ourselves for others. It all has to do with love. But not the trite "Hashtag Love" - but true Love, selfless, sacrificial love. Because True Love is at the core of all we are and do. The 10 Commandments came down to this: love God, love others. The first part, love God, means with everything we are and have. In doing this, that love spills over to part two, love others. Jesus did not say, "Love others if …." Humans seem to want to complicate the simple instructions.

May you and I start today by getting back to the basics: letting Jesus’ model be our model; His example be our example...And then the desire of so many to not let hate, not let evil win will see that reality in our professing who we think Jesus really is,... The Christ of God - who has come to lead God’s people to have life in it’s fullness.

ME BEFORE YOU? WHERE DOES GOD FIGURE IN?

Hi everyone!  This is my homily for the 11th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - June 12, 2016.   The readings for today can be found at:  http://usccb.org/bible/readings/061216.cfm.  Thanks as always for stopping by to read this blog; for sharing it on Facebook, twitter, Reddit and elsewhere on the Internet - and for all your feedback and comments.  God Bless You and Yours and have a great week! Fr Jim

Quick commercial... as we enter into Summer, it's time for the NEWMAN CATHOLIC 2016 SUMMER APPEAL - please check out our website for information:  http://chernjam.wix.com/classisite#!appeal/cbjb   We appreciate your consideration and your support!

HOMILY:

A week ago, the film Me Before You was released. To be honest, from the 20 second trailer I had already deemed this wasn’t going to be on my must-see list or that I’d be looking for it when it was On-Demand or Netflix. Quite simply it looked like a "date night movie" or a "chick flick" as we used to call it. You could tell pretty quickly that it was a love story and also that someone was going to die in it. So, like I said I hadn’t paid much attention to it at all.


Then a friend shared an article with a somewhat provocative headline caught my attention "Me Before You: Dear Hollywood, why do you want me dead?" The author, a 11 year old named Ella Frech calls out Hollywood in an amazingly eloquent, thoughtful and challenging piece as she begins:

Dear Hollywood,

Why do you want me dead?
Please don’t deny it. The movies you make tell me the truth about what you really think about me.

Me Before You comes out tomorrow. . . It’s the story of a guy who gets in an accident, and has a spinal cord injury, and has to spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair. A guy you think should want to die because he has to live a life that looks like mine.

Well, what’s wrong with a life that looks like mine?

My mom says this isn’t the first movie where a handicapped person had to die for being paralyzed. There was one called Million Dollar Baby where a woman is a quad and bravely chooses death instead of an imperfect life.

So I’m asking you again, what’s wrong with my life? Why do you think I should want to die?

You sit there with your able bodies, and look at people in chairs and think you feel pity for our sad little lives, but the truth is you’re afraid. You don’t want to imagine that you might be one of us one day. You think you can be perfect, and think you’d rather die than have parts that don’t work right.

I think that’s sad.
The idea of what my life looks like bugs you so much that you didn’t even show the truth about it in Me Before You. Would people be upset and weirded out if you showed someone transferring into the car, or using a bath chair, or needing a little help with a ramp? You think that makes people like me weak, and you aren’t OK with weak.

Her entire essay is well worth reading, (which you can right here: http://aleteia.org/2016/06/02/me-before-you-dear-hollywood-why-do-you-want-me-dead/) for a variety of reasons - but that last line "you aren’t OK with weak" really stayed with me.

In fairness to Hollywood (who is in the business simply to make money) they are often catering to whatever the general population wants. When the Passion of the Christ premiered over 10 years ago - and made massive amounts of money - Hollywood didn’t suddenly become OK with religion as they all of a sudden went into this mad rush of producing a bunch of "religious films." They were trying to cash in on what the movie-going public was interested in.

This doesn’t diminish young Ella’s point. In fact it makes it more brutal - because I think she’s hitting on something: a great number of people, perhaps a majority of the population - maybe even you and I - we aren’t OK with weakness.

When that - that not being OK with weakness causes us to not be limited, not be defined by our weaknesses...propeling us to do things, overcome obstacles, become people we might have never imagined possible - that can be great, healthy and inspirational.

But when not being OK with weakness
-causes us to fear the unknown;
-forget that despite how independent we think we are - none of us willed ourselves into existence and that our each and every breath is in a sense a miracle, a blessing;
-that we see others in their weakness, their fragileness, their vulnerability as a threat to whatever lie, whatever false image we’ve created for ourselves... that’s most definitely not ok.

Isn’t that’s what is blinding Simon the Pharisee’s vision; what’s sullying his heart and soul in the gospel we just heard? Here he has invited Jesus into his home for a meal. Obviously something has peaked his curiosity about who Jesus is that he wanted to see and experience for himself. Perhaps it was the buzz, the news of the tremendous deeds that Jesus had done, miracles that defied explanation. Maybe it was the charismatic words, the sermons he was preaching that were drawing multitudes to come and hear.


What we can tell is it wasn’t Jesus’ love and compassion that captured Simon’s attention. Because when this woman (who’s name is unknown, but whom is identified as a sinful woman -so she wasn’t completely unknown) enters, washes Jesus’ feet with her tears and wipes them with her hair, and kisses them as she anoints them with ointment and Jesus doesn’t dismiss her immediately, Simon is scandalized.

Often times when I’ve read this gospel I just pictured Simon as this pompous, arrogant, self-righteous Pharisee. But that’s where young Ella’s opinion piece helped me see this in a different light. As she addressed Hollywood in her article, she added - You may not believe in God. You don’t have to, and I can’t make you. But I do, and because of that I believe in the value of all people. I believe we are all made in His image and likeness. That’s why I believe all people are worth something. If you believe that people only get their value from each other, then people can take that away. But if our value comes from God, then nobody has the right to say someone who walks is worth more than someone who doesn’t. Maybe you need to find God again, because living without Him has made you mean.

And that’s kind of what stands out as we try to picture this Gospel story playing out in our minds. That Simon is being really mean. Here "the sinful woman" was doing customary acts of hospitality in the humblest of ways possible - obviously expressing in as intimate and personal a way her love for Jesus, her sorrow for her sinfulness, her desire to be worthy to be in His company. Yet, those pompous, arrogant, self-righteous thoughts Simon had were symptoms of something deeper. Simply that in his heart, Simon wasn’t ok with weakness - in the sinful woman, and in himself. He wasn’t ready to admit his own sinfulness, his own weakness. He didn’t know or didn’t want to express his need for Jesus - not as some wonder-man, miracle-worker, eloquent preacher; not for the popularity and fame that was spreading. Bur rather, his personal need for Jesus to save him from his sinfulness.

We are currently in what Pope Francis has called a Jubilee Year of Mercy. It’s meant to be a special time where the entire Church focuses it’s attention on the Mercy of God as the foundation of faith - as something that is central, the heart of the Christian message. The hope is that not only will each and everyone of us be renewed as we come to experience the joy, the radical love of Christ for each one of us in God’s forgiveness of our sins - but that we in turn we will be merciful, strive to radically be merciful as well.


Sadly I think we’ve not embraced Pope Francis’ call to enter into this year of Mercy as profoundly as he hoped in part because we’re not okay with weakness. We’re not okay with it in others. And we’re not okay with it in ourselves. And if that is the case, sadly we find ourselves relating more with Simon the Pharisee than the sinful woman.

In his book, The Name of God is Mercy - Pope Francis very beautifully calls out to us to change that perspective, as he writes:




There are no situations we cannot get out of, we are not condemned to sink into quicksand, in which the more we move the deeper we sink. Jesus is there, his hand extended, ready to reach out to us and pull us out of the mud, out of sin, out of the abyss of evil into which we have fallen. We need only be conscious of our state, be honest with ourselves, and not lick our wounds. We need to ask for the grace to recognize ourselves as sinners. The more we acknowledge that we are in need, the more shame and humility we feel, the sooner we will feel his embrace of grace. Jesus waits for us, he goes ahead of us, he extends his hand to us, he is patient with us. God is faithful. Mercy will always be greater than any sin, no one can put a limit on the love of the all-forgiving God. Just by looking at him, just by raising our eyes from our selves and our wounds, we leave an opening for the action of his grace. Jesus performs miracles with our sins, with what we are, with our nothingness, with our wretchedness."

Are we able to see that we are all fallen beings? Looking in the mirror of our soul, doing inventory on our thoughts and actions, can show us how far from perfection we are. But the important part is not to wallow in it, but to even more daring - to be thankful for weakness. Not in some false humility sort of way - but rather appreciating who we are, seeing those areas that we aren’t happy with and asking the Lord to enter into them, knowing he very much wants to... to heal them... to forgive them... to glorify Himself through us in those very areas. That is what we call Good News.

May this Year of Mercy, May this Gospel we have just heard, open our hearts ever so slightly to being ok with our weakness only because in Jesus we have the answer, the savior who wants us to transform them, transform us, into his glorious new creations.