POPE JOHN PAUL II and EXPECTING THE UNEXPECTED

Hi everyone, here's my homily for the SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER - APRIL 23, 2017.  Thanks as always for reading, commenting and sharing this blog on Reddit, Twitter and Facebook.  I'm grateful for the feedback and support!   Have a blessed week - Fr Jim

HOMILY:
Some years ago, a priest was visiting Rome and was fortunate to have an audience with Pope John Paul II.  Just an FYI, that’s not an extremely common thing.  Being the head of over one billion Catholics, the Pope’s a busy man - I can’t just email the Holy Father’s secretary and schedule something.   Anyway, this priest had an hour free before he was to meet with the Pope so he decided to go to the Church across the street from his hotel to pray before his meeting.  On the steps of the Church were several beggars.  As the priest passed to go in to pray, he thought he recognized one of the beggars sitting on the steps.  But, he passed him by and went in to the Church to pray.  As he knelt down in the Church, he realized where he knew the beggar from. He rushed back out of the church and asked the man, “Do I know you?” To which the beggar replied, “Heh, yeah, we went to seminary together.”  The priest replied, “So, you’re a priest then?” And the beggar replied, “I used to be, but look at me now.”  So the priest kind of speechless for a moment told the beggar he would pray for him to which the beggar replied, “Lot of good that will do.”

The priest left for his meeting with the Pope but was saddened and startled by this unexpected reunion.  So much so that, ordinarily when someone meets the Pope, it’s a pretty formal thing - there’s usually some brief introductions and a respectful gesture and that’s it... Not a lot of chit-chat or anything.   But when this priest went to meet the Pope, he bowed his head and found himself kind of blurting out the story about the beggar he had met earlier in the day.  John Paul looked concerned and told the priest that he would pray for this beggar.

So the following day, the priest went to the same church and saw his beggar classmate once again. He told him, “Guess what, not only am I praying for you but now Pope John Paul is!” The beggar replied, “Yeah, so what, it won’t do anything.”

Later that day, the priest got a call from the Pope’s office. The Holy Father wanted to have dinner with the priest and he wanted him to bring the beggar. So, the priest tracked down the beggar a third time and told him, “The Pope invited me to dinner and he said that I had to bring you as well.” “Me?” said the beggar, “Look at me, I haven’t showered or shaved in who knows how long and look at my clothes.”  “I rented you a room in the hotel across the street and got you some clothes as well, but we have to hurry,” said the priest.

Not long after, the priest and the beggar were meeting with the Pope to have dinner. They met in the Pope’s private residence and enjoyed wondrous hospitality. The first course came and the second and third. Before dessert, the Pope motioned to the priest and asked him to leave the room for a bit. So, the priest went outside and left the Pope and beggar in the room by themselves. Almost a half hour went by before the priest was allowed back in for dessert.  After which the two men said goodbye to the Pope and left.

When they were outside, the priest asked the beggar, “What did John Paul say to you in there, what happened? ”  The beggar said a little timidly and quietly, that the Pope asked the beggar if he would hear his confession. The beggar said, “Me! How could I? I’m just a beggar now.”  The Pope replied, as he clasped the man’s hands in his, “So am I.”  So he heard the Pope’s confession, and then the Pope returned the favor and heard the beggar-priest’s very lengthy confession.  Not long after that moment of reconciliation, the beggar was re-instated as a priest and the Holy Father sent him to that parish church where he once begged to minister to those who still did.

Think about those words of the priest-beggar said at first– “A lot of good that will do” when his former classmate from seminary promised his prayers for him... or “It won’t do anything” when he learned the Pope was praying for him.  Those cynical words aren’t so unfamilar to us are they?  We’ve may have heard them – maybe even said them ourselves... and often times about the same things:   What good will going to confession do, I’m just going to repeat the same things again?  What good does going to Mass do– it’s so boring... What good does any of this faith in Jesus do when awful things keep happening to me, to my family and friends, to the world around us...

What we celebrate this season of Easter is a God who tells us that when we turn to Him, we should expect the unexpected... In raising Jesus Christ from the dead, God has shown in a way that has altered history forever very clearly to expect the unexpected.  In this Gospel, the apostles who knew that they had failed miserably are gathered together.  There weren’t able to stop Jesus from being arrested, falsely accused, tortured and crucified.  They weren’t able to stop it, because they weren’t even there! They had bailed on him.  In the midst of that failure of epic proportions, their worlds must’ve seemed to have been destroyed forever.  More than likely that first Good Friday and Holy Saturday, they remembered all Jesus had said and done over those three years they followed him, and maybe a cynical thought came to mind saying – yeah, a lot of good that did.   Perhaps somewhat jaded themselves thinking there was nothing left to do, they lock themselves and isolate themselves from the world.

And it is right there... There in the midst of that isolation, that cynicism, the sense of defeat that the resurrected Jesus Christ comes to meet them.  He stands in their midst, not inhibited by the locked doors or their broken, dis-spirited hearts.    He doesn’t offer words of condemnation, or judgment on their failures. “Uh, guys, so what happened???” - Instead he comes and says “Peace be with you.” And then He tells them what they’ve just experienced, this undeserved forgiveness, they are to go forth in His name and do the same, share the same (which is one of the places in Scripture we see the basis for the Sacrament of Reconciliation/Confession by the way...)

In the matter of moments, these first followers experience Easter themselves... something quite unexpected became real to them.  Not just that Jesus was risen from the dead, but that they too were to rise up from their own feelings of death, their own experiences of destruction and to start anew.

Then there’s Thomas, who is I think, a bit unfairly is considered by many to be the cynic, the “doubter” because he misses this first encounter.  (I always wonder what he had going that night?  He should be the patron saint of people who miss Mass on Sunday Night, cause “something else came up”) But the reason I think it’s unfair that he’s simply referred to as “Doubting Thomas” is because it’s understandable that he would doubt.  The story sounded too good to be true, the failures on their parts were all too real.  Yet, we can’t miss something that’s so important to this story:  There’s a part of him that wants to believe and Hopes it’s true - Hopes that the Easter news is real.  Wants to expect the unexpected himself.  How do we know that?  Because HE’S THERE the following week.  Despite his objections and initial dismissal of his fellow apostles testimony, he’s with them in that upper room the next week and is able to experience the Risen Jesus Christ revealing His living presence to him.  And so now Thomas experiences how real Easter was as well.  And the God who had raised Jesus from the dead would continue to do amazingly unexpected things in all of their lives.

Which is the promise of Easter for those who continue to follow Jesus Christ.  The sad reality is that a week ago, churches were overflowing with present-day disciples who came to hear, once again, this good news of Jesus’ victory over death.  And yet with their absence today, you wonder if as they heard that news recounted again do they think to themselves “so what?  A lot of good that will do?”  Even for those of us who are here, maybe some of us are going through things that make us doubt... have had things that have hurt us and left us somewhat cynical.  Like Thomas, we hope for the best, we want to believe but... we’re not getting ourselves too excited lest we are let down again.

Yet Easter calls us to expect the unexpected.  The new life of Christ wants to resurrect that which has been beaten down, even died within us.  Just think about it, in the matter of a dinner, and experiencing the Sacrament of Reconciliation, Pope John Paul II was able to help a beggar become an active priest once again.  Jesus Christ was able to reach this man who had felt abandoned and enveloped in darkness through a former classmate and through the Pope.

What is going to be our story?  Right now, Jesus Christ, risen from the dead wants us to expect the unexpected - to do amazing, life-giving things for each one of us – and in fact is counting on us to be His ambassadors to people who feel abandoned and isolated.    Too often we find ourselves like the apostles were that Easter night - limiting ourselves by our mistakes and failures and forgetting what wonders our God is capable of (which is exactly what Satan, the prince of darkness wants us to do).  How is Jesus trying to cast his glorious light into the darkness of our lives?  How is He trying to break into the rooms of isolation we lock ourselves away in to speak his words of Peace, of Forgiveness of Life-altering transformation?  If we open our hearts to let Him, we might be surprised to find the good it will do.

A NEW VISION

ALLELUIA! 
JESUS CHRIST IS RISEN FROM THE DEAD! 
HAPPY EASTER!!!    Here is my homily for EASTER SUNDAY, APRIL 16, 2017.  The readings for today can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/041617.cfm (Gospel is the second one from Matthew).  Thanks as always for reading, for sharing this blog on Reddit, Twitter and Facebook - and for you feedback and comments.  So grateful for your interest!  God's blessings to you and your family for a Joyous Easter!!!  Fr Jim


HOMILY:
As I’m getting older I’ve noticed some changes... less hair, which happens to be more grey... recently having to get glasses... and even more surprising to me - I’m becoming a bit more schmaltzy... What I mean by that, is that I kind of find myself getting moved to tears a bit more often than I ever used to. Like the other night: 

On ABC World News Tonight, host David Muir told this heartwarming story about Noel Stafford of Lakeland Florida. For 66 years, Noel has been "color blind." On his birthday, his children and grand children had a surprise for Noel, which his grandson Carson captured on video. As Grandpa Stafford is seated with a smile on his face, he opens his gift and is kind of perplexed as he reads the label "color for the colorblind." His family had all chipped in to purchased a pair of EnChroma glasses - an amazing new product that helps people who are color-blind to see in color. His son tries to explain that once he puts these glasses on, he will be able to see things how the majority of us sees. Noel kind of has this look of disbelief on his face, as he quickly opens the box and removes the glasses from their plastic wrapping: So.. I can put these on, and I will see things how they’re supposed to be? He asks... as he puts them on... And he does, and he looks for maybe a second, and takes them off, he is so overwhelmed that he starts to cry and can’t hardly talk. He puts them on again, and again, takes them off, he literally cannot believe what he is seeing, as his daughter Molly comes and hugs him as she breaks down in tears. It’s unbelievable to him... It can’t be real. This man who’s been a landscaper for most of his life, who could never see the vibrance, the different hues and shades and splendor of the flowers, grasses, trees and plants he’s been working with his whole life - instantly sees it all in it’s glory. Finally, he puts the glasses on a third time, sits back in his chair, and just has this profound look of happiness – something even more than that — this look of awe at how quickly his vision has changed forever.
(you can see it here:   



In a way that is even more profound

In a way that is even more historic

In a way that is meant to be a remedy to every human being who is plagued by signs, by experiences of death - Easter comes and is meant to change our vision forever.

Just look at what happens in this Gospel account we just heard from Matthew about Mary Magdalene and the other Mary. They who had witnessed Jesus’ brutal, horrific, grotesque passion... They who had seen his dead body taken down from the cross... They who had watched as the body of Jesus is laid in a tomb and sealed... They go to the tomb to mourn, to grieve, to try to make sense of the senseless - and any or rather all of us who’ve experienced mourning, grieving know how maddening that can be. They go with tear-filled visions to a grave - not wanting the nightmare they experienced to be real, but needing to see it for themselves, to confirm its awful reality, its finality in their lives.


And, in an instant, their vision is changed. There’s a great earthquake... An angel rolls back the stone... The guards run away in fear... The angel tells them to not be afraid but to look and see the place where he lay... but where he lays no more as the tomb is empty. They see Jesus, risen from the dead. Truly alive, having conquered death - telling them "do not be afraid."

My brothers and sisters - these women’s testimonies, as well as the testimonies of the apostles who became even more credible witnesses by offering their very lives. The apostles accepted equally brutal, terrifying, horrific deaths as martyrs. Deaths which they almost eagerly embraced rather than deny this amazing event of Jesus rising from the dead and His presence with and among them for 40 days afterward. These witnessesare meant to change our vision as well.

That as we suffer betrayals,
as we endure our own passions,
as we suffer under the weight of our own crosses...

Jesus, the risen one’s words to those first witnesses, He now speaks to us Do Not Be Afraid:

All the sufferings we endure,
all the losses we’ve experienced are not the end of the story. 
Death does not have the final word.  

For Grandpa Stafford, as the video of his birthday surprise closed out, you saw him enjoying a colorful animated film with his family with an excitement that seemed to surpass that of the most curious child experiencing something for the first time. He marvels during one scene of a sunset as he says " See how the sun goes down like that... [Before] it was all fuzz and haze... it wasn’t like a distant ray." The joy of Easter is meant to change the way we see things, too. To see how the hatred, the shame, the selfishness of that first Good Friday, and the Good Fridays continue in our own day that cast fuzz and haze on our lives and our faith - that it can be transformed with the eyes of Easter faith. We can see it in every act of love, every movement of compassion , in every offering of forgiveness, in every embrace of reconciliation, in every instance of justice and peace. 

May you and I be witnesses of these things and help to bring that vision to a world that desperately needs and longs to see the Risen Christ alive in our midsts. Happy Easter!

GOD IS GUILTY?

Hi everyone... Here's my homily for PALM SUNDAY OF THE LORD’S PASSION - April 9, 2017.  The readings for today can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/040917.cfm.  Thanks as always for reading this blog; for sharing it on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit; and for your feedback and comments.  My prayers and best wishes for a sacred and meaningful Holy Week.  God Bless - Fr Jim


HOMILY:
If you take a look through your channel guides this week, then no doubt you will find a bunch of specials about Jesus Christ on television. Television executives know that a large numbers of people will be coming to Church over the next week for what we call "Holy Week," and realize that even the casual church-goer finds themselves thinking, to some extent, about the Passion of Jesus Christ. So different documentaries, movies or specials are scheduled covering different aspects of the life, passion, death and resurrection of Jesus.

One special a few years ago that caught my attention was simply titled "who really killed Jesus?" You think that would be a pretty cut and dry question to answer - how would they milk a few hours out of it? But they explored different aspects of the passion narratives from the Gospels, including this one from Matthew we just proclaimed and look at the list of possible defendants:

Judas seems the logical first target – after all he delivered Jesus up for thirty silver pieces. But then again, he had to deliver him to someone, so Caiphas and the Jewish Chief Priests are considered – they wanted him dead after all, for some time in fact, but then they had no legal way to do it (religious or secular law) So Pontius Pilate ‘s name surfaces as the one to blame. Ultimately he was in charge, he could have stopped it. But as the guards lead Jesus off to nail him to the Cross, Pilate is said to be washing his hands of it, so then we’re left with a bunch of Roman guards, the ones who actually put the nails into Jesus’ hands and feet as responsible. But they, like soldiers of other atrocities throughout history argue they were "just following orders."

Amazing isn’t it? How quickly a seemingly clear question gets muddied? We could, if we were defense attorney’s, in a sense find "reasonable doubt" for each of these individuals.


What some academics - historians, theologians - eventually propose (whether they realize it or not) is that no one specifically is guilty... somehow the madness, the evil occurs – somehow Jesus Christ, the enfleshment of Love is brutally killed... and then some simply conclude that "God wanted it that way." Some go further and say "God the Father has done this" because "He allowed this to happen." In other words, the answer to the question of "who’s guilty of killing Jesus?" Comes the remarkable response "God is guilty."

It sounds pretty shocking, doesn’t it. Part of us is struck by how ridiculous that sounds. But if we think about it, hasn’t humanity been saying that from the beginning of time? Think back to that first day when sin entered the world - back to the Garden of Eden, and what happened? God says: "You have eaten, then, from the tree of which I had forbidden you to eat!" The man replied, "The woman whom you put here with me--she gave me fruit from the tree, so I ate it." The LORD God then asked the woman, "Why did you do such a thing?" The woman answered, "The serpent tricked me into it, so I ate it."

It wasn’t Adam’s fault it was Eve’s;
It wasn’t Eve’s fault, it was the serpent,
It wasn’t the serpent – Why did God put that tree there in the first Place
– who’s guilty? – God is Guilty.

And thousands of years later, it’s no different Who’s at fault?:
The guards of Auschwitz?
The husband cheating on his wife?
The student who cheats on that exam? 
The roommate who gets drunk or stoned?
The corporate executive who bilks the company of millions;
The physician giving lethal doses of morphine in a nursing home?

Everyone has excuses:
I was following orders,
I have uncontrollable needs and desires that must be satisfied;
Everyone does it,
We must relieve the world of useless lives (or put more nicely, to end their suffering).
We add justifications, qualifiers: 
My parents weren’t attentive to me,
I was deprived,
I was spoiled,
it’s in my genes.

No matter what the crime, the situation, the "ethical dilemma" inevitably the cycle of questioning and finger pointing will come back to the philosophical question of "Well how did evil come about in the first place" and then, ignoring our own bad choices, we ask with all presumption: If God is all good and all powerful, then how do these evil things happen, how come he let’s these things occur YEAH, that’s the question – and once again, ultimately we make the same conclusion: Who’s guilty? God is guilty.

Like rebellious teenagers screaming at their parents, IT’S YOUR FAULT, we find ourselves in the Garden of Eden reaching for the fruit. We find ourselves in Jerusalem in the crowd that first Good Friday. We might not have been the ones fastening Jesus to the Cross, but as the madness of that day happens, we find that we are there – we are part of the crowd convicting God.

The difficult truth we are confronted with on Palm Sunday is that Humanity is Guilty and We ourselves are Guilty:

of the evils we commit on each other;
of the manipulations of one another we masterfully do;
of the bad choices we make;
of the silence we hold instead of standing up for the truth.

And so Jesus hangs on the Cross. And there’s nothing we can do to change that.

The Passion of Jesus Christ though calls us to consider the thing that we can change - which is ourselves. Jesus’ death doesn’t have to be in vain.

The response to this proclamation is not simply to listen and talk about, but rather to live Jesus’ message of Love and Forgiveness .

That is what has saved us from our Father’s justifiable wrath.
That is what Jesus commands us to do.

And with Easter on the not so distant horizon, we will find that He doesn’t emerge from the tomb with a list of people he needs to "settle a score" with. No, for Him – His last words say it all – Father forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing.

Can we Forgive like that? Can we stop blaming God for our own failures, our own sinfulness? Can we stop the cycle of Hatred and choose to Love? Can we – will we vindicate Jesus’ death by our lives?

LORD IF YOU HAD BEEN HERE... (Where were you? Where are you???)

Hi everyone... here is my homily for the 5th Sunday of Lent.  The readings for today's Gospel can be found at: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/040217.cfm.    Thanks as always for reading this blog, for sharing it on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit - and for your comments and feedback.  Have a great week - God Bless, Fr Jim

HOMILY: 
Lord if you had been here... my brother would not have died.
The two sisters of Lazarus - Martha and Mary - were previously encountered in the Gospel having an argument that you might see any siblings having: over who was doing the more important work on one occasion when Jesus had visited them; when Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet and Martha was getting the house and meal ready for His visit... 

Well, on this occasion with Jesus, they are in agreement. Saying the same exact words: Lord if you had been here... my brother would not have died.

You get the sense that Martha said it with some frustration - aggravation... Jesus was more than a preacher, a prophet, a miracle worker. Yes He was those things, but even more - He was their friend. They loved Jesus intimately, personally. He had dined with them, visited with them. They had sent word as soon as Lazarus had gotten ill... They had seen or heard about all that he had done for complete strangers – some blind guy just got healed... So there’s a sense of disbelief, perhaps anger on the part of the no-nonsense, straight talking- make-my-sister-help-me-out-Lord, Martha- LORD IF YOU HAD BEEN HERE, MY BROTHER WOULD NOT HAVE DIED.

Mary on the other hand, was too distraught initially to even go out to meet Jesus like her sister did. She’s overcome with grief. The Gospel tries to capture the emotional moment where the one she loved, trusted and had faith in, arrives at the scene of such heartache and loss; far too late for it to matter any more. Lazarus has already been in the tomb for 4 days- the Gospel captures the hopelessness of the situation with the words: surely there will be a stench. Mary drops to Jesus’ feet and says those same words her sister had – but with disappointment, hurt, despair on the part of the sitting-on-the-edge-of-her-seat-never leaving-his-side-other sister, Mary - LORD IF YOU HAD BEEN HERE, MY BROTHER WOULD NOT HAVE DIED.

This is a Gospel that is so rich with images, encounters, memorable phrases... including the shortest Scriptural verse in the entire bible, Old and New Testament - John 11: 35 - And Jesus Wept - three little words that say an awful lot. But for me, that phrase from Martha and Mary kept coming to mind. It didn’t take long for me to figure out why...


A few months ago, I met this guy who was an NYPD hero by the name of Terry O’Hara (if I can even say that since we only met through Twitter of all places). Terry was a few years younger than me - and had worked at Ground Zero in the days, weeks and months following 9/11, trying to initially help rescue trapped people - then recover people who were dead after that horrific terrorist attack. Tragically, 9/11 still is devastating people in our area almost 16 years later, as Terry got cancer as a result of his efforts... That’s unfortunately how I even knew of him. A friend of mine before Christmas had retweeted something about Terry’s fight, asking for prayers for him - pointing out he has two little kids and a loving wife that Terry said in one of his direct messages to me gave him "Too much to live for." 

In the months since, I really grew to admire this man’s no-nonsense, positive (but realistic) attitude - He knew he was engaging in a tremendous fight but he had this "Kick-Ass" (sorry, there’s just no better description) attitude that made you believe that he was not going just to beat this, he was going to eviscerate Cancer. And the beautiful thing was to see how many other people, suffering from the same illness, looked to him for inspiration.

A couple of weeks ago, I had read about another experimental treatment that was being offered for cancer. Apologizing as I shared it with him for offering unsolicited advice while foolishly thinking just in case he hadn’t heard or seen of it -as if he wasn’t well versed in every possible option. Anyway - he wrote back "Thanks Father..." and then after explaining why it wouldn’t work added: "I can’t say how much it makes me happy to have you im my corner. Crazy thing is, I’m not religious. But for some reason, I love having your support. Thank you for being there for me." I wrote back "I’ll be religious for both of us, you keep fighting." Which he did. Posting pics of him getting Chemo and then recovering from the treatment with Titos vodka, and building Legos with his kids. A couple of weeks ago, he had to go back in the hospital and just sent out a message to all his twitter followers saying "please don’t reply/like.. Still in hospital I’m having serious cancer issues. But I’m still in the fight. Thank you all. Much Love." I kept thinking, and praying for him - and really believed he was going to be successful in this fight. Right before Mass a few Sundays ago, as I kept checking his feed for an update, I somehow saw a tweet that his brother had posted "here is Terry’s information - " with a link to a funeral home website.

Lord if you had been here... my brother would not have died.
 
As a priest, I can't explain the challenge of meeting so many people who are facing, fighting so many different things:

People with depression or anxiety.

A young person struggling with suicidal thoughts.

A parishioner dying from a terminal disease.

Or even things that aren’t life and death matters, but for those going through them it sure feels like it:

a lost job,

a broken relationship;

a failure;

an embarrassment that makes you feel overwhelmed with shame...

The beauty of the priesthood is that, through no logical reason that I can come up with, Jesus wants me to bring His priesthood to these situations... To be His presence...To bring His healing, His love, His mercy to these people He loves so desperately who are going though so many trials, tribulations, struggles - dark nights. 

And so often I can get as frustrated or sad as Martha and Mary were, wondering to myself why didn’t that person get miraculously healed when I offered them Jesus’ anointing of the sick? Why didn’t that person feel restored, healed when I absolved them through the power of the Holy Spirit from their sins in confession? Why didn’t that person experience the immense, all encompassing love of Christ when I offered them His body and blood in the Eucharist? Why wasn’t my being religious enough for Terry to be valiant in His fight against cancer?

And to be brutally honest - I don’t have an answer that is perfectly satisfying to our immediate needs and desires. Because even reflecting on this Gospel: after Martha and Mary’s statement; after Jesus’ weeps; we have another fantastic miracle - where Lazarus is raised from the dead. But, and not to be negative - the reality is, we don’t have a 2,000 year old man walking on the planet. Eventually Lazarus died... again. Eventually his family mourned and grieved that absence again. Eventually Martha and Mary would die as well.  

But the difference was... and is... in experiencing that miracle, the words, the promises that they had heard Christ make before... words that they remembered before the miracle. Words that they on some level obviously believed in, even while they were in pain, while they were in anger, and disbelief, and grief, and mourning - that Jesus is The resurrection and the life and whoever believes in Him even if they die, will live and everyone who lives and believes in Him will never die Despite the mix of emotions, the doubts, the fears, they still had that certitude, that knowledge, that trust, that Faith in Jesus. So strong was it, that heaven and earth unite in that graveyard, in front of that tomb. And a dead man is restored to life that day. And they could move forward and face those sicknesses, those dark nights, those trials and tribulations- those deaths to come – knowing He would not abandon them, forget them, or let them perish - even if in the face of the world it sure appears that way.

For you and I, we’re left with these testimonies, and witnesses to speak to us, whether or not we feel like Martha or Mary ourselves... angry, disillusioned, struggling as we fight that constant battle of faith I believe - help my unbelief. Or, even if we feel like Lazarus - spiritually dead, entombed. Jesus wants us to believe that God the Father has sent Him. Sent Him to order the stones keeping us entombed to be rolled away and calls us out of those tombs into His new life, here and now. Removing stones of fear... freeing us from the solitude of tombs we find ourselves locked within.... moving heaven and earth just to be with us in the midst of whatever it is that we struggle with, that threatens us, that diminishes us and to tell us you and I are made for the glory of God and that the Son of God will be glorified through us.

We can't always see the Big Plan, see the Why or the How behind everything, any more than Martha or Mary or, for that matter, Lazarus could. But we have faith. Faith in Jesus that there is a plan, that we are a part of that. That, no matter what happens, we will always have Him. And He is enough.

TWITTER, BIZ STONE & LIMITED VISION

Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the FOURTH SUNDAY OF LENT - March 26, 2017. The readings for today can be found at http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/032617.cfm  Thanks as always for stopping by to read this blog; for sharing it on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit; and for your comments and feedback.  Thanks and have a great week! God Bless - Fr. Jim


HOMILY:

Whether you tweet or not, you probably have heard of Twitter... But more than likely few of you would recognize the name "Biz Stone." Biz Stone and two of his friends were the inventors of Twitter. Back in 2006 they recognized the number of people who have cell-phones had skyrocketed beyond anyone’s imaginations - and thought "imagine if we can create a social networking thing that people could use on their cell phones through text messaging. That’s why twitter is only 140 character messages so that you can send it over text message. Well you guys know the rest of the story (and are helping to write it) The phenomenon of it is only growing. Reportedly, it generates two and half billion dollars a year in revenue... over 100 million users post over 342 million tweets a day.

What’s amazing though is when you hear parts of Biz Stone’s life story it’s hard to imagine him being in this position. He grew up in a very poor area of Boston. His father abandoned his family when he was 10, battled substance abuse, and went on to father brothers and sisters that Biz doesn’t even know. In an interview, Biz shared a particularly sad story how several years ago he saw his dad, and the man didn’t realize that Biz was his son. As a result, Biz himself struggled through his formative years... He dropped out of two universities after attending each of them for a year each. He said that he was amazed that he was even able to land a job a few years ago at Google which he attributes more because a good friend of his worked there than because of his background or qualifications. Eventually he would leave that company with two buddies to create Twitter.


With all the obstacles, all the challenges, all the problems, it’s hard for many people to believe how Biz Stone’s story has turned out the way it did. He shares how many of his family and friends seem pretty surprised by it, even to this day... Asked in another interview whether his mother is proud of her son’s success, he replied: "I think so but she’s more the type to complain and point out flaws."

Often times when we hear a background like this, when we hear all of that brokenness, we fall into the same mistake that a majority of the people in today’s Gospel have: limited vision. Not daring to see or imagining things can be different for ourselves. Not believing things could change for someone else... Not realizing how we’ve confined God to a box of our creation.

In this Gospel, we hear a miracle story - this man who has been blind from birth is blessed with the gift of sight after this encounter with Jesus. But if we think about it - the bulk of the story is about all the outside characters who have limited vision. They put the blind man, each other, and God in a box.

Think about all of that back and forth -- at how the conversations go - "Why is he blind?" - Well he must’ve sinned or his parents did. Well now he’s cured - that’s not really the blind man, is it? No it just looks like him. NO IT IS HIM. Really? I don’t believe that, get his parents - ask them... The parents arrive and confirm he’s their son, but even they don’t know what to make of it "we don’t know how he sees nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him, he is of age, he can speak for himself." Even the blind guy now seeing is a bit cautious... he gives the very basic facts "that guy Jesus made clay, anointed my eyes, said go wash up in that pool and I did..." Why all the hesitation? Well the Pharisees had already had been frustrated with Jesus for doing things like this, curing people on the Sabbath which was technically against the commandments. So the Pharisees argue he can’t be from God. After all this back and forth the blind man argues - look I can’t say that he’s a sinner, I can’t say he’s not from God... [HOWS THAT FOR A RINGING ENDORSEMENT? JESUS HEALS THE GUY AND THAT’S THE BEST HE CAN SAY– HE’S NOT A SINNER?] The guy goes on All I can say is that I was blind, now I can see. It’s almost like the guy doesn’t want to be bothered anymore, he basically asks his interrogators Why are you hassling me as he asks them - Do you want to follow him? At that the Pharisees are done. They are know what they know: God spoke to Moses... They learned to keep holy the Sabbath from Him, Jesus is doing stuff he shouldn’t be doing on the Sabbath - so they don’t know where Jesus is from. Because He did this on the Sabbath, he must be a sinner and God doesn’t listen to sinners...

A nice little box they have there.

It’s easy for us to be critical of the characters in the Gospel - But as we hear this on this 4th Sunday of Lent we're meant to ask ourselves - how limited are our visions? Often times we don’t even realize how narrow our views have become – we’ve gotten into such a narrow view of who we are, who someone else is, who God is, or what’s possible when we let Jesus into our lives. Like the people in the Gospel, we allow ourselves to be trapped into these diminished limited roles:

- The guy who’s been blind since birth, probably thought he’s supposed to remain that way... that’s all he’s known, so nothing is going to change that.

- Most of the people in the Gospel had assumed that the blind man or his parent’s did something wrong for this to happen, so the whole family has been living with this cloud of shame for years.

- When Jesus Christ is able to do something incredibly miraculous, something that should have brought rejoicing and wonder and awe, look what happens. The parent’s who had already lived with this messed up belief that someone in their house must have done something wrong that caused their son to be blind - an accusation they believe because of some of these people from the temple – are now scared because of this healing they might be thrown out and rejected from that very temple!   How messed up is that???

Because Jesus didn’t do things the way "He was supposed to," because He didn’t conform to their understanding or expectations,- the Pharisees go for broke, they say he must not be of God. What’s so sad is that with these reactions, only one man’s sight is restored. The rest of this man’s family, the rest of this town miss the opportunity to have their lives changed by having their vision corrected by Jesus Christ.

We live In a world that is overly cynical, distrustful of anyone or anything. Biz Stone could have easily allowed all the negatives in his life to be an excuse to opt out of even trying to do something meaningful with his life and blame his father, his surroundings, everything around him for a limited and diminished existence rather than becoming the founder of something that has changed our culture yet again...

For you and I we might not even realize how blind we’ve become – to who we are...to what it is that blinds us, to what it is that diminishes us... blind to the sins that cripple us... to the lies that we’ve believed about ourselves because of those sins that trap us into thinking there’s nothing we can do - nothing’s going to change... Blind to how Jesus is among us, how he wants to save us – not just for eternity, but here and now. How Jesus wants us to experience miracles... unexplained, unexpected, life altering miracles where God blesses us with a new vision, a new perspective.  That enables us to see past the limited existence we experience now into a life we could have never imagined possible.

You can tweet this (and it’s under 140 characters so it will fit:) God never stops trying, we do... If we continue to have a limited vision of God, then his activity in our lives will remain limited.

EVERYBODY LOVES... JOSEPH

Happy Feast day of ST. JOSEPH - Foster Father of the Son of God, Protector of the Universal Church! Here is my homily that I delivered given at the 28th annual St. Joseph’s Novena -St. Agnes Church, Clark (this past Wednesday March 15th) and the 17th Annual St. Joseph’s Novena - Our Lady of Lourdes Church in West Orange (this past Saturday March 18th)



HOMILY:

It’s always great to be home - which is what St. Agnes is to me - and for something that is so special to my heart - this devotion to St. Joseph, which I was first taught here 28 years ago by Fr. Marcone. It’s hard to believe it’s that long ago! I want to thank Fr. Cohan for his kind invitation to be here for this St. Agnes tradition. But before I thank him too much, when he gave me the topic for tonight I almost did a "Uhm... wait a second... maybe I’m not available that night after all."

St. Joseph, protector of the Universal Church.

It’s an awesome sounding title... Of all the ones that we pray as we go through the litany, that’s definitely one if you had a choice over you would probably pick over some others (like Patron of the dying).

But for many of you who’ve made this novena in years past have probably heard drilled into your heads - there’s not a ton of scriptural mentions for St. Joseph (only 15 to be exact) - and in those, scripture doesn’t have him speaking any words. So that makes things even more challenging in trying to understand how do we get to this place of devotion where we refer to St. Joseph as protector of the Universal Church.

What finally helped me to understand this complex Catholic, theological, devotional concept - was a rerun of Everybody Loves Raymond - you know that fantastic sitcom from a few years ago that’s still on TV in syndication on cable. You can ask my mother, if I’m channel surfing and stumble on that show, even though I’ve seen every episode multiple times, I can’t turn away. They say "art imitate life" - well Raymond and the Barone clan definitely imitates Jim and the Chern family. Don’t worry mom, no family secrets tonight.

Anyway, the episode I stumbled upon has Ray, the Italian-American, sarcastic, sportswriter being awarded an Honorary Doctorate from his alma matter. After the initial excitement and pride from his wife Debra; the family dynamics quickly turn this notable achievement into a source of controversy. His NYPD cop brother Robert is jealous of "Doctor" Barone. His father Frank tries to feign some pride... His overbearing mother beams with excitement... and as the big day approaches where he is to receive the award, he gets more and more worried about the speech he has to make - to the point that he almost turns down the award because he’s so worried about speaking in public. But Debra keeps encouraging him - and the big day arrives, and the whole family goes - and he gets the diploma (which he gives to his mother since he figures she would want it for bragging rights more than he would) - and in his speech he mentions his family, talks about his father Frank, and brother Robert and thanks his mother Marie. And... forgets Debra. As soon as it’s brought to his attention by Robert’s girlfriend Amy - the usual sarcastic, jokey Ray becomes obviously ashamed at the oversight... and after trying to figure out some way to make it up to his long-suffering wife - he writes about her in his sports column...

"I'm often asked by people who want to be sportswriters, 'How did you get started?' And I understand this question, because of all the plum jobs, I've got the plummest. And it's a fair question to ask me, because I am, after all, mostly qualified to do something like deliver futons.

So, how did I get here? You see, there was this futon-delivery guy, and he met a beautiful woman. And even though she was way out of his league, for some unknown reason, she smiled at him. Eventually, and even more amazingly, she married him. And it turns out that when one of your dreams comes true, you begin to take the others a little more seriously.

So, even though I'm as amazed as anybody that I have any success at all, I'm pretty sure it all started with my wife Debra's smile."

What made me think of St. Joseph when watching this rerun I’ve seen at least a dozen times was that it reminded me of the beautiful fruits when marriage works. That the couple’s goal, and aim is to help each other get into heaven - so in the process, they work through the rough parts and hopefully bring out the best parts in one another.

When we first meet Joseph in the scriptures, he was already identified as a "just" and "righteous" man - terms that carry a lot of weight in scripture (which rarely uses those words for anyone other than God himself). He was of the lineage of David, the great King of Israel. So you can easily appreciate that this was a good, faithful, hard working Jewish man - who one day met a beautiful woman who was also way out of his league (being born without sin kind of redefines that category) - and more than likely she smiled at him as well.


This was a couple who had their own love story, their own dreams... Joseph the carpenter probably imaging a son to follow him in the trade... maybe a daughter that would remind him of the woman who captured his heart... And all of a sudden, things shifted in an unexpected way. Mary has an angelic visitor. She is to become the mother of God. Joseph in what had to have been a confused perhaps even broken hearted place accepts this thinking that somehow he is excluded from this divine event - when in a dream he is given new dreams - a new vision of what his life will be. He is told "do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.  She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." (Matt 1: 20-21)

In that, Joseph became the protector of Mary his wife, and Jesus, his foster son. Saving Mary from the shame and whispers of a society that would not understand (or care to) how she had become pregnant in this most unique of experiences... Saving Mary and Jesus from the threats of the maniacal Herod who upon hearing of the birth of the "King of the Jews" and unable to find him after the Magi skip town - slaughtered every male child who were two years old and younger - as Joseph takes his family to Egypt... Who when Jesus is "lost" in the temple, searches desperately with his wife Mary for three days.

In all of those ways, Joseph demonstrated he wasn’t simply a figure head. He wasn’t some man who lived with this terrible secret that the son of Mary was not his son - so it wasn’t his problem. He wasn’t some bystander figuring that the same angel who greeted Mary and visited Joseph in his dreams would take care of everything. His love of Mary - their mutual love for each other - enabled Joseph to do things he never imagined for himself . He truly became their protectors while on earth.

And as Catholics we believe that our connection with our loved ones doesn’t end here. That our loved ones continue to care, and pray for us. So it would be for St. Joseph... his love for his wife and his child would continue after his death. And the Church, which is the body of Christ, still looks to St. Joseph to intercede, to pray for us - to protect us from the trials, the scandals, the failures, the attacks that continue. Knowing that as Mary captured his heart, that forever changed him to want to continue to care and love for the things that Mary and Jesus cared and loved.

As we continue this annual novena - coming to a deeper love and understanding of this special man; seeing how God worked in his life and how Joseph responded to those movements; and yes, asking Joseph’s prayers for our many needs and intentions, may we do so with trust and confidence knowing that his relationship to us was born out of that love that he had for his wife Mary...

But may we also make room in our lists of prayers to continue to ask him to serve us as Protector of the Church. That as we face numerous challenges both from within as well as from outside, that St. Joseph may protect us from any threat as He protected Mary and Jesus from Herod; that He will inspire the Church to search for Christ when we lose sight of Him, just as He and Mary searched for Him in those days when he was "lost in the temple"; that he will pray for the us, the Church - that we remain faithful to Christ as He remained faithful to Mary and Jesus.

"THAT WOMAN"

Hi everyone, here's my  homily for the THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT - MARCH 19, 2017.  The readings for today can be found at http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/031917.cfm.  Thanks as always for stopping by to read this blog; sharing it on Facebook, Twitter & Reddit; and for your feedback and comments.  Have a great week!  God Bless - Fr Jim

HOMILY:

Over a year ago, I saw this article that really struck me - but that I was afraid to use because of the political overtones to it. Overtones that post-election I thought would have abated by now. But... well... anyway. That reality aside, the story is almost too important not to share. It’s about Monica Lewinsky.

For many of you (college students) you were probably 4 years old when this young woman became the center of attention, an international story. For those of you not aware, quite simply, she had an adulterous affair with President Bill Clinton (while she was an intern at the White House). After some press seemed to sit on that story, a few websites got a hold of it and published it online. Thereby this became arguably the first "internet" "viral" thing (remember this was in the early days of the internet... no facebook or social media...). While eventually President Clinton would be impeached for this whole affair, something that is rarely mentioned when discussing his legacy - for Lewinsky, her life in many ways has been solely defined and reduced to this sad episode. She had to give graphic testimony about the affair to a grand jury - after the President went on television and called her a liar denying he "ever had sexual relations" with "that woman." Here was a wide-eyed, naivete, young woman in her 20's who had gone from basically anonymous to enamored by a very powerful man who was attracted to her to a headline story. 

She describes it like this: "Overnight, I went from being a completely private figure to a publicly humiliated one worldwide. Granted, it was before social media, but people could still comment online, email stories, and, of course, email cruel jokes. I was branded as a tramp, tart, slut, whore, bimbo, and, of course, ‘that woman’. It was easy to forget that ‘that woman’ was dimensional, had a soul, and was once unbroken."


I must admit, having lived through this era, and having to hear and read chapter and verse way too many sordid and disturbing details about this episode, to my shame I must confess, I rarely had thought much about Monica Lewinsky other than somehow being connected to this really awful chapter of Presidential history. Reading this interview where she described the whole ordeal as "[feeling] like every layer of my skin and my identity were ripped off of me in ’98 and ’99. . . It [was] a skinning of sorts. You feel incredibly raw and frightened. But I also feel like the shame sticks to you like tar," really was a revelation for me.  (the full article:  https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/apr/16/monica-lewinsky-shame-sticks-like-tar-jon-ronson )

Feminists, politicians, psychologists, columnists can all pick Monica Lewinsky apart – in fact, they have and continue to do so all these decades later. What was surprising, even in the divisive political circles where one side would support their President and try to spin this as no big deal, a "private indiscretion" and the other side saw this as a way to oust a political foe - it seemed no one defended Lewinsky... and both sides treated her cruelly in their own ways.

For most people, their indiscretions, their mistakes, their failures, their sins - are things that they try to forget about; ignore; hide. Imagine those indiscretions, mistakes, failures, sins being known by the entire world. Imagine the lack of understanding, the lack of compassion, the ridicule, the shame being intensified... Late night comucs using your name as a joke. The more I read her article, - particularly when she talked about how she contemplated suicide and longed for anonymity - the more ashamed I was of myself for ever having laughed at a joke about her...

And even more, I began to appreciate this Gospel even more.

Because in it, the Samaritan Woman is suffering a similar fate. Here is another person who was probably called "that woman" as well as all those other awful, gross labels that were attached to Ms. Lewinsky. Here we meet another woman who felt the public scorn, the ridicule - so much so that she punishes herself to go and perform these normal, everyday chores - drawing water from the well - at the hottest time of day, when she knows it’s the least likely time she’ll have to bump into anyone who knows her, who mocks her and judges her. She’s resigned herself to a life of isolation from the world - after being hurt and experiencing brokenness that few understand (or even care to) where 5 marriages have ended and now she’s with another man who isn’t even her husband.

Why this story is so important for us this Third Sunday of Lent, is it gives us a chance to recognize important truths. One, that we’re no better than anyone else. Of all the beautiful, newsworthy, important, even controversial things Pope Francis has said - probably the most memorable in his 4 years as Pope was when he responded to the question "Who are you" as "I am a sinner." Some treated this as if it was breaking news. But the honest reflection of every single Christian ultimately has to begin with that truth. "I am a sinner." That is the reason we took time out of our schedules two and a half weeks ago and put dirty-ashen-crosses on our foreheads. Not to boast "Hey I’m Proud to be Catholic"... but rather the complete opposite. In humility, to acknowledge "I am a sinner."

But the second truth, the even more beautiful and more urgent one after that first one - is how desperately Jesus longs for us to turn to Him. He goes to this extreme length in this passage, to reach out to a sinner - defying cultural customs, religious traditions, every possible level of protocol that you could imagine (Jesus a Jewish Man speaking to a Samaritan Woman... it just didn’t happen) because He longs for every single person’s heart and soul. He knows how intentionally His Father, Our Father, worked to imagine and create each heart and soul. The Samaritan woman’s, Ms. Lewinsky’s, yours... mine.... And despite whatever messes we find ourselves in... despite how awful, and ashamed, and even lost we might feel (or the world around us tells us we are) God stepped out of eternity, into our world, and comes and meets us right there, as we try to hide our shame, hide ourselves. And He comes to say I love you... I have not forgotten you... You are not unlovable... You are not unforgivable... You were made for more than this...

There is nothing that we can do to stop God from loving us.

I was happy to read that Monica Lewinsky has turned her painful experiences into something positive... Trying to raise awareness on"internet shaming"; being an advocate against cyber-bullying. But I’m saddened to hear how she still encounters hostility, still is lampooned and that often times it causes anxiety, and other painful reactions emotionally and even physically. I hope and pray that somehow she too can experience the Love of our God - that she realizes she is a beloved daughter, made in His divine image - and that no one has the right to diminish that dignity. There is nothing that we can do to stop God from loving us. There is nothing we can do that will make Him ashamed of us.

More than anything else we do this Lent - all the great Lenten practices and disciplines that we participate in (not eating meat on Fridays, giving something up), the thing Jesus longs for the most - is for each of us to take time to truly own up to our sins, and experience his Love and Mercy and forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. So that we too can experience that joy of encounter that this Samaritan woman did... who drops her water jar, runs into town and shares the Good News - that she has met the Christ - with the very people she was too embarrassed to even talk to before. Something inside of her changed, and it made her stronger, made her braver, made her hold her head up, freed from her sins... once she came to realize for herself that There is nothing we can do to stop God from loving us. This Lent, may we be brave enough, humble enough, like the Samaritan woman to let Him and then to love Him back.