THE DREADED "D" WORD....

Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the 21st SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - August 21, 2016. The readings for today’s Mass can be found at: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/082116.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 - We've hit about 20% of our $20,000 stretch goal for this year... Please check out our website for information:  http://www.msunewman.com/#!appeal/cbjb  We appreciate your consideration and your support!
HOMILY:
NBC’s Today Show recently did a story on 30 year old Jaqueline Adan, who shared a story of personal humiliation that caused a life transformation. Five years ago, while with some friends visiting Disneyland, she got stuck in an entrance turnstile because she was severely overweight. Recounting the story now, she shares that while she made a joke of it and laughed it off with her friends, as soon as she spotted the nearest bathroom, she went inside and broke down and sobbed. The rest of the day she needed to use a wheel chair just to get around the park. She felt mortified, and was shocked when she went to Jenny Craig and discovered she weighed 510 pounds.

The thing that was so inspiring about her story to me wasn’t simply that she has since lost 350 pounds - which, is indeed inspiring - but how she did it. She changed her eating habits and committed to daily exercise, simply by starting with walking. It was incredibly difficult for her... When Jaqueline first started exercising she could only walk for five minutes before she got tired. But she kept walking for five minutes until she could do 10, then 15, then 20. If she couldn't do an entire workout video, she'd do as much as she could. In time she built up her endurance, kept at her diet, kept up her commitment and in 4 years went from 510 lbs to 160.

For our media-conditioned selves, we see this 2 minute story and are blown away seeing the before and after pictures. With these visuals, in fast-paced story telling (designed to keep our ever decreasing attention spans engaged) we are moved by the story; we are inspired to hear the transformation – not simply physically, but the entire transformation of this person - from a person who was struggling to a person who has made a tremendous change.

But there’s only so much you can get from a 2 minute segment... the story telling is really limited. We don’t get to see the daily struggle, the daily commitment, the daily discipline that was required on her part to keep getting up every day and reject the negative thoughts and feelings she heard from others or told herself and just keep trying, keep striving as she wanted to make this radical transformation. The Today show couldn’t capture the subtle changes that were won with each little denial to herself that she made in favor of the transformation she wished to achieve.


You could say the same thing of all the Olympians that have been the focus of global attention for the last two weeks. We see Michael Phelps jump into the pool and come out with his 23rd Gold Medal or Katie Ledecky destroying not only her competition but a world record in the 800 m free style - and are amazed at those feats. We might hear about their training, but can’t fully appreciate all the nights they went to bed early, the mornings they got up early, the crazy diets and training they followed for days, weeks, months, years for this one moment, this one chance at this competition. The discipline needed to achieve these achievements.

The dreaded "D" word - Discipline.  Discipline is hard.

I know that in my own life. Growing up I’ve taken Piano classes; I’ve studied Italian; I’ve played baseball... but when I see and hear someone really play the Piano; or hear Italians conversing (and not having to do so S L O W L Y and pausing to see if the person understands); or excel on the baseball field - after I angrily make excuses that I wasn’t born with that skill or the ability or the instincts that often accompany someone thriving in those areas - I know that a major part of the reason that I’m not in the same league is that I haven’t kept practicing, I didn’t keep studying, I didn’t keep trying in those feats... I’ve lacked discipline in those areas.

I’m pretty confident that I’m not alone in that... How many marketing geniuses tap into that desire that everyone has to make some change in their lives - whether it’s how they look, what they do, how they feel with quick-fix promises. "Lose 30 lbs in 30 days" - "Learn a new language in 10 minutes a day". While these different advertisements probably will help with some minor accomplishments, the reality we learn after we look over the Rosetta Stone Language programs we never completed or exercise machines that have become dust collectors is that there are no quick fixes, short cuts or easy solutions whenever we want to make changes in our lives. It requires commitment. It requires discipline.

That’s true not simply in sports, diets, languages... It’s especially true in our spiritual lives. For some reason, a lot of people tend to think it shouldn’t be difficult to be a faithful Catholic. Or there’s not the seriousness, the attentiveness, the focus that previous generations did. I’m sure for some it was a struggle to get here this morning. Here it is, late August - beautiful Summer Sunday. The halloween displays and Back to School Sales constantly remind us that the seasons will be changing soon. So that lure to take advantage of the day with a dismissive "God Understands" was extremely tempting (and seeing some room in here, it was hard to resist for some...)

And it’s true - God does understand... He doesn’t want people coming to Mass simply to fulfill an obligation as if to appease "Angry God" from smiting them throughout another week. It doesn’t work like that. He wants us to choose to worship Him, because He wants to be in relationship with Us. He wants us to acknowledge the gifts, the blessings - from our very lives, our very breaths, to the countless things we take for granted on a daily basis - that we have. He wants us to want to offer who we are, what we do in service to Him - so that our very lives become a blessing to Him. He wants us to share that light, that love that He has for each of us with each and every person we encounter.

But the reality is that takes discipline on our part. That’s what kind of struck me about the readings today. Often times the 2nd Reading doesn’t segue into the Gospel reading that easily. But today the connection seemed pretty strong. Here we had St. Paul writing very honestly about discipline and it being expected of us by the Lord - and our not liking it. Think back again to what Paul said today:

"...discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain,
yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness
to those who are trained by it.
So strengthen your drooping hands and your weak knees.
Make straight paths for your feet,
that what is lame may not be disjointed but healed."

The reason we endure this isn’t to prove how holy we are, how righteous we are or to get in good with the Lord. But to deepen our relationship with Him. The Gospel story is all about that. Someone asks Jesus as they’ve been walking, talking and following Him from town to town - will only a few people be saved?’


Jesus’ answer is disconcerting because it’s somewhat blunt: He answered them ‘Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.’ Jesus goes on to cite people who might have this "familiarity" with him, who will not be saved "We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets’ and he will say to you ‘I do not know where you are from. Depart from me you evil doers.

In short, it’s not enough for us just to be Baptized, attend Mass on a weekly basis and have some basic Christian knowledge. Those things are essential to be sure, but too often we can think that’s enough. But the striving that Jesus is calling for demands more – namely the ongoing, daily, lifelong response on our part of listening to Him; following Him; living our lives based on Him and what He has taught us. We have to enter into the difficult spiritual battles dealing with temptations and resisting them. We have to repent of our sins and failures trusting in God’s Mercy and resolving to strive to do better not to commit those same sins again. We have to take seriously the commands of the Lord to take care of the poor, the sick, the helpless - not because it’s just a nice thing to do, but because Christ told us that’s one of our duties. We have to be missionaries – each and everyone of us – proclaiming the Gospel both in word and deed.

And the truth of that is it takes the same intensity, actually more when you think of it - then a severe diet, or athletic feat, or academic pursuit. It’s a lifelong process, and daily battle on our parts to deny ourselves some of those not necessarily evil things but unnecessary things we’ve allowed to creep in that somehow diminish the Lord. As someone working with College students, I try to point this out to them about charitable giving. They immediately point out their poor college students, up to debt to wazzo - which is very true. But when I point out the Iphone they’re using, the starbucks their drinking, the netflix they subscribe to - not to make fun of them, but to say - if you denied even one of these and started making giving a part of your life, you’d be amazed at what you’re able to do. Same is true about prayer. Making Sunday Mass a priority - but what about the rest of the week to either incorporate communal prayer (daily Mass, bible study) instead of another binge on Netflix. Same is true of service to others - whether it’s more close to home - family, friends, neighbors who need us - or even more selfless- volunteering to help those who are sick, who are hungry, who are poor. We can’t do everything, but we can do something.

But the reality is all of that comes back to discipline on each of our parts. To make small, but significant changes that start to build up and shift who we are into who we’re called by the Lord to be. When we strive to do those things – as imperfectly but with all sincerity trying to do these things, it’s then that God’s mercy will make up for what is lacking and help us through that narrow gate.

MARY'S ASSUMPTION & SEEING OURSELVES AS GOD DOES


Hi everyone, here's my homily for the SOLEMNITY OF THE ASSUMPTION OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY - August 15, 2016. The readings for today's Mass can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/081516-mass-during-day.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 - Today we  hit almost 50% of our $20,000 stretch goal for this year... Please check out our website for information:  http://www.msunewman.com/#!appeal/cbjb  We appreciate your consideration and your support!

HOMILY:


Rarely do I get into history lessons for homilies - but this celebration of the Assumption of Mary- where we celebrate that at her death, Mary’s body and soul were taken up into heaven - is one that sadly divides some Christians (it’s not in the bible they argue, so it cannot be true!). But the Bible is not the only authority on these subjects. There’s also the ancient history and the early oral tradition of the Church that tells us all kinds of things that aren’t recorded in scripture. (Like how St. Peter, St. Paul were martyred, where they were buried in Rome...) 

In this case, in Jerusalem near Mount Zion in the early centuries of Christianity, there was what was known as the Tomb of Mary also known as the "Place of Dormition" - or where she fell asleep. When the emperor of Constantinople in the year 451 asked the Bishops who were gathering for the Council of Chalcedon (which was a worldwide gathering of all the Bishops of the Church like Vatican II was in the 1960's) he had asked if relics of the Blessed Mother could be brought there so that they could make a shrine for her. The Bishop explained Mary had died in the presence of the apostles; but her tomb, when opened later was found empty. All that was found in there were flowers of lilies and roses - and so the apostles concluded that the body was taken up into heaven.

There are other recorded ancient events that also bore witness to this that in 1950, Pope Pius XII proclaimed the Assumption of Mary a dogma of the Catholic Church in these words: "The Immaculate Mother of God, the ever-virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heaven." Effectively making an ancient belief Catholic doctrine and the Assumption of Mary considered a declared truth revealed by God.

With all this in mind, we come together not to commemorate a historical event or gather for an apologetics lesson. But to use this past event to see what God is doing in the present and the future. Looking to Mary for insights on our relationship with God.

And reflecting on this Gospel reading, it reminded me of a story that one of my former High School teachers shared. It was a somewhat surprising, as well as sad occurrence, that seems to get repeated each and every start of the school year. He would ask his students to take a sheet of paper and divide it in half. On the left side he said "I want you to write down all your gifts, all the talents you have... things that you’re really good at." After a few moments he said, "on the right side write down all the things you want to change about yourself, things that you’re not good at, things your embarrassed about."

The sad reality was that he would often have to stop the students writing the second list. That 9 times out of 10, the things they want to change list far exceeded the things they were grateful for list - sometimes even continued on the back of the paper. Truth be told, I’d probably fall into that majority group myself and I suspect a lot of you would to. For a variety of reasons, we seem quite able to see the negatives of ourselves, the failures, the sins so much easier than the unique, special tremendous gifts that God blesses each of us with.

There’s probably a lot of different reasons for that: some have a poor self image of themselves. Some get caught up in sins of jealous or envy where they constantly make unhealthy comparisons of themselves to others. And for some, this mistaken understanding of being humble where they put themselves down to the point of being dishonest takes hold to the point that they are really embracing a "false humility."

In reading this Gospel today we have quite a contrast to those behaviors... Mary and Elizabeth have both had some pretty miraculous things occurring, some divine conversations. Elizabeth pregnant with John the Baptist who will become the prophet heralding Jesus coming. And Mary, bearing Jesus Christ in her womb.  

Imagine Elizabeth writing her own list on why she shouldn’t have a child? The gospel tells us that Elizabeth was older when she had conceived John the Baptist. She was called "barren". Her list of negatives probably would have said "I’m too old to have a child now." "My husband, he’s a good man, but he’s not going to believe this [he didn’t in fact, which is why he is silenced by the angel until the birth of John]." "I’ve been infertile, barren, for so long... surely there could be someone better."

Mary could write her own list too. Quite the opposite of Elizabeth "I’m too young!" "People are never going to believe what is happening" "Surely there’s someone else who is better suited or prepared to be a Mother for this special son."

While all of this is conjecture, it’s not unreasonable for us to imagine that some of these thoughts had to have crossed the minds of these important women. Which is what makes the wisdom that comes from age spoken by Elizabeth to Mary that much more dramatic and important. We almost miss them - there’s so much going on here:

Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.

Those words of insight gives way to Mary singing a beautiful hymn, that the Church prays daily called the "Magnificat"- a song that very simply contains the hopes and prayers of the Old Testament grounded in the reality of Mary’s vision: where God is ruling all things with perfect power and wisdom. She can rejoice in God because she has rejoiced in all that God has done and will do in her own life.

Mary and Elizabeth give witness to us of two women who don’t believe the lies the world would put on them about their situations; who don’t allow truths or facts about themselves get manipulated to where they become filled with fear and doubt that they stop believing all that God had told them. Instead they are grounded in the reality of seeing themselves as God sees them.

With their example, Elizabeth and Mary come to us and ask - What is God speaking to you right now? How is he trying to do something new in our lives or in the lives of those around us through our ‘yes’ to Him? How is he asking us to trust Him that He has equipped us with the gifts, the talents the abilities to accomplish whatever it is that is going to give birth to Jesus Christ in this day and age? How is he asking us to believe in Him, have faith in Him and not be deterred by the lies of the world or the lies we tell ourselves that we’re not worthy, we’re not able, we’re not good enough.

May we too be called "blessed" to see ourselves as the beloved sons and daughters that God created us to be, and follow Mary’s example, believing in all that the Lord is speaking to us will be fulfilled.
 

OFFICER SEAN CASSELS, Rest in Peace

This is the homily I delivered for my friend Officer Sean Michael Cassels - given at his funeral Mass at Our Lady of Lourdes Church, West Orange, NJ on August 8, 2016.  I share this at the request of some who attended and asked for a copy and with the permission of the family.  I pray that it will be of comfort to those who are in pain at this tragic loss.

JOHN 14: 1-6 
Jesus said to his disciples:
"Do not let your hearts be troubled.
You have faith in God; have faith also in me.
In my Father's house there are many dwelling places.
If there were not,
     would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?
And if I go and prepare a place for you,
     I will come back again and take you to myself,
     so that where I am you also may be.
Where I am going you know the way."
Thomas said to him,
     "Master, we do not know where you are going;
     how can we know the way?"
Jesus said to him, "I am the way and the truth and the life.
No one comes to the Father except through me."
 
HOMILY:
When I first got the news of Sean’s death from your pastor, Fr. Ferry, last Wednesday morning, it immediately felt like a punch to the stomach, followed immediately with the impulse to think
this has to be a mistake
- this can’t be true
-please don’t let it be true. 

Unfortunately this wasn’t some horrible nightmare that we would wake up from, but one that all of us are finding is very horrifyingly real.  I say that as a friend of Sean’s and of his family

- his loving wife Jessica, his boys Michael, Patrick and Jamison 
- his Mom and Dad - Mary and Mike;
- his sisters - Eileen and Meghan
- and brothers in law - Brian and Cory;
- his godmother Anita ...

all people I love and have been a part of my priesthood for 17 years.  That I can’t seem to wrap my mind around all of this, just underscores even more that I cannot even imagine how much you are hurting today - and I cannot express adequately how sorry I am that you are hurting as you are. 

That’s sadly something that all of us have in common this morning.  Whether you’re one of Sean’s brothers in blue from Millburn Police Department, or his hometown Police Department of West Orange, and from other agencies... - or you’re one of his friends - some from when you were growing up in this very Parish of Our Lady of Lourdes or from more recent years.  Or you’re apart of this tremendous extended Cassels family or friends of them... We all share this one thing in common - not being able to imagine how much hurt you are all in today and how sorry all of us are... which has brought us together this morning - something we never would’ve imagined a week ago. 

Every death, every funeral is heart wrenching.  When they come suddenly - a heart attack, a car accident - the shock, on top of the grief is often overwhelming.  For Sean, this sometimes fatal illness of depression which had caused ups and downs for him and for those who knew him, loved him - that shock, that grief, that pain is even more devastating. 

Death - no matter how it comes about -  is unjust - unnatural.  Death wasn’t a part of God’s creation, it wasn’t a part of God’s plan in the beginning - and so it defies logic or reason. And when we’re dealing with this horrible illness of depression, that’s even more so the case - it has the ability to change how  we   think, turn our problem solving reasoning upside down as we try to somehow figure this out.  

I don’t want to dwell on all of that this morning, since I’m limited myself in discussing these things.  But I do feel a responsibility to say that if you’re feeling guilty or questioning what more you could’ve done to help Sean - that’s normal.  This tragic, this mysterious illness of depression when it’s fatal like this can trap us in a vicious cycle of obsessing trying to find answers to questions we’re speculating over that will remain unanswered - - - even after our best attempts to do so.   And so I simply want to offer this brief observation:  None of us could’ve known how painful the darkness that Sean was dealing with.  Sean didn’t die because you didn’t do enough - he died because of this horrible illness or disease of depression.  And please, if you’re beating yourself up over this, please reach out to someone - a priest, a relative, a friend or a co-worker for help... don't go this alone.

That we’re here today - and for hours upon hours yesterday at the Dangler Funeral Home in such great numbers is a testament to what Sean was able to do in spite of that illness.  I keep thinking back to my earliest memories from 17 years ago when Sean was playing softball with the Quigley’s Tavern Softball team.  When I do, I can picture that legendary smile so many talked about  - at least I can visualize that remembering the times when Quigley’s was winning.  One time he said to me "Hey Father, you should join our team and play with us..." I politely declined saying "I see how well you take it when someone screws up on the field and I can guarantee you, if I were to play, it won’t go well for either of us..."  So that’s one image I have is Sean’s smile. 

But over the last week, there’s been countless anecdotes, stories that people have been sharing all demonstrating how loving and generous Sean was.  One such example that stayed with me in the midst of so many was seemingly insignificant: One of the guys from the Millburn PD shared how Sean knew someone who worked dispatch liked a certain snack and that he made it a point to stop at the 7-11 and pick it up for him.  It reminds me of Mother Teresa’s quote - Not all of us can do great things, but we can do small things with great love.  Looking out at the outpouring of love and support - even the gofund me page nearly $50,000 in 4 days – it’s obvious Sean did a great number of those small things with great love over a great period of time for a great number of people.  Many of which are probably unknown and hidden to us over the course of his career of serving and protecting the peoples of West Orange and Millburn.

Reflecting on these stories and images, makes coming back to this moment all the more painful.  Even hearing this Gospel reading was initially hard.  The first words we hear from Jesus’ in that reading were "Do not let your hearts be troubled.  You have faith in God, Have faith in me."  Just reading them out loud I almost felt like I lost the entire congregation.  

How could we not be troubled?   

I know I felt troubled reading them and trying to pray with them for this morning.   But the more I sat with it, and struggled with it, some other things came to mind.

Jesus first said these words at the Last Supper.  This was the night before his unjust arrest and trial, his torturous passion, his brutal execution.  So knowing what he is about to face, he’s trying to prepare those closest to him to not be troubled.  Jesus loves them.  And He doesn’t want all that He has taught them, all that He demonstrated to them, all that He was to them to be lost in the darkness that was slowly moving in preparing to strike him down. 

Despite Jesus’ plea that evening, to not let their hearts be troubled - we know that they were.  As Jesus is arrested, tried, brutalized and killed - they weren’t just troubled, they were gone.  The disciples disappeared.  They ran and hid.  It’s only in hindsight, it’s only after Jesus’ resurrection from the dead - when he had at last conquered death and made eternal life real to them that their faith in Him, their trust in Him started to grow.  It was only after the fact that they remembered those words, and began again to start to believe them. 

The point is, Jesus understands that when we’re in the midst of our own darkness and pain, and trials, and suffering how easy it is for us to give into that despair.  For him in a sense to seem eclipsed from our view, even when he hasn’t.

In reading this Gospel again, I try to imagine Jesus saying those words to Sean, Do not let your heart be troubled...Have faith in God have faith in me. That’s what our prayers are meant for today.  We pray that Sean has heard those words from Jesus in a new way.  That the pain, the illness, the darkness that consumed him is gone and that he is experiencing the radiant, eternal, loving light of Christ a new.  That is what we mean when we pray for Sean when we pray that the perpetual light shines upon him and that he rests in peace.

But Jesus is able to multi-task.  While we entrust Sean to Jesus’ loving and merciful arms, we ask him to be with us, reveal Himself to us in real ways that help alleviate our troubled, conflicted, confused hearts. Hearts that are heavy with grief, filled with emotion, consoled with loving images of Sean’s great love and angry at this loss.  Jesus who loves us sees the condition of our troubled hearts - and as the source of all healing, of mercy, of love, and of hope wants to bring us His Peace. Can we accept this precious gift from God at a time like this?

Tribute to Officer Cassels in front of Our Lady of Lourdes
prior to his funeral Mass
I believe we can. One way is to keep Sean’s memory alive. Doing what we have been doing the last few days - sharing our stories our memories, especially with his sons.  Too often, people think that not mentioning someone who’s died to his family members will spare them pain. The opposite is true. It is more painful. Earlier I talked about how Sean gave to others with love. We can all learn from this and follow his example of good works, daily. Even with heavy hearts and swollen eyes, we can be inspired - and inspire others - by his example of how to care for others. 

Yes, there will be tears, but remember that tears are an important part of the healing process. God promises us that in time, "He will wipe away every tear". We must remember - and remind each other - that everyone grieves differently and that’s okay. Grieving is a release. Grieving leaves space for God to work - to heal us and bring ultimate peace. God is with us even if it’s hard to feel His presence right now. His grace is real and tangible and His grace will carry us through this time. Peace will not come overnight but it will come. Be okay with that. Be patient with yourselves. Don’t try to rush it.

Have faith that Sean no longer walks in pain and darkness. He has been released from that. However, there are others in our world - perhaps others that are around us - who suffer from this terrible disease. May the Lord give us not only the awareness to extend a helping hand and lend a compassionate ear to all in our lives but to never forget that the world’s darkness can never extinguish His eternal Light.  I believe the same God who turned Good Friday into Easter Sunday doesn’t waste anything, especially a precious life like Sean’s.  He will weave this terrible event into something that will be beautiful for His kingdom. Our earthly crowns of suffering are replaced with heavenly crowns of glory. We may not understand how that can ever be, but that’s where we are back to those first words of the Gospel - Do not let your hearts be troubled -You have faith in God, have faith also in me.  Knowing that when we do, his promises of having a place in the Father’s house are meant for Sean, and for each of us.

Sean, May you rest in the peace of Christ, my friend

HEART - TREASURE - PANCAKES

Hi everyone, here's my homily for the NINETEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - August 7, 2016. The readings for today's Mass can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/080716.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 - We've hit about 20% of our $20,000 stretch goal for this year... Please check out our website for information:  http://www.msunewman.com/#!appeal/cbjb  We appreciate your consideration and your support!
HOMILY:

Back in November two New Jersey firefighters had spent 12 grueling hours putting out a fire. After that exhausting shift, they hit a local restaurant to grab a bite to eat and some coffee. During the breakfast, the waitress happened to overhear them talking about their dramatic shift. When they had finished their meal and asked for the bill, they were handed the following note: Your breakfast is on me today - thank you for all you do; for serving others, for running into places everyone else runs away from. No matter what your role is, you are courageous, brave and strong... thank you for being bold (and badass) everyday. Fueled by fire, and driven by courage, what an example you are! Get some rest! - Liz.

The guys were overwhelmed by the generous and thoughtful gesture and bragged about the whole experience on Facebook, encouraging people to go and support the business (and give Liz a big tip!) As the story started to spread and circulate, it took an even more beautiful turn. The firefighters found out that Liz’s father was a brain aneurysm survivor - which left him as a quadriplegic paralyzed for 5 years. Liz was trying to raise money to get him a wheelchair accessible vehicle through an internet donations site. The firemen then returned to Facebook and wrote: "Turns out, the young lady who gave us a free meal is really the one that could use the help." Within days, this story went viral and eventually they collected a staggering $80,000 - well over the $17,000 goal she had set in order to do the construction work - and allowing her to look at getting a mobility van which would be a game changer for Liz, her father - and she hopes the entire world as they become brain aneurysm advocates and help raise awareness on that medical condition.

In today’s Gospel, we heard the parable of the foolish servant awaiting his master’s return - with the important words of Jesus reminding us, challenging us: where your treasure is, there also will your heart be... [and that] much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more. In the eyes of God - the gifts that each of us possess means nothing. It’s what we do with whatever talents, or wealth that we possess in building up His kingdom that He’s interested in, that we will be judged on, that will determine our "greatness." Some of us can work miracles with our great intellectual or financial power - and some of  us can bring the kingdom of God to reality with simple, genuine, sincere acts of generosity, kindness and attentiveness to those around us.

The fact is that God has entrusted every one of us with our own gifts, talents and blessings not for our own uses and aims, but to selflessly and lovingly use them for the benefit of others, without counting the cost or demanding a return. The faithful disciple will lovingly use whatever he or she possess to bring God’s reign of hope, justice and compassion to reality in this time and place of ours.

SMELLY FLOWERS & IMPORTANT LIFE LESSON

Hi everyone, here's my homily for the EIGHTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - July 31, 2016. The readings for today's Mass can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/073116.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


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HOMILY:

Not being a botanist, it shouldn’t be surprising that I had never heard of one of the worlds largest flowers - the AMORPHOPHALLUS TITANUM which is a part of the NY botanical gardens in the Bronx. On top of it being one of the worlds largest flowers, it’s unique in two other ways. The first - which seems to be driving the most interest, the most press at the moment is the Amorphophallus Titanum’s reputation as having the smelliest, foulest, most repugnant of scents. It is for that reason that is more commonly known by it’s nickname "the corpse flower." (Kind of says it all, doesn’t it) Capitalizing on that, The Guardian, a newspaper from England, sent a reporter to NY to ask people to describe the smell of the Corpse flower. There responses kind of said it all: - it smells like lettuce when you take it out of a bag; It smells like an aquarium - like the penguin enclosure... It smells like my cat’s liter box, only stronger - it smells worse than a thousand pukes.

Those - colorful - descriptions seem to obscure the other amazing thing about this plant. The Amorphopallus Titanum takes over a decade to grow for it’s huge lily like - flower to finally bloom. After that, it’s bloom lasts 24-36 hours before it dies. In fact it started to bloom on Thursday - and they had a Youtube live feed so you could see it online (http://time.com/4430658/corpse-flower-bloom-live/)  - so it is probably already in decline by now. Having first read about this on Friday, I had considered driving into the Bronx for my first -non Yankee related trip to the borough today just to see it - but unfortunately didn’t have time to do so. 


There’s something so beautifully simple when you think about it - this plant has been nurtured, grown, cultivated, all for this one moment - these 24-36 hours where the fulfillment of it’s life will be on display for all to see - and then it will fade away.

Hearing about this plant and reflecting on this Gospel throughout the week, the message that kept hitting me was not particularly earth-shattering or breaking news to any of us - Life is fragile. Our time on this planet is unpredictable. For a vast number of us, that reality often hits us in dramatic, unexpected ways that are jarring


- like when we heard the horrific story this past week of an 84 year old priest who was killed by Islamic Terrorists while celebrating Mass in France before a horrified congregation

- like when any of us have heard a loved one with a terrible diagnosis, or when we have had an unexpected loss in our families.

Those moments snap us out of the ordinary, routine, day to day busy ness of life that we so easily allow to manipulate all of our mental, physical and sometimes even spiritual energies. Most of us don’t like to think about the end of our lives - let alone talk about it. It can be upsetting and heavy, particularly on a hot day at the end of July where we’re on the cusp of August (forget the end of our lives, we’re probably wondering where is the summer going so quickly?) It’s jarring... and that’s why this gospel kind of catches us off guard tonight.

Jesus sounds somewhat frustrated in this Gospel reading. Some guy in the crowd yells out to Jesus - "tell my brother to share the inheritance with me." This guy has probably seen or heard or experienced something that made it evident that Jesus has power, has authority. Maybe it was a miracle... Maybe it was Jesus’ preaching... Maybe it was just being in His presence - something made this guy discern that many people who’ve had problems, difficulties, struggles, questions about life went to Jesus and found what they were looking for. So he decides to go to Jesus to share what was on his heart, what was troubling him in life. And what was that? His anger with his brother over his inheritance.

That’s where Jesus hits him with this short parable about the rich man who obsesses about his wealth, his possessions, his goods. He has such an abundance of them that he worries what to do with this abundance. How can he better store everything? How can he find bigger barns, warehouses for all his possessions. Not realizing that all of that will be meaningless that evening as his life will be at an end - and very starkly, Jesus tells him - none of that will matter to God.

In God’s creation, plants are fortunate. Their entire existence glorifies God by their very lives. They don’t have to make choices or decisions. They’re programmed in a sense to do what they do. The unique Amorphophallus’ entire existence for 12 years builds to this beautiful climax where the bloom is revealed (the scent is smelled) and God is glorified by it. And it’s over so quickly.

For you and I, this Gospel is a reminder that we do make choices, decisions that either glorify God or not - that preach his Gospel or diminish His presence to the world. He gives us the tools, the talents, the gifts, the abilities - the opportunities - to determine how we will bloom. But - none of us knows the length of time. That’s a part of the mystery of life and being apart of God’s creation. Heavy stuff - I know, particularly in the middle of the summer.

Yet maybe that’s why its good that this Gospel reading itself catches us in such a sudden, unexpected manner. How many New Year’s Resolutions have fallen by the wayside for us. How many Ash Wednesday with our Lenten promises didn’t quite turn out the way we had expected or hoped... There seems multiple opportunities we’re given in our lives to "clean the slate" - to start over again. Rather than focusing on the past failures -- all the opportunities we’ve had up to this point to change something about ourselves, our relationships with God, our relationships with our family and friends - the Gospel message is meant to constantly remind us of a Loving God, a forgiving God who never stops encouraging us, calling us again and again to try again – try again to make things right that need to be made right....


Those opportunities continue to be there. Maybe someone is coming to mind right now that you feel a nudge to make ammends with. Maybe there’s something that’s been weighing on your heart for some time that you want to bring to confession. Maybe this call to examine how much I own, how much I possess and how much I share - especially with the poor, those near to me - and those who are strangers is resonating in a way it never has. The Holy Spirit is going to hit each of us in a different way with this proclamation.

Whatever it is, we can be confident and are guaranteed that each and every day we wake up God our Father is patiently there waiting for us to choose to Glorify Him by our very lives. But where a sense of urgency comes from is that we don’t have a guarantee on is how many mornings we will wake up... how many opportunities we have left to glorify God and choose to be a beautiful bloom in his Creation.
 

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.