A CURE FOR FEAR

Hi everyone, here's my homily for the SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER - May 1, 2016.  This is also our "Senior Send Off" Mass where we honor our seniors who will be graduating in a few weeks, over the summer or at the end of the Fall Semester.  The readings for today's Mass can be found at:  http://usccb.org/bible/readings/050116.cfm.  Thanks as always for reading; for sharing this blog on facebook, twitter or reddit; and your feedback and comments.  Have a great week.  God Bless, Fr. Jim


HOMILY:
Imagine the next time you are going to CVS, Rite Aid, Walgreens or just the Pharmacy aisle at your local supermarket... and as you’re picking up Advil for headaches; Zantac for heart burn; Claratin for your allergies (have I suddenly veered into an example where I sound like a 90 year old and where you guys can no longer relate??? anyway...) you make your way down the aisle you are able to pick up a drug to cure fear. That’s not a premise to some science fiction story - but something that appears to be a not so far off reality. The New York Times  last January reported that scientists are working on a drug that will not simply numb you or sedate you when you are anxious about something to alleviate those symptoms - but promises to erase the fear that are tied to specific memories.

Using a test group of arachnaphobes to illustrate how this works - they had three groups of people who were petrified of spiders. Group One was shown a tarantula and then given the drug; Group Two was shown the spider and given a sugar pill or a placebo; and Group Three was given the drug first and then shown the tranatula... They were assessed each groups reactions that first time, three months later and a year later to see how they responded. Amazingly, the one group that was shown the spider and then given the drug within days were able to touch the spider; three months later were able to take it out of the glass container and hold it... even a year later - their fear never returned. Theoretically, the drug is supposed to simply take the emotional response out by blocking some of the brain chemicals that rush in when someone is overwhelmed by their fears. It’s not like a Men in Black thing with a mind eraser that will alter or delete historical facts. So if you had a car accident that caused you fear of ever getting into a car, the scientists maintain, it’s not going to delete the memory of the accident - just the emotional response you are having that is preventing you from driving would be altered. It’s an interesting experiment. And no doubt for some who are severely inhibited with deeply ingrained fears that greatly diminish their quality of life (like veterans suffering severe effects of PTSD) this could be a major game changer.

But – you knew there was a ‘but’ coming – some critics are concerned with any attempts to tamper with human memory. If we start altering our reactions, eliminating our fears - could that lead the way for us to be careless (or rather more careless), or reckless even? What about the darkest aspects of human history where horrific crimes against humanity and wide-spread trauma took place (like the evil of Nazi concentration camps during World War II) In the wrong hands, this medical discovery could be used to do some Orwellian things that we don’t even want to imagine.

Obviously there’s a lot that needs to be considered - the medical, the psychological (and hopefully) the moral consequences of such a discovery. But the reason that this is even a thing, that this is even a road that scientists went down is trying to address a human need, a human desire.


To be free of fear.

No doubt every one of us, to one extent or another, would sign up for that. Full disclosure, I’m including myself in this as well... a week ago as I was heading to the airport for another International Flight – the 5th time in 5 years I’ve done so - you can ask my driver to the airport, I was not exactly happy or calm about the prospect of entering that glorified soda can being thrust tens of thousands of feet into the sky at 500 mph.

And looking around this room tonight, there are all kinds of fears:

I have final exams this week – some of you, there’s a lot of reason for that fear.

What is going to happen when I graduate from Montclair State - for some that’s a more urgent and pressing fear as you will be graduating in a few short weeks. Will I get that job; accepted into that school... Will I find a job – some of your parents have that fear too - will they find a job - will they be moving out anytime soonwhat happens when they do move out!

Sadly the MSU bookstore is closed but the last time I checked, they didn’t have those no-fear pills available. Yet, we already have an antidote that is far less risky, far less questionable, far more effective - right here. In tonight’s Gospel, we encounter Jesus at the Last Supper... the night before his brutal, torturous Passion, Crucifixion and death. Knowing what He is about to face... Knowing what these, his chosen ones whom he loves are about to face... He tells them Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. It is said that of all the things that the Lord tells us throughout the Bible; of all the commands that we are given; of all the directions that Jesus has given - that sentiment is the one said the most (and probably the one we disobey the most as well): To not be afraid. And amazingly, here he is, facing the most horrific of events imaginable and that is what is on His heart and mind to those he Loves - this passionate command to not give into fear.

He says that not as a crazy man being ignorant of what’s about to happen to Him.

He says that not as some happy-go-lucky pollyannaish individual being insensitive to one’s legitimate fears.

He says that as one who knows us; as one who loves us; as one who is with us... He says that as one who promises us not a life free of any pain, or worry or yes even fear – like if we just sign onboard with Jesus He’s like an insurance policy against ANY negative things from happening to us. But rather He speaks heart to heart... He says to us - no matter what it is we face; no matter what the odds; no matter what the fear that is troubling our hearts - He loves us unconditionally. We are wonderfully, beautifully made in His image for a reason, for a purpose... and we find that purpose, we find that meaning, we find that love - and even more - the peace we so desire - when we love selflessly, when we remain connected with Him by keeping His commands, when we allow Him in, when we yield to the Holy Spirit to guide, direct and dwell within us.

For you, our seniors tonight who are preparing to be "sent off", and for everyone else gathered around this altar tonight who have hearts that are troubled, who are afraid of things - both in the short term and the long... As we come to the end of our Academic Year, as we approach the end of the Easter Season, this Gospel couldn’t come at more perfect time. The reality is despite whatever scientific discoveries are made or medical advances are pursued - we won’t be able to ever fully eliminate fear. And Jesus’ isn’t pretending to be simply some pill or antidote to what it is that torments the human heart. Just because we were active members here at Newman Catholic; or went through RCIA and received our Sacraments of Initiation; sang in the choir; went to bible studies or participated on a mission trip - doesn’t mean that we will be inoculated from things that frighten us, terrors that unnerve us.

But the Gospel points out to us that we are faced with a daily choice: To choose not to yield to fear. To choose, instead, to open the doors of our hearts to Christ. It’s something that each and everyone of us needs to commit to doing. Because the sad reality is that the world around us - whether on a global level from the things that leaders, politicians say and do; different threats advancing or from a place closer to home, more locally: family struggles, illnesses, doubts, difficulties and setbacks all of these things are sowing seeds of fear. The secular forces, the evil forces around us, at the same time, seem to be promising fulfillment, promising short-cuts, or even promising just the absence of fear in easier, quicker ways that never seem to work.

What we believe, what we stand for, what we’ve tried to demonstrate to you seniors - is that there is another way. You can make a choice, a different choice to follow Christ - which can be scary too.    Because we're not talking about simply getting to Mass for an hour on Sunday (although that’s an important, first step) but each and every day letting this choice guide how we live, what we do... 

Pope Benedict XVI once very beautifully said: 
Are we not perhaps all afraid in some way? 
If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us? 
Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? 
Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom? . . . 
No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. 
No! 
Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. 
Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. 
Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation. 
And so, today, with great strength and great conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you, dear young people: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life."

To the class of 2016 - to each and every one of us here, may that be our prayer, our goal, to find the true life, the fullness of life, the peace, the freedom from fear that Jesus Christ wishes to offer each and everyone of us.

ARE YOU A SUPER-FAN?

Hi everyone, this is my homily for the FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER - April 24, 2016.  The readings for today can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/042416.cfm.  As always, thank you for stopping by to read, for sharing this on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit and for your feedback and comments.  Grateful for your support!  God Bless -
Fr. Jim


HOMILY:

Saturday Night Live – probably about 20 years ago – had a recurring skit called "Bill Swerski's Superfans." It was a funny bit that was a parody of a bunch of the most stereo typical Chicago sports fanatics whose primary obsession was "DA BEARS". They would be sitting in a kind of TV-news panel set up and obsessively talking about sports. What made it so hysterical was the extreme examples they portrayed: they would have debates about the impact Mike Ditka's (one of the Head coaches at the time) haircut might have on the team. As loyal followers they would anticipate the most ridiculous of triumphs with ludicrous predictions "Da Bears will defeat the Giants 31 - 3... " another time, one of the members of the panel predicted the Bears would win by a score of 31 to negative 7 and when pressed, "how does a team end with negative points" the response was DITKA'LL FIND A WAY...

They say what makes comedy work is when there's an element of truth contained in it. Watching these semi-regular debates not only lampooning Chicago accents but how passionate people can get over a sports teams obviously resonates with all of us. Either we are one of those super fans or we know them... You can tell the difference about whether you are a super fan or a casual observer -- The casual observer might know that the Yankees beat the Red Sox last night - the super fan will tell you that C.C. Sabathia was on fire shutting down the entire Red Sox line up with 24 strike outs and not giving up a run in 7 innings...and how this was similar to a game between the two clubs 20 years ago.

That's not just true for sports... It could be anything. People get just as dedicated to other things - for example some music group you like: I like Mumford and Sons is a bit different from the super fan who has the super rare recording of a live performance that Mumford and Sons played in Nashville where they did an acoustic version with alternate lyrics to Hopeless Wanderer and can explain the differences to you in details you never really thought about. There are definitely fanatics for different Movies and TV shows -- Star Wars fanatics who dress up in costume and wait for days to see the premiere of a film - People counting the days and hosting a premiere party for the new season of Game of Thrones is a little different than the person who just goes to the movies for a couple of hours for entertainment or tunes in to the show when they’re home the night it happens to be on. Whatever it is, it’s not hard to tell the difference between the casual observer to the true fan.


Whether being a super fan is a healthy thing or not, we can debate or discuss some other time. But the point is, when we are Really, REALLY passionate about something, people can tell. It transforms who we are, how we react, how we behave... (Just look at Superfans when their team loses, or that band announces a new tour coming to your town or when a sequel is announced.

Are we "Super Fans" of Jesus? Just hearing that, what are the images that comes to mind? Most likely we have a caricature or some really negative stereotype of what that means just hearing that question. Yet it’s an important one. If we think about all the things we get really passionate about... follow, discuss, share - then how does Jesus factor in with that in our lives? Often times we think we’re doing Him a favor just by showing up here on a Sunday night (when, true, many, many don’t)

In tonight's Gospel, on this fifth Sunday of Easter, we kind of have this interesting flashback. Here we are, celebrating Easter, Jesus' resurrection from the dead, but the setting, the scene of tonight's Gospel is the night before Jesus' crucifixion and death. We're once again plunged back into the Upper Room at the Last Supper. There was so much that happened in those days, that last week of his life, that some things get lost in the drama, in the chaos, in the confusion. So in the peace, the joy, the glow of Easter season where we continue to reflect on the eternity-changing experience of Jesus being raised from the dead, the Church looks back at Jesus’ last days with new eyes. So as we do that tonight, we hear something essential to the life of being a Christian, of being a follower of Jesus, of truly being a disciple -


This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another...

Jesus makes it clear, what the difference between the mere observer, the casual, curious bystander and the "super fan" if you will. It's not by how quickly we can recite a line from scripture, with correct citation of book, chapter and verse number that will demonstrate to the world that we are disciples... It's not in how promptly (and often times harshly) we are able to point out to others how wrong whatever it is they are doing truly is. It's not how many rosaries or hours of prayer we offer. It isn't even how many people we can convince to come to our events, our service projects, our services -- as important as all of these things are -- that Jesus is interested in. He gets to the basic, core point - do we love one another.

This wasn't a new teaching... Not by any stretch of the imagination. Jesus had said, lived, demonstrated that over and over and over to his chosen 12. Yet here in the Upper Room, the night before he dies, as he is in a sense giving his "last words" before his crucifixion, they take on greater weight. No talk of miracles, no remembrances of great crowds or tremendous feats. He cuts to the heart of it and says - the world will know you are my disciples if you have love for one another.


We often project to a more universal, general manner. Which lived out here, at Newman Catholic - has given birth to some great mission trips, tremendous community service activities whether it's Habitat for Humanity; Soup Kitchens, even social-justice movements: where as Catholics we're talking about Immigration, Environmental issues, the protection of the unborn... But I think we can use all that to kind of deflect from what else Jesus is saying. Reflecting on this, I can't help but think Jesus wants us to be more personal, more immediate, more local.

Think about it, when he was first speaking these words, he was talking to 11 (Judas had just left to do what he was going to do). Jesus knew it was going to be hard to be a follower of his... Especially in light of what would happen in the days to come. How easy it would be for them to all turn on each other -


PETER HOW COULD YOU?

WHERE WERE YOU THOMAS?

WHO ARE YOU TO JUDGE...

Jesus' love and mercy anticipates their failures to Him. And He forgives them both from the Cross and on Easter Sunday Evening for those failures (and surely many others not recorded in the Gospels). But he wants them to be sure that they forgive themselves, and forgive each other... He wants to make sure that they don't let those human emotions, those fingers pointing at each other to distract, deflect, diminish what He has done for them, and demonstrated for them.

So here it gets uncomfortable, as it gets even more personal. Look around this room... Do we love one another? When people pass by, or visit us for the first time, or observe us -not just this hour or so we gather on Sunday, but as we walk out of here. Would they be able to see us "loving one another?" Would we be described as Jesus' super fans, disciples?


That doesn't mean people fake friendship and phony smiles.  Love doesn’t mean we are best friends with someone or share the same interests or even necessarily like someone... When that is the case, Love is easy.  When it’s not the case, when we don’t see eye to eye, when we don’t share the same interests, when we don’t get along, Love is work...  And so maybe we start out with something simple like, I don't walk out of Mass and an hour later mock or gossip someone that was sitting three rows away from me.  We shouldn't do that to anyone, to be honest, but if after sitting together, hearing Jesus speak His word to us; putting His very body and blood on our tongues and consuming him and then walking out of here and gossiping about one another (and even more horrendously lying to ourselves that somehow that's being done out of concern) or we like a post that puts down someone else - then what chance do we have in being loving, being Christ like, demonstrating our super fandom for Christ to a stranger? If we can’t get this right my brothers and sisters... if we can’t get serious about what it truly means to love one another – then we're merely a social club who tries to do nice things that make us feel good (and self-righteous at the same time about how great we are)

If we're honest, we know we could do better... Should do better... Perhaps much, much better. And the temptation to make excuses, justifications, or outright dismissals to our sometimes scandalous treatment of one another will always be there.

Jesus isn't interested in any of that. He speaks urgently, lovingly, honestly to us. Imploring us to enflame the fire of faith in one another and the world around us by taking that risk to be bold, making that step to be sincere and authentic, trying to become one of his super fans as we begin that difficult step of loving one another.

WHO ARE YOU?

Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER- April 17, 2016. The readings for today can be found at: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/041716.cfm. Thanks as always for reading, sharing this on twitter, facebook, reddit - and your comments and feedback. Have a great week. God Bless - Fr Jim

HOMILY:


It’s hard to describe, but it’s easy to worry about who you are and what you’ve become and forgetting who you are.

That was the reaction that actor Ellar Coltrane had as he viewed himself for the first time on the movie screen in last year’s critically acclaimed, ground-breaking film "Boyhood." For those of you who haven’t seen it, what made this such an innovative movie was that the filming of this story of a journey from childhood to young-adulthood was a journey itself. The filming took place 2 weeks a year for over 12 years. The end result was you have a film where in about two and a half hours, we got to see the main character Mason grow from age 6 to 18 years old (as well as the physical changes that the rest of the cast experience over those 12 years).



For the most part, the story line wasn’t particularly riveting. What was so compelling was watching something that was filmed in a way that has probably never been done before and so achieving a realism that is hard to compare with...well anything. One of the things that I was curious about after seeing the film was what kind of an effect this project had to have on the actors themselves. The "adults" in interviews sounded pretty professional about the entire process. For them their biggest concern was that they felt they were taking a "leap of faith" in agreeing to be in the film: they were committing to this project for 12 years and not sure if this was going to be the critical success it was or an epic flop that would go down as a colossal waste of time.


But for the youngest actor, Ellar it had a much deeper impact. .Starting this process as a child actor at age 6, continuing that for 2 weeks a year for 12 years, the whole thing might be similar to a summer camp experience. Many of the same people on set were there year to year... they grew as a cast together... And here he was as a young boy not simply learning the craft of acting, but just growing up himself as a boy to a man. So that line playing this fictitious character and himself experiencing this growth into a young man was a bit confusing. Hence his initial reaction to viewing this film where he got to see himself physically grow up in such a dramatically edited way was a bit mindblowing - or as he describes it "it was brutal. It was very emotional... I was laid out for a couple of days...Even though it’s not me, there is a lot of me in that character. So it’s kind of self-actualizing." With subsequent screenings of the film, he’s begun to distance himself from this role and has to remind himself that the image on the screen wasn’t him... Probably the filmmakers didn’t anticipate it, but in hindsight, it’s not difficult to understand why Ellar was a bit overwhelmed, confused as he reflects on the experience and struggles with one of the questions the film wants its viewers to delve into –

Who are you?

That’s one of the most universal, philosophical questions that everyone has to face at some point in their lives - Who am I - why am I here? For the most part - even if we have reflected on that in the past - with the busy-ness of daily life, we kind of push that aside as we run from one thing to the next... until we stumble upon a film like Boyhood or go through some major life event that our defenses come down and we find ourselves thinking about those questions.

For many, they might answer that by what they do; what they study - where they do those things - I’m a plumber... I’m studying biology... I’m from New Jersey. Those things give details about a person’s life, but it’s not really a complete answer. Others might add "I’m a husband/a wife" "I am a mother/father to three children" which gives some more important information about a person’s life commitments... but there still seems something missing...


Who are you?

Tonight’s scriptures offer answers that on the surface seem overly simplistic, but are anything but. The Psalm we sang together - We are his people, the sheep of his flock - goes hand and hand with the Gospel for tonight. Being sheep - of the shepherd... that can be hard to hear - especially as Americans. We like to believe that we’re strong; self-made; independent people. And sure, there is an element of self-reliance that is admirable and should be expected as we grow up. But it’s the height of arrogance for us to think that we somehow willed ourselves into being; or that we’re able to continue to exist simply by our own power or authority.

We have a source of being... a creator. Who, of all the ways of expressing that relationship of Creator-Creatures, He uses this very gentle, loving image of being one of His Sheep. The Gospel is interesting. Every year on this 4th Sunday of Easter we hear one of the "Good Shepherd" narratives. This selection is probably the shortest of the variations we could have heard in that three year cycle. But in that short passage, the line that stood out for me was Jesus talking about us his sheep and saying "... I know them."

Knowing in the bible often refers to much greater depth and intimacy than we so often use the word. Jesus’ is not saying "I know so and so" in a general manner, to express familiarity. Jesus knows us. He knows our curiosity, our desires, our dreams; He knows our fragileness, our brokeness, our imperfections, our sinfulness; He knows our potential, the greatness locked within... He knows us...

And with all of those things, the crazy, complexity that makes you and I the unique, individual, loved creations we are of His, He tells us that He doesn’t just know us, He loves us... I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand... That’s how God looks at us. That’s how Jesus sees us... as His beloved sheep that he has laid down his life for.


But it’s up to us to own that... to recognize that... to accept that... to want it. To want to be a member of the flock. To make that choice to do so. To live that choice not simply saying those words "I am His" - but by listening to his voice... following Him.

Much like Ellar Coltrane every so often we catch a glimpse, we can see ourselves growing and that can be a little scary. We see ourselves growing in our relationship with God. We go from our first inkling that there is something out there an entity or a thing or an it. Then we begin to realize the it might be more like a person. And finally that person becomes revealed to us as Jesus Christ along with His Father and the Holy Spirit that He sends us. So far so good.

But much like Ellar’s experience it's scary to see ourselves growing sometimes especially as we grow into a relationship with Christ. Because that is awesome and that is demanding at the same time. And it can be scary because he offers us so much and what he is asking for in return is our trust, our love, our lives. Pope Francis a few years ago to a gathering of millions of youth said - if we want our lives to have meaning and fulfillment... Put on Faith - and your life will take on a new flavor, it will have a compass to show you the way; Put on Hope - and every one of your days will be enlightened and your horizon will no longer be dark but luminous; Put on Love - and your life will be built on rock, your journey will be joyful ... 


If we do these things, if we allow ourselves to learn from our experiences; instead of being scared by seeing how much we change then we will won’t mind being one of His Sheep. Sheep are afraid and they don’t just follow any voice; they have learned the shepherd’s voice and find great peace and confidence in following them. They know the shepherd will not bring them to harm, but help them find the best grass and water.

What voices do you hear and follow? Are you confident they will bring you to the best things in life? Listening to the voices of the world -- those in the media, those in politics (and especially many of the voices we find on this campus) can be risky and many times harmful. Tuning them out and returning to the voice of our Shepherd guarantees "good things." Does that mean a life without trouble … no, but it does mean we will know who we truly are – and who we become: one with the God who never changes. And that is a good thing.

WHAT GOOD ARE THESE?

Hi everyone - so this Sunday, I'm not preaching since Archbishop Hebda will be joining us to celebrate Mass and the Sacrament of Confirmation for two of our students.  But this past Friday night we had our Archdiocese of Newark Catholic Intercollegiate Adoration (CIA)... so I thought I'd pass along the homily from that.  The readings can be found here: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/040816.cfm  (Friday of the 2nd Week of Easter)

Thanks as always for stopping by, for sharing this blog and for your comments and feedback!  God Bless and Have a great week - Fr Jim

HOMILY:
maybe it wasn't THIS bad... but not too far off
A couple of years ago I was sitting at a meeting at the Archdiocese when a friend turned to me and asked if I had an extra pen.  I took a look, and on the bottom of my backpack, I saw among an assortment of junk - ALTOIDS, an old magnificat magazine, headphones, this old ball-point pen.  The plastic outer shell of it was broken.  It was kind of dirty too from dust, sand from the Jersey Shore when this was my beach bag- and whatever other particles made it into this bag that is used from everything from a gym bag to a briefcase.  At any event, as I was digging through all this crap, I not even fully realizing it, had pulled the ball point pen out and kind of showed it to him as I said “No, I don’t.”

He looked at me kind of in disbelief trying to figure out whether I was stupid or busting on him as he said “Uh - what’s that?”  And I said “Oh this, you don’t want to use this, I mean look at it, it’s old, it’s broken, I doubt it even works.”  He grabbed the pen, swirled it on his pad a few times and then it started working again (gotta hand it to Ballpoint, they do make a good pen) and he said “yeah - this is fine...” as he proceeded to use it for the next hour without even the slightest of difficulties.

Here I was - maybe out of embarrassment, or a mistaken belief that there’s no way this would be useful - prepared not to give my friend something he needed at the moment he needed it, because I had already judged the pen inadequate, useless... “what good could it be.”  It’s a stupid example, but it came to mind reading this Gospel.

In this reading, we hear of one of Jesus’ most famous, most recounted and remembered miracles - the feeding of the multitudes - which is recounted in every Gospel, but with a few variations in each   As told by St. John, this version contains an interesting detail.  When Jesus sees the crowd of well over 5,000 (considering that was only the number of men – with women and children, the crowd was probably well over 15,000) He shows his love, his concern and makes it clear that he wishes to get them something to eat.    Turning to his closest followers, his inner circle, his apostles, Andrew seems to be the only one with any ideas (the others are probably thinking, as we hear in the other gospels, to send them home thinking the crowd is to big).  Andrew points out that a young boy has come forward and offered all that he had.  The 5 loaves and 2 fish.  But as soon as Andrew acknowledges this offer, very quickly, he dismisses it as inadequate saying “what good are these for so many?”

How often in our land of plenty and abundance... (think of it, only in our “first world” culture could we have a reality show called “Hoarders” focusing on people who can’t get around their homes because they have so much crap they’ve “collected” - while countless other people in nations throughout the world are desperate for just enough to survive?  That’s another sermon for another day though, but I’ll leave the ADD thought here... anyway) in this land of plenty and abundance do we look at the material things we possess as inadequate?  

That’s bad enough on one level - but even more, how often do we see the gifts, the talents, the abilities that we possess as “not good enough?”

I’ve heard or witnessed students not stepping up in terms of being leaders because “they’re not good enough”... I won’t sing with the choir because “there’s people who sing better than I do...” “I can’t go on that mission trip or that community service, because, well, what can I do?”    Even sadder when young men dismiss thoughts of a priestly vocation or young women think they could never be called to be a religious sister because “I’m not holy enough.”

One lesson this Gospel brings to mind is that it’s not about us.  We can get so worked up trying to evaluate things (and in the process, often times undermining how blessed we truly are as we compare ourselves to others) we start to conceive plans, determine how things will work out that we get overwhelmed, doubtful in our faith and stifling ourselves into inaction.

Yet look at how Jesus takes this nameless boy’s example to speak to us today.  If like him, we simply, humbly offer to Jesus all that we have, all that we possess, all that we are - it is then that He is able to work miracles through us and with us.

That’s what happened in the Early Church.  That first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, shows that these same men who initially were so dismissive of this one little boys contributions in the face of such a great need, these same men who failed Jesus so spectacularly during his unjust trial, his brutal, torturous Passion... these same men after the Resurrection of Jesus, after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, they are now facing execution for preaching Jesus Christ were spared because one argues to the rest that “if this endeavor is of human origin, it will destroy itself...”  And because they “did not stop teaching and proclaiming the Christ, Jesus” we have been fortunate to receive this precious gift of faith.

This nameless boy - the apostles - they all bear witness again, that it’s not about us - it’s about us not standing in the way of the miracles Jesus wants to work through us and with us.  If that were something that was lived by every disciple, then this wouldn’t be simply a miracle story we encounter every so often, remembering this one day where a multitude of people had their physical hunger alleviated.  It would be a model of how Jesus Christ continues to transform the hearts of his believers and the world around them.  Jesus would continue to be working miracles, fulfilling the deeper hungers, alleviating the spiritual and physical malnourishment that so many are suffering simply because we’ve been stuck asking ourselves as we look at our gifts, our talents, our possessions - “What good are these?”  Jesus is willing to show us exactly how good they are, if only we would be willing to share them.

EASTER MIRACLES: EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED

Hi everyone, here's my homily for the SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER - APRIL 3, 2016... the readings for today's Mass can be found at: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/040316.cfm.  Thanks as always for reading, your feedback and comments and for sharing it on Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit.   God Bless you and have a great week - Fr Jim

HOMILY:

I don’t believe you

That was the response that 12 year old Julia Burzzese and her parents heard from doctors, health care agencies, and medical insurance people, when the little girl went from being this active sixth grader who played softball, soccer and sang in the choir to becoming debilitated with severe medical issues. It started on May 10 of last year she started to have severe stomach pains that didn’t go away. Then she started having difficulty walking, became feverish, her fingernails were turning brittle, some of her hair was falling out. Within weeks she wasn’t able to walk at all and ended up needing a wheelchair.

After a bunch of tests that seemed to eliminate all kinds of possible ailments, the doctors starting dismissing her completely saying "you’re making this up and you don’t even realize you’re making it up." To prove the point, one therapist started to poke, prod her lifeless legs to try to get her to react - and even went so far as to hold her up and drop her to see if she could or would stand... barely able to get his hands in place to catch her head from smashing against the floor.

In the days and weeks that followed, the family was at a loss as to what they could do next. Knowing Pope Francis was going to arrive in New York this past September, they brought Julia in her wheelchair to Kennedy Airport searching for a miracle. As Pope Francis walked, he stopped and saw Julia, went over to her touching her head and blessing her. She said to reporters that she knew she would experience a miracle and that she was going to walk again... And guess what, the little girl experienced a miracle. Not the immediate, dramatic, jumping out of her wheelchair one that you might have expected. But the coverage was observed by other doctors who inquired about the girl and what was it that confined her to the wheelchair. 5 days later, a blood test revealed a partially conclusive detection of Lyme Disease. An advocacy group found a Lyme Specialist who agreed to treat her, Lenox Hill Hospital offered to put in a catheter when a nurse shared her story and offered to donate her services to treat her. Another health care service donated thousands of dollars in medication that her insurance had refused. And praise God, this past week, she started to feel tingling in her feet and ankles where there had been no sensation for months.

The young Julia, very wise for her age, reflectively said to a reporter: If you believe and pray, everything can happen.

Isn’t that what we celebrate this season of Easter? We celebrate, we rejoice, in our 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 we just heard, the apostles who knew that they had failed miserably are gathered together. They 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 into isolation 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. Not even an "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 often becomes the sole focus whenever this Gospel is proclaimed - who is I think, a bit unfairly considered by many to be the cynic, the "doubter" simply 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, while 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 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, a simple blessing of little Julia, that image captured the hearts and minds of countless others who broke through the cynicism, doubts and outright dismissal of this girl and she’s begun to experience the healing she longed for.

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. 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.

 

GOOGLE WANTS YOU TO LIVE FOREVER (JESUS ALREADY BEAT THEM TO IT)

Hi everyone.  Happy Easter!  Alleluia!  May the Risen Christ share His Life, His Love to you and yours today and always.  Here's my homily for EASTER SUNDAY - THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS CHRIST - March 27, 2016.  The readings for today can be found at http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/032716.cfm Thanks as always for reading, sharing this on facebook, twitter, reddit - and your feedback.  God Bless - Fr Jim

HOMILY:

Has Google changed life as we know it? Not yet... but they’re trying!


Maybe 10-15 years ago, hearing the word Google was probably something we were familiar with like"Yahoo" or "Ask.com" - an internet web-site that was a search engines designed to help you find different things on the internet. Yet through ingenuity, creativity, business sense and an explosion of advancements that we may never imagined in real life a decade ago, Google has become something much more than just another tool for the world wide web, but arguably, a cultural changing force. Just think of these three examples:



- It has become such a dominant presence that Webster’s dictionary decided to add the word "google" to it’s catalogue, listing it as a verb... Used in a sentence, for example, What is a platypus? I don’t know – google it. In other words, use the google search engine on the internet to find out information about someone or something.

- Google is behind some other huge cultural phenomenons that people have made a part of their daily lives and routines, like Instagram, another app that allows people to share photos with one another; or Uber, which has redefined taxi service making car service available with just a few clicks on a phone or computer.
- And, it is estimated that over 425 million people, including government agencies in 45 states, some of the leading universities in the U.S. and over 5 million businesses use Google’s "gmail" for their email addresses.

It’s hard to deny: Google is a dominating presence. So seeing the cover of a business magazine with the cover headline"Google wants you to live forever" not too long ago, you couldn’t help but wonder if there’s some consumer angle or catch to it – was this just a provocative headline to get us to hear how Google wants customers to live longer to buy more stuff that they produce?

But reading it, you realized it’s a lot more than some business or marketing angle. In fact, they’re quite serious. The story was about the president and managing partner of Google Ventures, a man by the name of Bill Maris. His mission, as he explains it, backed by $425 million dollars is to vet, search, meet with different companies, ventures, individuals and to invest in those companies he believes will be successful in slowing down the aging process, reverse disease, extending life.

On the surface, a lot of it sounds amazing - like how Google has spent hundreds of millions of dollars backing a research center, called Google X which is working on a pill that would insert nanoparticles into our bloodstream to detect disease and cancer mutations. Or another venture called the Interactive Cancer Explorer, which allows oncologists, to do research and devise treatments for their patients which has changed things from where they could only treat cancer with poison like chemicals of chemotherapy, to possibly curing cancer by reverse-engineering a stem cell.

Some of it sounds scary too and pushing the envelope of ethics where there’s the worst of science fiction being considered (full body transplant? Terminator-like robotics added to human beings?)

When asked about all of this Maris reflectively said "There are plenty of people, including us, that want to invest in consumer Internet, but we can do more than that.... There are a lot of billionaires in Silicon Valley, but in the end, we are all heading to the same place, If given the choice between making a lot of money or finding a way to make people live longer, what do you choose?"

An important question to be sure... and in many ways their goals, their desires are noble, admirable and something that we can all unite on. A world where there will be fixes to the harmful effects of smoking, too much sun or what alcohol can do to our DNA... A future where Alzheimers and Parkinsons and other diseases are erradicated - just hearing that makes me want to sign up and get a gmail account just to support those noble ambitions.

But you couldn’t help but pick up a sense of dread as you kept reading along... an obvious fear contained in this story. The author of the article observed that at one point in the interview his employees were fooling around and joking with him, he smiled and then quickly went back to work somewhat joylessly saying "Time is the one thing I can’t get back and can’t give back to you." Maris then went on to describe his deeply held conviction: "We actually have the tools in the life sciences to achieve anything that you have the audacity to envision, I just hope to live long enough not to die" Then revealing his fear, which is the same fear that has plagued humanity from that fateful day humanity in the Garden of Eden when death became a part of our story, as he repeats again saying "In the end, we are all heading to the same place."

That quintessential fact, is what humanity from age to age has been faced with - death. That burden, that obstacle is what is motivating Maris and Google to try to set the goal of "living forever."

Google may (and hopefully they will) succeed in helping us to extend life in productive, healthy ways. But they will not succeed in making living forever possible... As even the headline of the article had an asterik next to it with very small print saying ‘well, maybe to 500.

But Jesus Christ has... does... wills... that very thing this very day: Eternal Life. That is the audacious, mysterious, wondrous, terrifying thing that we celebrate today in this day that the Lord has Made - this Easter Sunday.

That the God-incarnate, Son of God, Jesus, born of Mary, who lived, ate, felt, experienced every aspect of humanity we do - including the most horrific, painful, sorrowful aspects - both physically and emotionally - especially death, death in the most brutal, violent, torturous way - death on the Cross - has been raised from the dead. Lives Forever. And He promises us that same future if we but believe in Him, follow Him, love Him and share this good news.

Truth be told – We want to believe, but we’re reluctant.

Some come here just on Easter almost like an Insurance deductible - make the minimum payment just in case its real.

The doubts seem so hard to overcome.

The evidence of death is certainly very verifiable in tragically, dramatic ways. Whether on a global level in wars, in terror attacks - like we just saw in the last few days tragically killing over 34 people in Brussels – or whether its in disease, in poverty, in cruelty. We don’t have to look outward for examples of death. Much closer to home in illnesses, in betrayals, in rejections, in the deaths of loved ones we experience around us. All of these things have the ability to depress us into disbelief. They validate our doubts... They have the potential to undermine our faith in the Easter miracle.

Yet these witnesses we hear from in scripture, people who saw depressing, distressing things happen to Jesus - like the unjust, chaotic trial; the crowds turning blood thirsty, demanding love be crucified – who saw themselves powerless, impotent to stop these horrific things from happening - they who shared our disbelief tell of how that disbelief was vanquished as death was vanquished... an empty tomb, angelic testimony, and in the days and weeks to come as we continue to celebrate this great mystery of our faith – Easter – they will share of their encountering the Risen Jesus. How that encounter transforms them and emboldens them to move from fear to conviction as they give their very lives in testimony to the one who died and rose from the dead.

As we come together on this Easter day, our hearts need to be fixed, focused on the desire to live forever. But not with a fear-filled "survival" mentality where we simply try to out-last death for as long as possible but rather seeing the new life that Easter promises. Jesus doesn’t come back from the dead and resume his pre-Good Friday life. He is transformed... into a new, abundant life...He promises us that same transformation. We can begin that new life, and start living forever - now.

What does that kind of living look like? Maybe it will be the casting off our fears. Living with the certitude of being a beloved son and daughter of God, through Jesus Christ. Following Him - not just with words uttered from our lips, but with every fiber of our being... letting His words, His presence direct our decisions, our priorities, our entire lives... Heeding his example and command to follow it where we live selflessly; share abundantly; love without counting the cost. When we start living like that, life looks and is very different. We experience Jesus’ new life within us both now and forever.

How does Jesus want to transform you? Your families, Your relationships, Your very life.

Pope Francis said in his Easter homily a couple of years ago let us not be closed to the newness that God wants to bring into our lives! Are we often weary, disheartened and sad? Do we feel weighed down by our sins? Do we think that we won’t be able to cope? Let us not close our hearts, let us not lose confidence, let us never give up: there are no situations which God cannot change, there is no sin which he cannot forgive if only we open ourselves to him.

In the end, we realize that yes, Google may make life more convenient, but only the Risen Christ can transform it, bringing it joy, meaning. May the joy that this feast proclaims be with us always, and may Christ's Love be our foretaste of living forever with Him.

"I'VE GOT YOU"

Hi everyone this is my homily for PALM SUNDAY OF THE PASSION OF THE LORD, March 20. 2016.  The readings for today can be found at http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/032016.cfm.  Thanks for stopping by and reading this blog;  as well as all your shares on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, etc.; and your feedback and comments.  I'm grateful for all your support.  Have a Blessed and Meaningful Holy Week - Fr Jim

HOMILY:
Shannon Johnson (L) and Denise Perazea (R)
Shannon Johnson and his colleague, Denise Perazea are two names that probably aren’t very recognizable to us, which is understandable.  Being employees for a County Public Health Department in California doesn’t usually draw much attention to us sitting here in New Jersey.  Back in December, these two ordinary people were having an ordinary day at work, even having as ordinary a conversation as you’d expect in that environment, as Denise recalls:  We were seated next to each other at a table, joking about how we thought the large clock on the wall might be broken because time seemed to be moving so slowly.  Anyone who’s worked in an office building for a 9 to 5 shift can appreciate that sentiment... may have even said the same thing.

What made these two ordinary individuals noteworthy, is what happened moments later.  Two terrorists would burst into this office building in San Bernadino California, that fateful day this past December, unleashing a hail of bullets on all these innocent people, killing 14 people and injuring over 20 more people.  Denise took a bullet to her lower back, when Johnson scooped her up, brought her under the same table they had just been having their ordinary conversation at, grabbed a chair as a shield on one side, and then wrapping himself around her on the other, and uttering three words to Denise, which would be the last three Johnson would ever speak "I’ve got you."

We often hear similar stories of such courage, bravery, selflessness in the face of immense evil
or horrific circumstances: in the thick of battles and wars, in the midst of criminal activities, in a terrorist attack, in a natural disaster.  And for most listeners it causes them to pause and reflect, “What would I do in the same situation?”   We like to think we’d be as courageous as that firefighter who goes in and rescues that person tapped in the World Trade Center on September 11th and somehow isn’t fortunate enough themselves to escape that horror... or as selfless as the soldier in Iraq who throws himself on top of an explosive device, sacrificing himself and saving his platoon ... or as loving as Shannon Johnson who only thought to protect this injured woman with his very life... We like to think we are... and hope we’re never in the position to find out.

Rarely though, do we think about what it’s like to be the recipient of such acts of love: The greatest of love - the laying down of one’s life for another.  The emotional impact such a gift must make on the recipient, how such an act must cause a re-evaluation of priorities for that individual - how they live their own lives in light of this act of supreme generosity realizing that someone offered their very selves so that they could live.

We rarely think of it, again, hoping never to have to be in a situation like that in the first place. Forgetting.  .  .   we already have been. 


Palm Sunday and this week we call Holy Week are meant to bring each and everyone of us face to face with that reality. We just proclaimed, and will focus this week on Jesus’ Passion where we recount his unjust arrest and trial, his brutal torture and execution on the Cross on Good Friday.  But we’re not meant to listen to this somewhat disinterestedly, as outsiders, recounting a horrendous story of what happened to an innocent man.  Jesus’ death meant something, means something to us here and now.   Selfishness, envy, greed, pride on the part of many had blinded people to the beauty of God’s love made real in Jesus Christ, kept them from hearing his life-giving words, from experiencing the fullness and endless life He was coming to offer humanity as He was crucified some 2000 years ago. 

Sadly, the cycle continues. Our gossip, our betrayals, our vindictiveness and selfishness, our putting ourselves and our needs not only ahead of others but even at the expense of someone else - continues to cause separation from one another, from God.  Continues to demand justice, some sort of retribution for our sinful choices. Which is what this whole week is about, to "enter more and more into God’s logic of love and self-giving" (Pope Francis).  Where we proclaim His Passion, we come to His Cross to recognize He has suffered all of that for you and for me. He suffers and dies, he offers his very life for our sins.  The depth of His love is demonstrated on the Cross, the power of His love - greater than sin, greater than death itself will be revealed in the great feast of Easter next Sunday.  But for now, we are meant to focus on how Jesus laid His body over us and took the brutal and painful agony of Hell and kept us, keeps us safe.  He says I’ve got you... here and now and for all eternity.

This is our hope. How does that change our life and how we want to live it? Modeling a life of hope is the best sermon those who are lost will see.  Jesus saved you, will you allow sacrifice in your life to show hope to others so that they may be saved?  We are blessed to be a blessing. May we offer this gift of hope and see what God will do through our sacrifice.