I DO, WITH THE HELP OF GOD

"I’m going to be 17."  
The last time I said that I was eagerly waiting to get my drivers license - and trying to decide which college to go to after finishing High School in a few months. It’s hard to believe, that length of time from birth to adulthood - is now that same length of time I’m reflecting on. Only this time, counting my life as a priest. 17 years on May 29th.

It doesn’t seem real to me. I mean I don’t think I’m old - and I remember thinking at some point in my pre-priest life (or even my early years of priesthood) whenever I would meet a priest who said he had been ordained around this length of time, I had this sense of "oh this guy’s experienced (a polite way of saying old)" Yet it kind of snuck up on me... Here it is, 17 years later. I don’t feel old - or well, that old. Often times I don’t feel "experienced." Most definitely don’t feel like an expert.

Yesterday as is the custom in the Archdiocese of Newark on Memorial Day Weekend, we celebrated the ordinations to the priesthood for 10 men. It’s always a day of deep reflection for myself - and I would imagine every one of the hundreds of other priests there. How can we not get caught up in our own memories of our own ordination day...

...as we enter the great Basilica to the same processional chant from Psalm 43 "Go up to the altar of God, the God of our glandess and joy. Raise up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord"

...as we see the rows and rows of happy families and friends;

...as we see the men seated on that bottom step of the altar until they are called, and respond to that call;

...as we see them prostrate themselves on the floor in front of the altar, laying down their very lives to Christ, to His Church, to His people

...as we see the bishop lay his hands in that
gesture in which the priesthood has been shared from Jesus himself to us this very day, 2000+ years later

Those different moments are rich in significance and meaning. In these 17 years, I’ve tried to attend almost every priesthood ordination - not only because it’s a great day for the Church, our Archdiocese and to offer my own fraternal support to these new brother priests. But also to allow it to be a day of renewal once again for me and my priesthood. Something different usually hits me in a different way each year. One year, it was the joy of one of the new priests that was
just radiating from him throughout the entire Mass – it was infections. Another time, the prayer of ordination - the words just sounded so new that they hit me differently (or I heard them differently).

What really hit me today, as I prepare to mark my 17th anniversary was the promises that the men make right before their ordination. The "big" promise that most people might assume I’m talking about, of chastity, actually isn’t made at our priestly ordination. That happened a year earlier at my diaconate ordination.

The promises we make before our priestly ordination are more to the heart of our lives as priests:

Dear sons, before you enter the Order of the Priesthood, you must declare before the people your intention to undertake this office.
Do you resolve, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to discharge, without fail, the office of priesthood in the presbyteral rank, as worthy fellow workers with the Order of Bishops in caring for the Lord’s flock?
Do you resolve to exercise the ministry of the word worthily and wisely, preaching the Gospel and teaching the Catholic faith?
Do you resolve to celebrate faithfully and reverently, in accord with the Church’s tradition, the mysteries of Christ, especially the sacrifice of the Eucharist and the sacrament of Reconciliation, for the glory of God and the sanctification of the Christian people?
Do you resolve to implore with us God’s mercy upon the people entrusted to your care by observing the command to pray without ceasing?
Do you resolve to be united more closely every day to Christ the High Priest, who offered himself for us to the Father as a pure sacrifice, and with Him to consecrate yourselves to God for the salvation of all...

To some Catholics, those might not seem as big as the big promise. I know that was the case for me... earlier in my life, earlier in my priesthood, the promise of celibacy definitely seemed to be the most important one.

But today as I was listening to these expectations being asked and watching the men respond to them, it was almost an examination of conscience. Maybe that’s the Italian in me... I pretty quickly started recalling times where I failed in one way or another - that I wasn’t as prayerful; that the homily wasn’t as well prepared; that I wasn’t as reverent; that I wasn’t as attentive to God’s people... that I didn’t strive to unite myself more closely to Christ the High Priest. - like I said I would 17 years ago...

But in His loving Mercy, the Lord kind of quickly smacked me in the head as I listened to the men saying "I do" to each question... for the last promise, the response is I do, with the help of God. Yes, there have been more than enough failures I’ve made in my priesthood. But the failure that hits the most is when I’ve lost sight that all that I do, all that I offer, all that I am as a priest is with the help of God.

I can’t celebrate the Sacraments, bringing Jesus word; His Body and Blood; His Healing; His forgiveness; His Peace...

I can’t be an alter Christus - another Christ... stand in His person...

I can’t be a Father to His people...

I couldn’t do that incredibly painful funeral...

I couldn’t minister to that dying relative in the hospital...

I didn’t know what to say to that person in distress

I can’t do any of the things that I’ve been blessed, privileged, challenged and stretched to do these 17 years on my own. I DO [THEM], WITH THE HELP OF GOD.

So as I celebrate this my second "17th" I’m filled with gratitude to Almighty God for the gift of life; the gift of faith; the gift of priesthood... For the amazing patchwork of faces of the people of God from over the years where I’ve been able to share their very lives at some of the most extremes of their lives simply because I was His priest... For the day to day celebration of Mass where the ordinary is quite extraordinary.

And I promise, I resolve to live these and all the promises I made at both ordinations; the promises my parents and godparents made for me at my Baptism (and that I took responsibility for at my Confirmation); and the expectations the Lord continues to put on my heart day to day... as best I can... with all that I am..., remembering, most importantly to do so - with the help of God.

DETOX FROM POLITICS

Hi everyone, here's my homily for the SEVENTH SUNDAY OF EASTER - May 8, 2016.  The readings for today's Mass can be found at: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/050816-seventh-sunday-easter.cfm.  Thanks as always for reading this blog; for sharing it on Twitter, Facebook and Reddit; and for your comments and feedback... Grateful for your support!  God Bless - Fr Jim

HOMILY:

To say that this year in politics has been off-the-charts bizarre is probably the most cliches of understatements.  Yet, it’s hard to describe what we’ve seen, what we’ve heard in the last year.

For the most part, this is a “politics-free zone.”  Unlike other Churches or religions, the Catholic Church doesn’t endorse candidates nor do we invite candidates to speak in our pulpits at Mass.  We talk about issues, we try to raise moral questions, we talk about the hierarchy of moral issues (for example, life - being first and foremost with  protection of the innocent ones in the womb; and how the sanctity of life continues even in the most difficult of places like on death row; and the sick bed of those terminally ill) but we don’t get into endorsing candidate A and bashing candidate B at Mass in a homily.

But it’s becoming increasingly hard (this campaign year especially) for there not to be some moments where, try as we might, for different news stories to somehow intercept with reflections on the Gospel for the week and demand some notice.  Like this incident which happened this past week.  It didn’t get a lot of coverage, because there were other more major stories on primary elections and endorsements, lack of endorsements and so on that consumed most of the coverage.  But a friend had tweeted me this story which really upset me and reminded me of some of the negatives of social media:  Information overload.  And has me considering trying to have a detox from politics (unfollowing some people on twitter, etc.) just to avoid seeing this antidotes:

The Washington Times and a local television news story reported that a tow-truck driver went on a call to assist a woman in a car wreck  – who by the way, was disabled, with a handicap placard clearly hanging from her rear view mirror, suffering from a from 5 different rather serious illnesses.   The tow truck driver had already begun the process of towing her car - had the front tires fixed to the tow and was preparing to pull it up onto the bed of the truck when, as he describes it, he decided to “draw a line in the sand” and tell the woman “I can’t tow you.”   The woman initially thought “oh is there something wrong with my car” and the driver explained no because you’re supporting Candidate X (I’ve decided to remove the different candidates names because, sadly, we can find examples of supporters on both sides of this campaign doing similarly stupid and uncharitable things)

As an American who believes in our precious freedoms and rights - this tow truck driver does have the right to do what it is he did - just as I have the freedom and right to say that it was stupid, uncharitable and if I lived in the area where this happened to share the story with the hopes that people would choose other businesses to support.  And like I said - there are countless examples of people behaving similarly badly on a whole host of issues that up until this point there’s not really anything unique about it.  Till I got to this part of the story:

The driver explained: “Something came over me, I think the Lord came to me and he just said get in the truck and leave, and when I got in the truck, you know, I was so proud because I felt like I finally drew a line in the sand and stood up for what I believed.”

That’s when I lost it.  I don’t know the man.  But I can assuredly tell him - Christian to Christian - you are dead wrong brother.  Think back to what Jesus revealed to us tonight as he was praying to his Father, our Father for us?  

That was Jesus’ prayer, the night of His Last Supper - before the agony of the Passion, the torturous death on the Cross and the glorious resurrection on Easter Sunday.  He’s praying not just for his apostles, the first messengers of the Gospel... He’s looking forward, thousands of years later.  And as he is looking forward, he is seeing us his followers today... seeing each and every individual who calls himself “Christian” and as  followers of Christ each of us has a claim on his heart.  But - what Jesus tells us is -- then we have to have his mind and heart as well.  Which is a tall order.  Because God has a personal love and concern for every human person.  So he desires, no rather, he demands that we strive for living in unity, in a communion of true love with Him as the source and summit of that communion, that love.

This great prayer of Jesus we hear tonight tells us that we are to put no conditions on our love... to guard our words, to speak words that will build up, that will unify, that will find ways of bridging gaps, not let differences cause deeply wedged divides, discord, to cause sin.

I’m not doing that, I’m not living that message, I’m not being a Christian if I see a person having a heart attack and see “oh you’re wearing a Planned Parenthood shirt, well let some pro-choice person begin CPR or call for help for you.”  I’m not listening to the Lord if I have some litmus test on who I will be attentive too.  I’m corrupting the Lord’s word and message if I use Him as an excuse for not serving someone.

It’s easy for us to love people who agree with us, for people of like mind.  The demands of Christianity are far greater where we are called to love our enemy.  What’s saddens me is that as Americans we’ve gotten to a point where we are that divided to get to that point where we would look at one another with that perspective - as enemies because of political differences, because of supporting different candidates.  But should that be the reality we’re faced with, that as citizens we can’t look at our political differences and debates as a means of striving to make the ideals and dreams of our founders more real each and every day, we as Christians aren’t off the hook.  Jesus has made us citizens of his eternal Kingdom - and placed on us the responsibility of serving, of caring, of towing, of loving those in need... whether they are our friends, our enemies or somewhere in between.

As this campaign season, sadly I suspect, gets worse - and even after whatever happens this fall -how do we react to people who think differently than we do.  Do we consider them “enemies” or fellow human beings – fellow brothers and sisters – with a different perspective?  The Gospel tells us that the Holy Spirit wants to transform us into the image of Jesus, which begins by seeing the Christ in others - and letting His power overpower the views of the world... if we allow it...It’s a choice.  We can make an impact if we learn to love people beyond understanding.  Then not only is that person changed, but all who see and hear of it.  In the end, it comes down to us remembering the incredible ways Jesus has loved us - no matter what - and going and doing the same.

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.