WHY STAY SILENT? - Eve of March for Life

Hi everyone... tomorrow morning, a group from MSU Newman will be heading for the March for Life in Washington DC.  Here was my homily from Mass tonight - which a student asked me to share online.  The first reading is from the book of Samuel (can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/011818.cfm)

HOMILY:

The first reading is really another interesting episode in the life of David -who we’ve been hearing about all week.   On Tuesday  we heard how he was chosen by God to lead Israel - yesterday the memorable story of him killing Goliath with the stone...   Now today, we hear how Saul is ready to kill David... Quite a few days.  How did things turn so bad from being chosen, being celebrated to being threatened?

Anger.  Jealousy.  Envy...  Those are very powerful feelings, emotions - particularly when they are left unchecked.  What saves David is the strength, the courage and integrity, the faith of Saul’s son Jonathan.  He steps forward, warns David and then gives his father Saul a new perspective to view David with.  He speaks words of truth to dissipate Sauls misguided anger and mistrust. 

Which gives us a great example and something to reflect on -

How often do we stay silent?

How often do we go about our way thinking this matter, this incident, this issue does not concern me? Or our voice will not make a difference. Or we are too tired and have no energy to make this our concern?   It can be a fight between two people in our circle of friends... It can be a larger, bigger issue that seems way out of our sphere of influence for it to seem to matter at all.

Too often, particularly in this day and age - we’ve been  instructed or conditioned not to make waves, not to stir the pot - all in the face of tolerance, of political correctness , of being nice.  In the process, we’ve allowed ourselves to be lulled into silence, into complacency.  Even earlier today, I told a friend of mine how a bunch of us are going to Washington DC for the Right to Life March to stand up and be counted as those who oppose abortion, who oppose the many threats to the dignity of all human lives.  His reaction was a bit startling as he said “that’s a waste of time... what’s going to change?”

I thought about that a lot.  To be honest,  I don’t know.  I don’t know what legislation, what policy, what political calculation may or may not change.  I don’t know what heart might have a deeper conversion or new awareness of the importance to this issue. 

But I do know the possibilities for any change, the potential for some movement diminish significantly if more and more people choose to be silent.  Sauls son Jonathan gives testimony to the complete opposite being true:  in speaking up, we can change and perhaps even save lives.

THE SPACE BETWEEN

Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - JANUARY 14, 2018 - The readings for today’s Mass can be found at:  http://usccb.org/bible/readings/011418.cfm.  Thanks as always for reading, for sharing this on Facebook, Twitter, reddit and other social media and for your feedback and comments.  Hope you have a great week!  God Bless - Fr Jim

HOMILY:
There used to be a television program named  “The Biggest Loser” - which I believe just went off the air a couple of years ago.  To be honest, I had never seen the show, but just from the commercials you can tell that it’s a reality show where a group of people chronicle their attempts to lose weight.   Even more than that, the show was about how they  changed their lives, themselves... It was their transformation from who “they are” to who “they will be.”  Television reality shows love to present these in neat-compact hour long 22 episode seasons.   But for the majority of us, we know that the journey is far less scripted, or completed in one season.  Whether it’s weight loss or the other aspects of our lives.  


For example, a few weeks ago I was complaining to my spiritual director about my spiritual struggles.  I had great hopes for the season of Advent and hoped for it to be more meaningful, which fell by the wayside in the seemingly annual occurrence of the pre-Christmas rush of activities.  Then during Christmas when, as a Campus minister the students aren’t around and theoretically I have more time for praying or reading or even resting - I kept squeezing “one other thing in” - one more appointment, one more email, one more project that made this “down time” just as busy as the rest of the year.

There’s a whole list of reasons / excuses that I can give.  Some are legitimate, others are not so much so...  And I know I’m not being overly critical of myself when I just said to my spiritual director, completely exasperated – that it’s the same thing over and over again – I feel stuck in that space between the guy that I am and the guy I want to be....

Frankly it stinks.  And I know I’m not the first person to feel or experience that– whether it’s the person who made that new year’s resolution and by January 16th has already thrown in the towel on it and given up in frustration.   Or the individual who leaves the confessional after avoiding it for so long and feels the power of Jesus’ love and forgiveness and the grace of that moment and sincerely believes that they would “go and sin no more” only to later find those temptations re-emerging and find themselves giving into them once again.

How often do we find ourselves living in that space between “who we are” and “who we want to be?”  It can be truly discouraging.

As I was reflecting (or rather bemoaning) on my less than productive experiences - a reality jumped out in today’s Gospel.  As Jesus starts calling His first apostles, the very guys who will be His inner circle,  He looks at the one who is supposed to be “the Rock” of the Church; the one who will be our very first Pope - Jesus says – “You are Simon the son of John – you will be called Cephas (...Peter)” It's interesting to me to think that Peter would find himself in the same spot as all of us – living in that space between who you are and who you will be.

Because so often, we, who look up to Peter as “St. Peter” as that first Pope, can, in our minds, fast forward from this scene and in a sense, imagine how this encounter might have changed everything for Simon Peter.  That as Jesus utters those words; that as Simon experiences this intimate, encounter where his very name has been changed, (which in scriptures identifies that God has called this person to something of newer, greater, divinely charged significance  to Peter)  – the grace, the sheer awesomeness of this would be similar to the cartoon “transformers.” That Simon would instantly leave behind the “you are” of Simon and simply by Jesus’ word of “you will be,” go on to  morph into this super Apostle Peter who knows how to defend Jesus, and follow Him perfectly.   That Peter would be everything Jesus would expect from a right-hand man... that someone He could count on to be that rock that He would build the Church upon.

Yet that was far from the reality of things.  Throughout the Gospels Peter often comes across as impulsive.  We find instances where he speaks without thinking.  There are incidents where his commitment, his dedication, his loyalty, his fidelity would waver – most spectacularly during Jesus’ Passion where Peter very much almost resorted back to Simon as he claimed I don’t know him...

Even in the Acts of the Apostles – after Peter has seen, touched, experienced the resurrection of Jesus from the dead; after He witnessed that glorious Ascension of Jesus into heaven; after he received the power of the Holy Spirit coming upon him and the others in the Upper Room at that first Pentecost – even after all that, his fears would at times tend to resurface, to reemerge.  His doubts and anxieties would take over him and he would find that -  despite all that had happened,  – he too, was still living in that space between “you are” and “you will be.”

But the great hope for us who can relate to living in this space as well is realizing that for Simon Peter, even with his failures - the vision never disappears.  That voice would call him to become a man greater than who he was never ceased calling him to that...   That voice would offer words of encouragement.  That voice would give correction.  That voice would speak words of forgiveness.  That voice would remind him time and time again that when he is “beholding the Lamb of God,” then (and only then) he can become Peter (the opposite is true as well, when he forgets that or loses sight of that, he would again become  Simon) Jesus who knows the struggles of all of humanity meets Simon Peter in this space in between - even utilizing his weaknesses so that Simon won’t forget that the desire he has to become “Peter” can only take place when he allows Jesus to set the vision.

The same is true for us who find ourselves struggling between who we are and who we are called to be.  For each of us, it can be so easy to give into the temptation to despair, to give up on ourselves, to tune out that voice of Christ believing that as frustrated as we are that we struggle, that we make mistakes, that we are stuck in this place between the men and women that we are and the ones that we want to be, who we’re called to be – that Christ must, too,  be as frustrated.

But that’s not the case at all...   The good news is that Jesus meets us in this space. If we can hear the words of John the Baptist and “behold the Lamb of God” – behold Jesus Christ, we can  find that he’s not looking at us with disappointment that we’ve made our mistakes; that we sin; that we haven’t fully taken advantage of the gifts we’ve been endowed with… He reminds us that the desire to utilize these gifts, the vision of the men and women who we “will be” comes from Him as well.   May we learn as Simon Peter did that it is in our following and staying with Jesus Christ that he can take us out of our own 'in-between' places, and eventually help us to make that great leap – that transformation from who we are to who we are called to be...

A NEW YEAR - A NEW DIRECTION

Hi everyone... MERRY CHRISTMAS!  -- Yes that's right, this is the end of the Christmas Season today as we conclude with the feast of the EPIPHANY OF THE LORD - January 7, 2018.  The readings for today's Mass can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/010718.cfm .  Thanks for reading, sharing this on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit - and for your feedback and comments.  Grateful for all your support.  My prayers and best wishes to you and your family for a Happy and Holy Christmas Season!  God Bless - Fr Jim

Quick commercial - for one last time :) Would greatly appreciate it if you would consider supporting the Newman Catholic Center at Montclair State in our Annual Christmas appeal.  You can read about it at  http://www.msunewman.com/appealMany thanks for your consideration!

HOMILY:
So what New Year’s Resolutions have you decided to make this year?

According to one survey, over 60% of Americans make them, seeing January 1st as an opportunity to make a new start.  To set new goals for the coming 12 months to change their lives in dramatic and significant ways.  You can guess what the top resolutions are just by looking at all the commercials promising you they will help you succeed in actualizing the change you want:

-Jenny Craig, Nutri-System, Weight Watchers all are announcing new, innovative plans guaranteeing better results than ever before - with new menus, new programs, new meetings to help people lose weight. 

-For those wanting to quit smoking - there are gums, patches, tapes, counselors who promise they will be able to help people quit that addiction once and for all. 

-And it seems every sports club and fitness center is trying to entice people to get into that perfect shape they’ve always wanted with membership fees waved, free consultations or training sessions and other incentives to get people to join their gym.

All of those different marketing techniques are successful these first days and weeks of 2018 because they speak to that desire within us that craves change.  To move away from something destructive, something unhealthy, something we simply want to be rid of   for something better, fulfilling, even life-changing.  Despite the defeatist cliche that “New Years Resolutions are made to be broken,” its obvious that all of these different products or systems have been helpful to people, otherwise they would have been gone by now.

The thing is, as anyone who’s tried these things in the past can tell you, a person can’t just sign up for Weight Watchers and lose 40 lbs or buy a pack of Nicorrette Gum and never pick up a cigarette after doing so for 20 years or become a member of a gym, take a tour and work out three times and be ready for a photo shoot for a fitness magazine.  All of those initial steps are just that, initial steps.  The change will only come about when we keep responding, keep faithful to the promises, resolutions, the changes we desire to seek.   The change becomes real when people resist the temptation to go back – to have just one more cigarette - cheat on that diet - skip the gym today and go tomorrow.

In today’s Gospel for this feast of the Epiphany, these magi, or kings, or wisemen – whatever you want to call them – we read that they “saw a star” and set out to follow it, searching for this newborn king.  Something within themselves was desiring change.  Something made them look for something new.  And the light from this star spoke to that desire.  Because they were attentive, they were looking... they set out to see what was it about this sight that was so attractive to them. 

That’s the thing:  a star is visible to everyone.  There were people that first Christmas that were waiting, longing, hoping for a the same things that these magi were.   Maybe they weren’t paying attention.  Maybe they had given up hope.  Maybe they didn’t look, or they were too busy to notice how even creation itself was responding to God being born into the human family... how the cosmos itself was reacting to the light of the world coming in Jesus birth with this new light, this new star rising in the dark night.

But its not enough just to go and see... It’s not enough to be looking, desiring and experiencing that initial encounter.  Upon following that star, and finding the baby Jesus, we read that they were “overjoyed” at the sight - they prostrate themselves, they pay him homage... and then we read “having been warned in a dream...they departed for their country by another way.”

For the magi, the new born king that they find after following this star wasn’t simply a sight to marvel at like a Fourth of July fireworks display – something awesome to look at and then simply go about to life as usual on the 5th of July as you did on the 3rd.  They noticed the potential for their lives to change when they first set out to meet Jesus Christ, and after that encounter, they realize for that potential to become realized, they can never go back to the life they lived before... That’s the message that the wise men from the Epiphany speak to us.... That Jesus Christ can only effectively change lives if someone commits to the change they experience once they’ve met him..   What makes the Epiphany memorable is that they progress in a new direction that they’ve been set out on...  They can never go back the same way they came.

The same is true for us.   With each New Year that comes, with each resolution we make, we give voice to a desire within us for something new for something to change in our lives.  And for many, there’s an unspoken, yet real desire for change and newness in ways other than those noble goals of healthier physical lives.  That the things they are doing are not bringing them peace or joy.  That the direction their life is going is not fulfilling. 

The star, shedding the light of Christ in the darkness of the world still calls out to those who seek a change in their lives – both here and now and in eternity.   Just like those changes we seek each New Year, there’s no quick, easy fix for those changes to be actualized.   The Peace, the Joy, the fullness of life isn’t going to happen simply by our being here at a single Sunday Mass.  It will only occur when we too encounter Jesus Christ here, and choose to be faithful to hearing the voice and following the direction of our King who calls out to us not to make some new resolution but to renew our baptismal promises of living a new life, follow his new course, not just on New Years, but each and every day.   And in that new course, we discover a beautiful truth that Pope Benedict shared a few years ago: "Our heart is restless for God and remains so...But not only are we restless for God: God’s heart is restless for us. God is waiting for us. He is looking for us. He knows no rest either, until he finds us. God’s heart is restless, and that is why he set out on the path towards us – to Bethlehem, to Calvary, from Jerusalem to Galilee and on to the very ends of the earth. God is restless for us, he looks out for people willing to “catch” his unrest, his passion for us, people who carry within them the searching of their own hearts and at the same time open themselves to be touched by God’s search for us." 

May the wise men’s example be our story as well.  May we set out to seek Christ not simply here at Sunday Mass, but in the midst of the darkness of the world outside these walls.  Because He’s still here with us.  His light still can be found even if it seems hard to perceive - if we are looking, are attentive, are desiring to see it.  Let us set out to find it and upon our new encounters with Jesus Christ, and also find that we can never go back the same way we came. 

12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS


Quick commercial -  As we come to the end of the Christmas Season we are also coming to the end of the Newman Catholic Center at Montclair State in our Annual Christmas appeal.  You can read about it at  http://www.msunewman.com/appealMany thanks for your consideration!

The Newman Catholic Center last evening
after our snow fall...
The song "The 12 Days of Christmas" is known for the lengthy, strange (to our ears) list of items that celebrate Christmas for 12 days (which also seems strange since most stores here in the United States on December 26th have already started to put out Valentine's Day merchandise).  The "12 days" usually refers to the length of time from December 25th - the Nativity of the Lord to January 5th, which is the Eve of the traditional celebration of the Epiphany - (which for Catholics in the US is moved to the First Sunday after January 1st).  The Epiphany was considered the "end" of the Christmas season (although you'll find people in the Church who will argue that Christmas season goes to "The Baptism of the Lord" which is usually the Sunday after the Epiphany - and others who would point to February 2nd the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord).

There was some research into the origins of the traditional song that points to Catholic symbolism of each of the things described in the 12 days of Christmas:

1st day - "my true love sent to me... a partridge in the pear tree": the "true love" is Jesus himself - and the partridge is the gift of himself, because partridges have been described as a bird willing to sacrifice themselves to protect their young from predators.

2nd day - "two turtle doves" - turtle doves would have been a traditional offering when Jesus was born on the part of the parents as a symbol of love, respect and adoration to God.  The turtle doves are a symbol of the sacramental love between husband and wife because the birds themselves are described as staying with their partners for life.  The turtle doves have also been cited as a symbol of the Old and New Testament - and the two natures (divine and human) of Jesus.

3rd day - "three French hens" - the three French hens symbolize the theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Love.

4th day - "four calling birds" - represent the four evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) who spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth

5th day - "five golden rings" - represent the first five books of the Old Testament - "The Pentateuch" - Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy - considered the most important of the Hebrew Scriptures from Creation of the world to the death of Moses.

6th day - "six geese a-laying" - represent the 6 days of creation

7th day - "seven swans a swimming" - represent the 7 gifts of the Holy Spirit (wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, fear of the Lord) and the 7 sacraments (Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Reconciliation, Matrimony, Holy Orders, Anointing of the Sick)

8th day - "eight maids a milking" represent the eight beatitudes - which is the core of Jesus teaching

9th day - "nine ladies dancing" represent the 9 fruits of the Holy Spirit (Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Generosity, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self Control)

10th day - "ten Lords a leaping" represent the 10 commandments: (1 - You shall have no other gods before Me. 2- You shall not make idols. 3- You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain. 4- Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 5- Honor your father and your mother. 6- You shall not murder. 7 - You shall not commit adultery. 8 -You shall not steal. 9- You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. 10 - You shall not covet.)

11th day -"11 pipers piping" represent the 11 faithful, loyal apostles 1- Simon (Peter) 2- Andrew 3- James (son of Zebedee) 4 - John, 5- Philip 6 - Bartholomew, 7 - Thomas, 8 - Matthew 9 - James 10 - Thaddaeus 11 - Simon

12th day - "12 drummers drumming" represent the 12 points of belief in the Apostles Creed: 1: I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. 2: And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. 3: Who was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.
4: He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.  5: He descended into hell. The third day he arose again from the dead. 6: He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.  7: He will come again to judge the living and the dead.  8: I believe in the Holy Spirit, 9: the holy catholic Church, the Communion of Saints 10: the forgiveness of sins,
11: the resurrection of the body  12: life everlasting.

HOLY FAMILIES: NOT PERFECT - BUT FAITHFUL

Hi everyone... MERRY CHRISTMAS!  -- Yes that's right, it's still Christmas for us Catholics as we continue to celebrate the birth of Jesus today with the feast of the HOLY FAMILY - JESUS, MARY AND JOSEPH - December 31, 2017.  The readings for the various Masses of Holy Family can be found at www.usccb.org (my homily is based on the reading from Genesis, Hebrews and the long form of the Gospel).  Thanks for reading, sharing this on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit - and for your feedback and comments.  Grateful for all your support.  My prayers and best wishes to you and your family for a Happy and Holy Christmas Season!  God Bless - Fr Jim

Quick commercial -  
Would greatly appreciate it if you would consider supporting the Newman Catholic Center at Montclair State in our Annual Christmas appeal.  You can read about it at  http://www.msunewman.com/appealMany thanks for your consideration!



HOMILY:
A few years ago, I was at a Mass where a priest-friend of mine was being installed as the new pastor of a parish.  Before we began, a middle-aged woman came into the sacristy and asked the bishop who was officiating that ceremony if he would be able to offer a blessing for her parents who were celebrating their anniversary that night.  He said “even better, how would they like to renew their vows?”  Which they were very excited to do.  After communion, the bishop invited the couple to come up.  These two older people started walking slowly, carefully up the aisle.  The entire way up the aisle, they never stopped holding each others hands, and as they passed pew upon pew of people, you could see how their eyes were filling with tears.
 
When they arrived at the foot of the altar, the bishop asked them how many years they had been married - the wife responded “60 years ago today.”  The bishop then followed up asking “where did you get married?” and the wife proudly responded “Right here,” as she pointed her finger to the floor marking the very spot in front of the altar where they had stood all those decades earlier.  The bishop was surprised as he said “You’ve been here in this parish for 60 years?” and they simply nodded their heads as the wife said “we’ve been here together every week since we were married.” What was even more moving was that as they began to renew their wedding vows, no one could take their eyes off this couple as they lovingly held each others hands, but could barely look at each other as they tried holding back tears as they said to each other once again “I take you to be my wife... my husband... I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad; in sickness and in health... I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.”

Listening to them, you couldn’t help but wonder what must be going through their minds - what had they lived through?  What struggles which must have seemed insurmountable at times had they conquered; what joys and moments of pride, what sleepless nights of worry over their children had they endured?  What twists and turns, ups and downs did they encounter?  How often did they think “I don’t think I can do this anymore” - but somehow found the unconditional grace of God to strengthen their resolve to try once again?

That memory came to mind praying with these scriptures for this Christmas Feast of The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. In the first reading from Genesis, we hear about Abraham and Sarah (before the name change)  One of the major struggles in their married life was the fact that they were unable to have children of their own.  Here God had chosen Abraham to lead His people, God decided to make Abraham a great nation.  But he had no son, no heir, and no legacy.  Now they are of an advanced age.  Abraham doesn’t see how it would be possible for God’s promise to be fulfilled. 

Similarly, in the Gospel, Joseph and Mary are still trying to unpack the things that have happened in their lives in a relatively short period of time.  They went from being an engaged couple with their own hopes, plans and dreams for their lives to being drawn into such miraculous developments.  Mary conceives Jesus through the Holy Spirit; Joseph is consoled and counseled in a dream to take Mary into his home and raise the son as if He were his own.  In today’s Gospel they enter the temple to perform the Jewish custom of presenting him to the Lord - and they hear these two devout people Simeon and the prophetess Anna speak the inspiring words of how this newborn child is “salvation... light for revelation to the Gentiles and glory for your people Israel.”   This leaves the Gospel writer St Luke to share somewhat timidly “The Childs father and mother were amazed at what was said about him.”  The amazement is short lived as Mary is warned that this salvation, this light, this glory who is her son will not be received by many and that division will pierce her heart and soul...

So often whenever the Church speaks of family life, I think there’s this erroneous impression that because we believe marriage to be a Sacred Covenant it automatically implies that perfection is expected out of every marriage.  And that’s why this feast can be a bit off putting for so many people.  Just the title, “The Holy Family” seems like a really high bar to measure ourselves up to.  Exacerbating the fact that so many people have had painful family circumstances - abusive, dysfunctional, destructive and unhealthy relationships - all of this sadly results in the beautiful institution of marriage being another area where many people, understandably feel disconnected from our faith... 

But to me, all of these couples testify to a very different reality: a reality  that indicates at a universal call for unmarried and married couples alike.  A call not to perfection, but to faith... which is often times the complete opposite of perfection.

Joseph and Mary expressed astonishment, doubts, and fear to their invitations and directions from the Lord.  Abraham himself was plagued with confusion, uncertainty, perhaps even exasperation (and his wife Sarah laughed) when the plan for their lives was being unfolded... Yet somehow in the midst of all those questions, all those worries, all those challenges - they much like that couple renewing their marital vows after 60 years, held each others hands, trying to maintain faith and in each other and in God... so much so that in hindsight, they almost couldn’t believe any of what they were able to endure  was ever possible.

These couples testify in their unique, blessed way that when they trusted in God, when they obeyed God, when they acted courageously in response to God’s word- they were able to remain committed to their vows and to one another in good times, and in bad, in sickness and in health... They were able to become a father to countless generations... they were able to bring forth our Lord Jesus Christ.  In short, they were able to accomplish far more than had ever conceived or imagined possible.

No matter what our personal family stories have told us to this point... whether we’re married or  we’ve never been married, suffered divorce, or experienced a myriad of challenges that’s a mix of all of the above - the beauty of this glorious Christmas feast reminds us that Jesus willingly enters into all of this human messiness that can be found in every family because of His love for us.  In Jesus’ birth, God entered into human history in a unique and profound way - and human history changed forever after that. 

That doesn’t make us perfect here and now... but it does inspire us to hold on to a faith in which everything and everyone is recreated; they are transformed in the love of our God who humbles himself to become one of us, so that one day we might become like him for all eternity. 

THE HUG FELT AROUND THE WORLD

Hi everyone... MERRY CHRISTMAS!  Thanks for stopping by... Here's my homily for THE NATIVITY OF THE LORD (CHRISTMAS DAY) - December 25, 2017.  The readings for the various Masses of Christmas can be found at www.usccb.org.  Thanks for reading, sharing this on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit - and for your feedback and comments.  Grateful for all your support.  My prayers and best wishes to you and your family for a Happy and Holy Christmas Season!  God Bless - Fr Jim

Quick commercial -  
Would greatly appreciate it if you would consider supporting the Newman Catholic Center at Montclair State in our Annual Christmas appeal.  You can read about it at  http://www.msunewman.com/appealMany thanks for your consideration!

HOMILY:
       One of the wonders of the internet has got to be the emergence of viral videos. What did we do before phones became smart, allowing us to  capture and record every moment of our lives....What did we do before things like YouTube existed where we could share those precious moments with the entire universe?  We probably had more meaningful conversations and relationships in that era, but, that’s a topic for another time and another place...  In any event, it’s always unique to see things that take off and become viral.  From the bizarre: like a guy who had this mesmerizing ping pong trick that went on for over 7 minutes (can’t believe I watched it to the end – but then again, so did almost 100 million people) - to clips from late night shows or talent shows that caught people’s interest - to hysterical creations like the one that was floating around the other day, re-imagining the Christmas story taking place in 2017 with Mary, Joseph, the angel Gabriel all texting each other.  These clips and videos that are being shared in emails, on social media and even on television news receive a lot of attention - with millions of people viewing them in a short period of time.


        A couple of weeks ago, something seemingly very simple –there wasn’t any flashy production or multiple camera angles - it was merely a cell phone video (and the version I saw had no sound) that was seen by more than 24 million people. It was of a toddler named Aubrey simply hugging people.  Tyler and Michelle Hull took their daughter to Sunday Mass at Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church in Oklahoma. As people got on line to receive Jesus’ Body and Blood in communion, she stood up in the pew and began hugging every single person that walked by her. Aubrey’s parents said she had never done that before. When they realized what she was doing, Todd started to film it...  old or young, rich or poor... it didn’t matter what race or gender of the person was; she simply extended both her arms and leaned out to people looking to hug them. You could see how startled people were. Some had tears in their eyes, some little kids tried to look away, but she would stand there simply waiting and eventually they lowered their defenses to stop and receive her hug and even reciprocated.  One guy awkwardly tried to shake her hand, but Aubrey won over him and as she leaned in and turned that into a hug.  Another woman looked hesitant, or rather distracted - like she had something serious on her mind - and within no time, her demeanor changed as she gave this little girl a loving hug back she wanted to share with her. (Check out the video here: http://fox59.com/2017/12/01/video-adorable-oklahoma-girl-hugs-everyone-on-their-way-to-receive-communion/ )

         I first saw the video probably during the first week of December - and when I think about the sheer amount of stuff I absorb on a daily basis - viral in the truest sense of the word if I’m honest - it was kind of special to me how this occupied my mind space this week.  At the time, I was sitting with the four different sets of scripture options that priests can choose from for the Various Christmas Masses.... I was thinking about all kinds of things, approaches and ideas with regard to I wanted to preach about.  And to be honest, I was starting to over-think it (it happens from time to time) The other night, as I passed by the manger scene in our Newman Center, and just looking at the amazing sight of baby Jesus, this viral story struck me in a way that left an impression in my mind. Aubrey essentially reminded us what Christmas is all about.

         The God of all creation - who has made the heavens, the earth, the universe, the galaxies; the God of the Hebrew Scriptures who performed countless mighty deeds and wondrous signs that was able to capture the people’s attention and enlighten them into entering a relationship with Him...  He wanted to capture their hearts as well more than anything else. He wanted to have an even more intimate relationship.  Something that is not simply spelled out in commandments on stone tablets; but lived out every single day in the form of person to person and heart to heart encounters. The ONLY way for that to happen would be for God to become one of us, to be one with us… to save us from our sin, save us from death and get us to be one with Him.  Inevitably, the Christian story - the miraculous story of our lord Jesus - places us squarely in front of the manger.  This God, who becomes man, comes in the simplicity, the beauty, the approachability and innocence of a baby.

         And just like that Church in Oklahoma where Aubrey and her parents go to Mass, we have all entered these doors and will soon approach the altar to receive this all-powerful God becoming man in the Eucharist.  On Christmas, as we gather in much greater numbers, the reality is that everyone is coming from different places, mentally, physically, spiritually. Rich and poor; old and young... some who are celebrating and basking in the joy of good news, and others who have experienced some serious stuff that has made even being here today a difficult, if not an outright painful experience.  

         But as always, there is good news. For all of us, Jesus wants to keep things simple today. He’s come down from heaven to love you unconditionally; all he wants you to do is to accept that love wholeheartedly and completely.  He wants your heart; He doesn’t care much about your intelligence or lack of it. He wants to capture your soul so that it can be sealed in His presence forever. He wants your life - so that He can make it eternal. 

         May these simple yet eternal truths be renewed in our hearts as we think about little Aubrey and recognizing the fact that this is what the Baby Jesus is bringing to us as He personifies God’s love.  He wants to give us all a warm hug. What’s more, He’ll eventually find a way to do it and wait for us if we refuse to for some reason. God stretches, bends a little or stands still – whatever it takes to get us to be one with Him. Like a loving parent, He continues to extend His arms towards us in much anticipation. The question is: will we reciprocate and hug Him back? Will we walk away or choose to melt in His wonderful presence, surrendering our egos to His everlasting mercy and grace?

THE LIGHT ANSWERS

Hi everyone - here's my homily for the THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT - December 17, 2017.  The readings for today can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/121717.cfm.  Thanks as always for stopping by to read this blog; share it on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit; and for your feedback and comments.  Appreciate the thousands of people who stop by week to week to check this blog out.

Quick commercial - Would greatly appreciate it if you would consider supporting the Newman Catholic Center at Montclair State in our Annaual Christmas appeal.  You can read about it at  http://www.msunewman.com/appealMany thanks for your consideration!



HOMILY:
Growing up, my Jewish friends and I would invariably get into the annual "who’s got the better holiday" competition between Hanukkah and Christmas around this time of the year. They would share cool stories of how during the second century BC, a group of Jews, known as the Maccabees, led a fierce revolt against foreign invaders after which, they rededicated the temple. The Maccabees only had enough oil to light the unique candle holder called the menorah for one day. Yet, that small supply miraculously burned for as many as eight days. As a result, my lucky Jewish friends would get gifts for 8 nights... in contrast to us Christians, who would get our gifts only on Christmas day (or Christmas Eve and Day). Thankfully, we observed that by day 6 or 7, as their gifts usually included socks or underwear; we felt we had it better. In hindsight, neither my Jewish friends nor my Christian friends (myself included) ended up getting deprived. For the most part, that summed up my memories and appreciation of Hanukkah.

But this past Tuesday night, as Jews all over the world geared up to celebrate the first night of Hannukah, there was this striking photo of the menorah that floated on the internet, which I had never seen. The thing that initially caught my attention was that it was in black and white. These days, we’re so accustomed to colorful photos, videos, GIFs that the sheer simplicity of it made you want to stop your thumb from scrolling and pause -and then, when you began focusing on the picture, you could clearly see the Nazi flag in the background. 


The picture linked to a story in the New York Times that explained how this picture came from the home of Rabbi Akiva Posner and his wife Rachel. To the Posners, the holiday and equally importantly – this display - was more important than my friends may have led me to believe. Since this glorious miracle first took place all those centuries ago, Jews were directed to publicize this miracle - in order to make sure people would be able to see it clearly across marketplaces or through the windows of their homes. It was a very clear sign of how God was with His people all along. However, in times of danger and persecution – which, sadly, the Jewish people have not been alien to - they were told that they could light the candles in private.


The Posners would forgo that loophole as the rise of Nazism ended up having a firm grip on their homeland. On the eve of the Germans’ attempt to exterminate the Jews in the Holocaust, which resulted in the murder of a staggering 6 million Jews (which is equivalent to two-thirds of the entire Jewish population), they had the courage of conviction to proudly exhibit their menorah in public for the world to see. Rachel Posner had taken this photograph as she scribbled on the back:

"‘Death to Judah’ so the flag says,
‘Judah will live forever, so the light answers."

What is it that gave the Posner’s the supernatural faith - the elusive conviction - that they had the courage to remain defiant in the face of an overbearing evil that threatened to consume them all? We get some idea of what nourishes that kind of faith in our first reading today. Isaiah represents one of the most important prophets to both Jews and Christians alike. In this passage, he’s speaking to his fellow Jews who are struggling on multiple counts. They’re struggling because God had given them 10 commandments - commands meant to safeguard their own happiness; commands meant to specify how to be in an appropriate relationship with God and with one another. The Jews back then (just like you and I today) often found it difficult to follow these commandments with sincerity. As a result, they were struggling to deal with the ramifications of their bad choices (all actions have consequences, whether we like it or not). They were also struggling with the fact that they had lost their homes; they had been enslaved; they had also withstood brutalities, abuses and humiliations. And now, when they had finally broken free from the shackles of pain and suffering and were excited about their homecoming, they found their home in utter ruins. In that moment of trial they once again they had to have doubts our questions or fears asking Where are you God?

Here’s the thing. God does look after His people. He never forsakes them even when He appears to. His people will not be defeated. And so we heard tonight that it is God who sends Isaiah to "bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives, and release to prisoners... to announce a year of favor from the Lord and a day of vindication by our God." God will save his people, no matter what. To those who were experience all of those sufferings, this reminder that God was with them is what enabled them to begin that long, difficult process of rebuilding. And the Jews, who St. Pope John Paul II beautifully referred to as "our elder brothers and sisters in the covenant" have had the courage to believe these prophecies; quite remarkably, they have taken solace in them during times of struggle (and continue to do so even to this day) trusting that God would always remain faithful to their covenant: Judah will live forever, so the light answers...


This Third Sunday of Advent, we have to recognize the undeniable fact that the battle between good and evil continues unabated. There is still plenty of suffering for God’s people, including us, the children of the New Covenant. But we also have with us, a beacon of unshakable hope and everlasting peace. John the Baptist poignantly points at the light. It is the light of good which conquers evil with love; the light of love that overcomes hatred’; the shining light of life through which we are eternally led out of the clutches of darkness and death; the light that emboldens us to live forever with our Lord. Yes, it is that light which fulfills all those beautiful, uplifting words of prophet Isaiah and breathes life into them as he points to Jesus the Christ (which means "anointed one")


Just like our Jewish brothers and sisters are mandated to boldly proclaim the miracle of the festival of lights of Hanukkah, John the Baptist has given us certain tasks to perform with utmost conviction: we are to carve a straight road for Christ and transform the parched deserts around us into bountiful harvest of peace; we are ordained to make the light of His comforting presence through our lives known to all. Thats not just an Advent - Christmas thing, that’s an every day thing as His disciples. But in a special way, this time of year, where physically we experience a greater amount of darkness each day, which seems to reflect many’s personal experience or view of the world, its no coincidence that both the Jews and we Christians celebrating holidays that incorporate light in our displays and decorations. That’s not just to make things look nicer in a drearier season. That’s meant to shift our perspective a bit, as Pope Benedict once challenged us when he said: Let us remember in particular, as we look at the streets and squares of the cities decorated with dazzling lights, that these lights refer us to another light, invisible to the eyes but not to the heart. While we admire them, while we light the candles in churches or the illuminations of the crib and the Christmas tree in our homes, may our souls be open to the true spiritual light brought to all people of good will. The God-with-us, born in Bethlehem of the Virgin Mary, is the Star of our lives!... May this Star of light that never sets communicate to us the strength to follow always the path of truth, justice and love!