DISCIPLESHIP LESSONS FROM A NAVY SEAL


Hi everyone, here's my homily for the THIRTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - June 26, 2016. The readings for today's Mass can be found at http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/062616.cfm  Thanks as always for stopping by to read this blog; for sharing it on Facebook, twitter, Reddit and elsewhere on the Internet - and for all your feedback and comments.  God Bless You and Yours and have a great week! Fr Jim


Quick commercial... as we enter into Summer, it's time for the NEWMAN CATHOLIC 2016 SUMMER APPEAL - please check out our website for information:  http://www.msunewman.com/#!appeal/cbjb  We appreciate your consideration and your support!
 


HOMILY:
A couple of years ago, an author visited Montclair State University to speak about his new book.   Just the title was intriguing - "The Heart and the Fist: The Education of a Humanitarian, the making of a Navy Seal."  The author, Eric Greitens  had studied  at some incredibly prestigious institutions like Duke and Oxford.  He became a Rhodes Scholar, then spent time outside of the classroom on mission experiences that brought to places of great need like Rwanda and Croatia and then decided that he wanted to become a member of one of the most specialized military forces – the United States Navy Seal.  It was definitely one of the most unique stories, journeys that I’ve ever heard.  He gave such an incredible presentation that even though I have a pile of books that have collected dust and not been opened, it just seemed to be a "must" read.

One thing that has always fascinated me – whether it’s the SEALS or the Marines or some other elite military group – is what these individuals endure physically and mentally to complete their training.  To have that something it takes to become a SEAL.  They go from some minimum goals like having to complete a mile and a half run in 11 minutes to doing some seemingly impossible, grueling and increasingly difficult challenges for 12 weeks of training, culminating in the appropriately named "Hell Week" in order to become this warrior.  It’s something few will succeed at.  I think Mr. Greitens said that his class started with 200 candidates -- in the end only 21 would graduate. And Greitens was able to pinpoint the reason,  the difference between those who would make it and those who wouldn’t.   While obviously a person needs to be in good physical shape, the biggest thing was the person’s mind.    The thoughts, the mental toughness of the candidate would ultimately determine if they had the mindset to go all the way.

He shared an example from "Hell Week."  That is the week – which is make or break time - the instructors work the recruits non-stop.  They get something like 3 hours of sleep the entire week - while undergoing all kinds of tests: Running, swimming, experience terrible extremes in weather.  They endure a "Drown Proofing" exercise where their feet are tied together, their hands are tied behind their backs - and they are expected to swim fifty meters like that, retrieve a face mask from the bottom of the pool with their teeth, and bob up and down a bunch of times.


Throughout this entire week, they can quit at any time - which is something their instructors remind them of constantly.  In fact they make it very easy for them.  There’s a bell mounted outdoors, right near where they candidates are training.  That bell is visible throughout this entire experience that at any moment, they can just go and ring it, and they’re done...

This one particular day they had just finished one of these torturous exercises.  The men were exhausted and struggled to remain standing at attention.  At that, the instructors said to them, "OK the next thing we’re going to do is have a nice 5 mile run, so you can go grab your gear, and lets move out." At that, Mr. Greitens said you heard "DING" – one guy quit; and then another "DING" - and then several more "DING’s".    That one afternoon was the moment where they lost the most guys at one time than at any other time that week.  Moments after the last guy quit and was walking away, the instructor looked at the remaining candidates and said "Just kidding, let’s go have lunch."

Can you imagine?  I know, that would’ve been me - one of the dings would’ve been me (probably a lot sooner than that if I’m really honest).  I kept picturing the last guy ringing the bell, just starting to walk away and hearing the "just kidding, let’s get lunch" and thinking "that would be me."  It sounded just so cruel.  But Greitens said that epitomized this essential part of this whole test.  It’s part of this process... those guys at that moment they showed they didn’t have the mindset of a SEAL.   Because the thing that made the difference was that those who quit at that point weren’t even willing to take one step on that 5 mile run – weren’t even willing to give it a try.  They had made that decision completely in their minds that they couldn’t, they wouldn’t even attempt to go any further.  Once they had done that, there wasn’t anything else that could be done.

It’s just another example that - What you think;  how you think; is one of the most important factors in determining who you are.  That’s not just a truth in becoming a Navy Seal, or in our personal lives, but it’s a truth in the spiritual life as well. 

That came to mind looking at today’s Gospel.  Jesus sounds tough today.  Harsh even:- Foxes have dens...birds have nests... the Son of Man has noplace to lay his head ...

- Let the dead bury their dead ...

- No one who sets his hand to the plow and looks to what he left behind is fit for the kingdom of God. 


But if we look closely, Jesus is being clear, honest, upfront about all that’s required in following Him.  It’s not just enough to let our hearts buy into a romanticized notion of discipleship.  It’s a serious commitment with great demands.  So we need to be clear, to get our minds right...

-Are we willing to give up security and sign on for the unpredictable adventure that comes when we set our feet on the path and follow Jesus?  That means our mind has to reject the natural impulses – that even foxes and birds have – of their instincts, their habitats in order to make the choice to let Jesus direct our paths, our agendas. 

- Are we willing to risk the comfortableness of our lives - the relationships, the projects the plans, that we’re attached too when Jesus is calling us to something that upsets them?  Jesus telling the young man to "let the dead bury their dead" isn’t an insensitive response and an unreasonable demand made to a grieving son.  Most likely, the young man was saying I want to follow you Lord - but I have things to do, things to attend to here - once my father gets old and dies, then I will follow you.  Christ wants us to heed him without delay.

- Are we prepared to expect difficulties in following Jesus?  When you see fields of crops or flowers - you see the beauty of the finished project.  Rarely do we realize the difficulty, the dedication, the perseverance required to get those fields from seedlings to an abundant bounty.  Once we start pursuing Christ, it’s tough, it’s hard - particularly in a world that is growing increasingly hostile to Him, to His message, to His followers.  Jesus isn’t asking for a perfectly cultivated field but that we keep pushing, keep plowing with all that we have within us.

Very beautifully, in today’s second reading, St. Paul made the point that Jesus has set us free from the "yoke of slavery"; we’re to use that freedom to make a choice to be clear, unhesitating, unambiguous and whole-hearted in our commitment to be his disciple.  The work of establishing God’s kingdom of justice, reconciliation and peace has no time for "yeah but first..." "In a minute" or "on second thought".  The Gospel is not some noble ideals we aspire to or words that we memorize - but a spirit we commit ourselves to; a mindset that we need to daily embrace, struggle with, work for.  When we struggle, when we get exhausted, when we feel ready to quit and "ring the bell", we’re not to give up - but to call on one another as brothers and sisters to strengthen our resolve.  In those moments we do fail, we need to call on the Lord to experience his mercy, especially in the Sacrament of Reconciliation where we confess our sins, and they are forgiven and we start over re-committed. 

May you and I have that mindset, recognizing that discipleship is not about being spectators of God’s presence -but rather a commitment to engaging in the hard work of building up the Kingdom of God, no matter the cost to us. Knowing that when we do, we’re following the one who always has us in mind, and always has our good in mind.

A WEEK AFTER ORLANDO - GOING BACK TO BASICS


Hi everyone, here's my homily for the TWELFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - June 19, 2016. The readings for today's Mass can be found at http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/061916.cfm  Thanks as always for stopping by to read this blog; for sharing it on Facebook, twitter, Reddit and elsewhere on the Internet - and for all your feedback and comments.  God Bless You and Yours and have a great week! Fr Jim


Quick commercial... as we enter into Summer, it's time for the NEWMAN CATHOLIC 2016 SUMMER APPEAL - please check out our website for information:  http://chernjam.wix.com/classisite#!appeal/cbjb   We appreciate your consideration and your support!
 HOMILY:

Since early Sunday morning, we as a nation slowly came to learn of the horrific atrocity that took place at a night club in Orlando Florida, when a terrorist went in, and doing what terrorists do - targeted innocent people, minding their own business, living their lives - and slaughtered them, robbing them of their lives, inflicting unimaginable pain and heartbreak on families and friends who lost loved ones in one of the most horrific ways imaginable, and ultimately spreading fear and terror throughout the world, which is probably the primary goal of evil individuals like this.

But something else happened this time. I’m not sure if this is new or it’s more pronounced or what - but it was definitely more obvious to me in the hours after the news first broke out of Orlando: We as a nation didn’t pause and unite and rally together - but seemed to be responding by fighting with each one another.

When 9/11 happened, and the Sunday after the terrorist attacks I stood in this very pulpit; the shock, the fear, the anger - these were all new things. We didn’t quite know what this was - terror in our midst - nor how to wrap our minds when confronted by evil in such a destructive manner. We filled this church - over 800 people crammed into every seat, people standing - in a deafening silence before a Eucharistic Holy Hour.

Fifteen years later, we’re not shocked by the carnage. We’ve become used to it. Perhaps that’s the result of too many similar atrocities occurring. We’re so desensitized now. We use an app and change our facebook picture complete with a hashtag to somehow indicate our care and concern. We say we’re praying for the victims and their families (not quite sure how many of us follow through on that)

A generation of children have grown up with these incidents happening - kind of like hurricanes or tornadoes - terrible things that they hope they never have to experience. And the adults, we have gotten into the pattern of retreating to our different corners, with our different agendas - speaking whatever talking points the leaders of those perspectives offer, and either trying to out scream one another on a cable news program; slam each other online in a virtual debate; and so forth. We don’t come together to unite in our grief in prayer. Which is perhaps the greatest success of this terrorist.

Even as Catholics - I saw many good priests who I respect for their ministries, their service - who seemed to jump into a whole host of other issues that are all important topics that we as a Church, we as a nation don’t want to talk about - gun control, LGBQT people, Immigration, mental health issues - and got into as spirited (and sometimes, sadly, as ugly) debates as you would see on any of the hundreds of news channels pitting politicians against one another. Which is another success of not just the terrorist, but the devil himself.

I really don’t want to add to that. It’s bothered me for some time, but as I see one side using this tragedy to advance one agenda and then another side to use this tragedy to advance some other cause - I just was sickened and saddened and angry. And as I prayed with the scriptures and prayed for the victims, I was trying to think of what to say today.

I really fear we’re so adrift right now and that we need to go back to the basics. Both as human beings and as Christians:

It should simply be a human response, to be empathetic to someone when they’ve suffered the loss of someone they loved. It should be a human reaction to be angry, to be sad, to be attentive to the victims and their families when they are killed in a terrorist attack. We shouldn’t have to hear details about who the victims were - or the political, religious, ideological backgrounds of the killers to decide what our reaction should be. It shouldn’t matter whether it’s 20 6 and 7 year old children and 6 teachers killed by a mentally troubled kid at school in Newton Ct; 9 people including a Senior Pastor at a prayer service killed by a Neo-Nazi, white supremacist in Charleston SC;  or 50 LGBQT people killed by a Muslim terrorist in a night club in Orlando Florida - the destruction of human life should be the thing that sickens us, repulses us, unites us to be against that evil act. How do we ever hope to confront the causes; how do we prevent these things from happening, if we can’t even find a starting place of love, of care, of empathy for one another.

As Christians, our basics demand even more than that. I couldn’t help but think about that reflecting on today’s Gospel. In it we heard Jesus asking his disciples "Who do you say that I am?" This is after he hears them share what the buzz around town is about Jesus - some say you’re John the Baptist; others Elijah; others one of the ancient prophets has arisen." In Luke’s version of this incident, Peter professes Jesus as "The Christ of God" - meaning the anointed one, the Chosen one sent by God to lead his people to peace to prosperity. Peter has come upon a profound truth and something that differentiates Jesus from all those proposed understandings, or other expectations or misunderstandings out there. Jesus is not a politician or revolutionary or ideological leader or Philospher. He is not some pundit, or commentator or community builder or ogranizer. His message will touch, affect, challenge all of these and more - in fact it will call each and everyone of them out in different and various ways. That’s why Jesus recognizes that the world would ultimately reject him.

And the same is true today. As Christians, we can not allow Jesus and his message to be manipulated to fit any singular agenda, or cause, or ideology. We can’t simply quote Jesus in response to evil in a nice 140 character tweet. We can’t allow our biases to make us arrogant in the belief that we’re right because we believe or do certain things while others don’t. If we choose to follow Him, If we recognize Him as "The Christ of God" Jesus tells us what to do - deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow Him. Back to basics my brothers and sisters -

Deny ourselves...

deny ourselves of the desire to be right;

deny ourselves of the attempts to convince someone they are wrong and I’m right;

deny ourselves of our comfort, deny ourselves our most precious resource: our time; deny ourselves of our selfish desires and choosing to be merciful, to be loving, to be selfless to those in need.

In the back and forth of the divisive debates over the last week that I kept seeing online, there’s a feature on Facebook that recalls things that happened or that you shared online in previous years. One memory from maybe 5 years ago was a quote that I had shared from Pope Benedict XVI. He said: "God personally looks after me, after us, after all mankind. I am not abandoned, adrift in the universe and in a society which leaves me ever more lost and bewildered. He is not a distant God, for whom my life is worthless. God looks after me."

I must have gone and looked, and read, and thought about that quote over a dozen times this week. So many people do feel adrift, do feel abandoned, do feel unloved. Don’t just think God is distant, don’t even think he exists. Which is the devil’s primary goal...

Can you and I simply as human beings start to work to recapture a basic respect for all life; Can you and I as Christians recapture a basic sense of our mission, our call as followers of Jesus by being selfless, being loving to all of our brothers and sisters whoever they may be - especially those who are in most of need of our love, our care, our concern? Then the basic truths become more apparent again:

The reality of God’s closeness, His care for each of us, personally,

That there is a reason, a purpose to this universe to our lives -

That evil works to undermine that and destroy it in every way possible.

That if we keep our lives fixed on Jesus’ call, despite whatever evil that is inflicted, we will never be lost.

In order to do that, we need to ask ourselves - Is God’s closeness a reality to me? If not, why? Have I distanced myself from Him and it feels like He is not around? Then I need to to reconnect with the One who loves me more than I can understand.

Once we grasp and apply the truth of God’s love, we are closer than ever to picking up His cross. Jesus denied Himself for us because of His great love; this is the model for us to deny ourselves for others. It all has to do with love. But not the trite "Hashtag Love" - but true Love, selfless, sacrificial love. Because True Love is at the core of all we are and do. The 10 Commandments came down to this: love God, love others. The first part, love God, means with everything we are and have. In doing this, that love spills over to part two, love others. Jesus did not say, "Love others if …." Humans seem to want to complicate the simple instructions.

May you and I start today by getting back to the basics: letting Jesus’ model be our model; His example be our example...And then the desire of so many to not let hate, not let evil win will see that reality in our professing who we think Jesus really is,... The Christ of God - who has come to lead God’s people to have life in it’s fullness.

ME BEFORE YOU? WHERE DOES GOD FIGURE IN?

Hi everyone!  This is my homily for the 11th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - June 12, 2016.   The readings for today can be found at:  http://usccb.org/bible/readings/061216.cfm.  Thanks as always for stopping by to read this blog; for sharing it on Facebook, twitter, Reddit and elsewhere on the Internet - and for all your feedback and comments.  God Bless You and Yours and have a great week! Fr Jim

Quick commercial... as we enter into Summer, it's time for the NEWMAN CATHOLIC 2016 SUMMER APPEAL - please check out our website for information:  http://chernjam.wix.com/classisite#!appeal/cbjb   We appreciate your consideration and your support!

HOMILY:

A week ago, the film Me Before You was released. To be honest, from the 20 second trailer I had already deemed this wasn’t going to be on my must-see list or that I’d be looking for it when it was On-Demand or Netflix. Quite simply it looked like a "date night movie" or a "chick flick" as we used to call it. You could tell pretty quickly that it was a love story and also that someone was going to die in it. So, like I said I hadn’t paid much attention to it at all.


Then a friend shared an article with a somewhat provocative headline caught my attention "Me Before You: Dear Hollywood, why do you want me dead?" The author, a 11 year old named Ella Frech calls out Hollywood in an amazingly eloquent, thoughtful and challenging piece as she begins:

Dear Hollywood,

Why do you want me dead?
Please don’t deny it. The movies you make tell me the truth about what you really think about me.

Me Before You comes out tomorrow. . . It’s the story of a guy who gets in an accident, and has a spinal cord injury, and has to spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair. A guy you think should want to die because he has to live a life that looks like mine.

Well, what’s wrong with a life that looks like mine?

My mom says this isn’t the first movie where a handicapped person had to die for being paralyzed. There was one called Million Dollar Baby where a woman is a quad and bravely chooses death instead of an imperfect life.

So I’m asking you again, what’s wrong with my life? Why do you think I should want to die?

You sit there with your able bodies, and look at people in chairs and think you feel pity for our sad little lives, but the truth is you’re afraid. You don’t want to imagine that you might be one of us one day. You think you can be perfect, and think you’d rather die than have parts that don’t work right.

I think that’s sad.
The idea of what my life looks like bugs you so much that you didn’t even show the truth about it in Me Before You. Would people be upset and weirded out if you showed someone transferring into the car, or using a bath chair, or needing a little help with a ramp? You think that makes people like me weak, and you aren’t OK with weak.

Her entire essay is well worth reading, (which you can right here: http://aleteia.org/2016/06/02/me-before-you-dear-hollywood-why-do-you-want-me-dead/) for a variety of reasons - but that last line "you aren’t OK with weak" really stayed with me.

In fairness to Hollywood (who is in the business simply to make money) they are often catering to whatever the general population wants. When the Passion of the Christ premiered over 10 years ago - and made massive amounts of money - Hollywood didn’t suddenly become OK with religion as they all of a sudden went into this mad rush of producing a bunch of "religious films." They were trying to cash in on what the movie-going public was interested in.

This doesn’t diminish young Ella’s point. In fact it makes it more brutal - because I think she’s hitting on something: a great number of people, perhaps a majority of the population - maybe even you and I - we aren’t OK with weakness.

When that - that not being OK with weakness causes us to not be limited, not be defined by our weaknesses...propeling us to do things, overcome obstacles, become people we might have never imagined possible - that can be great, healthy and inspirational.

But when not being OK with weakness
-causes us to fear the unknown;
-forget that despite how independent we think we are - none of us willed ourselves into existence and that our each and every breath is in a sense a miracle, a blessing;
-that we see others in their weakness, their fragileness, their vulnerability as a threat to whatever lie, whatever false image we’ve created for ourselves... that’s most definitely not ok.

Isn’t that’s what is blinding Simon the Pharisee’s vision; what’s sullying his heart and soul in the gospel we just heard? Here he has invited Jesus into his home for a meal. Obviously something has peaked his curiosity about who Jesus is that he wanted to see and experience for himself. Perhaps it was the buzz, the news of the tremendous deeds that Jesus had done, miracles that defied explanation. Maybe it was the charismatic words, the sermons he was preaching that were drawing multitudes to come and hear.


What we can tell is it wasn’t Jesus’ love and compassion that captured Simon’s attention. Because when this woman (who’s name is unknown, but whom is identified as a sinful woman -so she wasn’t completely unknown) enters, washes Jesus’ feet with her tears and wipes them with her hair, and kisses them as she anoints them with ointment and Jesus doesn’t dismiss her immediately, Simon is scandalized.

Often times when I’ve read this gospel I just pictured Simon as this pompous, arrogant, self-righteous Pharisee. But that’s where young Ella’s opinion piece helped me see this in a different light. As she addressed Hollywood in her article, she added - You may not believe in God. You don’t have to, and I can’t make you. But I do, and because of that I believe in the value of all people. I believe we are all made in His image and likeness. That’s why I believe all people are worth something. If you believe that people only get their value from each other, then people can take that away. But if our value comes from God, then nobody has the right to say someone who walks is worth more than someone who doesn’t. Maybe you need to find God again, because living without Him has made you mean.

And that’s kind of what stands out as we try to picture this Gospel story playing out in our minds. That Simon is being really mean. Here "the sinful woman" was doing customary acts of hospitality in the humblest of ways possible - obviously expressing in as intimate and personal a way her love for Jesus, her sorrow for her sinfulness, her desire to be worthy to be in His company. Yet, those pompous, arrogant, self-righteous thoughts Simon had were symptoms of something deeper. Simply that in his heart, Simon wasn’t ok with weakness - in the sinful woman, and in himself. He wasn’t ready to admit his own sinfulness, his own weakness. He didn’t know or didn’t want to express his need for Jesus - not as some wonder-man, miracle-worker, eloquent preacher; not for the popularity and fame that was spreading. Bur rather, his personal need for Jesus to save him from his sinfulness.

We are currently in what Pope Francis has called a Jubilee Year of Mercy. It’s meant to be a special time where the entire Church focuses it’s attention on the Mercy of God as the foundation of faith - as something that is central, the heart of the Christian message. The hope is that not only will each and everyone of us be renewed as we come to experience the joy, the radical love of Christ for each one of us in God’s forgiveness of our sins - but that we in turn we will be merciful, strive to radically be merciful as well.


Sadly I think we’ve not embraced Pope Francis’ call to enter into this year of Mercy as profoundly as he hoped in part because we’re not okay with weakness. We’re not okay with it in others. And we’re not okay with it in ourselves. And if that is the case, sadly we find ourselves relating more with Simon the Pharisee than the sinful woman.

In his book, The Name of God is Mercy - Pope Francis very beautifully calls out to us to change that perspective, as he writes:




There are no situations we cannot get out of, we are not condemned to sink into quicksand, in which the more we move the deeper we sink. Jesus is there, his hand extended, ready to reach out to us and pull us out of the mud, out of sin, out of the abyss of evil into which we have fallen. We need only be conscious of our state, be honest with ourselves, and not lick our wounds. We need to ask for the grace to recognize ourselves as sinners. The more we acknowledge that we are in need, the more shame and humility we feel, the sooner we will feel his embrace of grace. Jesus waits for us, he goes ahead of us, he extends his hand to us, he is patient with us. God is faithful. Mercy will always be greater than any sin, no one can put a limit on the love of the all-forgiving God. Just by looking at him, just by raising our eyes from our selves and our wounds, we leave an opening for the action of his grace. Jesus performs miracles with our sins, with what we are, with our nothingness, with our wretchedness."

Are we able to see that we are all fallen beings? Looking in the mirror of our soul, doing inventory on our thoughts and actions, can show us how far from perfection we are. But the important part is not to wallow in it, but to even more daring - to be thankful for weakness. Not in some false humility sort of way - but rather appreciating who we are, seeing those areas that we aren’t happy with and asking the Lord to enter into them, knowing he very much wants to... to heal them... to forgive them... to glorify Himself through us in those very areas. That is what we call Good News.

May this Year of Mercy, May this Gospel we have just heard, open our hearts ever so slightly to being ok with our weakness only because in Jesus we have the answer, the savior who wants us to transform them, transform us, into his glorious new creations.

HEALING ALONENESS

Hi everyone, here’s my homily for June 5, 2016 - the 10TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - The readings for today can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/060516.cfm Thanks as always for stopping by and reading this blog; for all your shares on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, etc. and your feedback and comments... Have a great week! God Bless - Fr. Jim

Quick commercial... as we enter into Summer, it's time for the NEWMAN CATHOLIC 2016 SUMMER APPEAL - please check out our website for information:  http://chernjam.wix.com/classisite#!appeal/cbjb   We appreciate your consideration and your support!

HOMILY:


Can you ever imagine a moment, a time, an experience where you felt completely alone. Not that you were physically alone with no one around you like you were in some desolate location - an igloo on some glacier, in the middle of some desert or the top of a mountain without any other human contact for an extended period of time. But worse than that - when there are people around and feeling alone. When you feel that:

No one truly understanding what it is you’re experiencing.

No one knows the pain, the fear, the doubt that plagues your heart.

No one can relate to the anxiety that keeps you awake at night.

That experience of feeling completely alone is probably a bit more common and might have affected many (if not all) of us at some time. What’s so challenging is that it can be such a vicious cycle. Especially when we have friends or relatives for whatever reason aren’t equipped to help us deal with what it is we’re facing... When no one seems to have the ability to bring healing, speak words of comfort to whatever trial it is. People can become more isolated, feel more disconnected when they are going through whatever challenge it is that caused this aloneness in the first place. Yes, I’d venture to say that experience of aloneness we’ve experienced at some time or in some way in our lives.

In the Gospel we just heard, as is often the case, we can focus solely on the miraculous event and miss the deeper message. Which is understandable because this miracle is truly spectacular. To hear how this funeral procession, in front of a crowd of people in this city of Nain turns into a resuscitation party - a coming back to life party, is pretty amazing.

But there’s something deeper that Jesus is trying to teach us that is far greater than that singular spectacular event. The Good News of the Gospel is that even when we feel our greatest despair, desolation, and we feel utterly alone - we aren’t. When our feelings betray us, our friends and family are inadequate, whether because of their lack of ability or their choosing not to - God never takes his loving gaze off of us. God will not leave us alone.

We learn that with just a few details from this passage. Actually when we think about it - there’s so few details, we don’t even know important things like the widow’s name or the name of her deceased son. But we do know the sense of aloneness she was experiencing. She’s already lost her husband. She’s now lost her only son. In that day and age, that wasn’t just an emotionally devastating loss of those closest to her; her livelihood, her security was gone too. She's lost everything that mattered, everything that was of value and importance to her. So we can understand why she’s weeping; why she’s inconsolable as she walks in a crowd.

We can imagine random people saying well intentioned things like "he’s in a better place," "at least he’s not in pain now" or "I know how you feel" - which could make her only feel feel worse and more and more alone. Because no one could no how she felt. And all those well intentioned words probably caused her to wonder What’s this better place that my family has gone to, leaving me abandoned...

All this pain is in this woman’s heart. Her tears cannot revealed the depths of sadness she was experiencing. Depths that no doubt some mourners in that funeral procession probably were uncomfortable with - you can imagine some of them wanting to race through these funeral rites in their unease over her pain and their uncomfortableness in the face of it.

That’s what makes this Gospel so beautiful because look at what happens next. Despite Jesus’ busyness with his own crowd that he’s travelling with, this woman's pain, her grief, her aloneness catches Jesus’ attention. He sees her broken heart. He hears her cries and He steps into that isolation, that pain as He goes to her. He lovingly but firmly utters commands: "Do Not Weep" – and moments later "Arise"- not just to bring the young man back to life, but words addressed to this widow. ARISE! - In that, the entire city -- in shock, in fear, in awe proclaims "God has visited His People!"

Jesus continues to do the same thing in our day and age; in our own trials and situations... He meet us in our aloneness. He speaks to our fears, our doubts our anxieties - words of Hope, words of comfort, words of healing. Jesus bring to our isolation his loving presence. He removes whatever blinders, whatever obstacles there might be from seeing Him, experiencing Him.

It never ceases to amaze me to see the amazingly beautiful and unique ways Jesus’ continues to do this, some 2,000 years later. Not too long ago, I was asked to go visit a woman - who I had never met - who was in hospice care and had not been a practicing Catholic for many years. Because of the prayers of members of her family, and their openness to not simply be with her in the midst of her illness, but love her, pray with her and ask her if she wanted to meet Jesus - Sacramentally in the Last Rites (to prepare to meet Him in eternity) she was open to that. When I arrived, she had deteriorated a great deal already. And despite years of non-practicing she wanted to receive the Sacraments. She was the most responsive during the entire visit as we prayed the Our Father. And while the miraculous, instantaneous healing that I would have loved to have seen the Lord work at that moment didn’t happen, I couldn’t help but witness a great number of other miracles:

- As she was dying, surrounded by nurses, doctors, family and friends coming in and our of her room - she was beautiful, gentleness of Jesus coming to her at a moment of extreme aloneness. Her fidgeting, her nervousness abated as we prayed with her. You could physically see her demeanor change.

- Even more, Jesus presence and action was able to bring healing to that family. Some members who were anxious and estranged were able to experience some measures of peace, and reconciliation that had eluded them. And she was able to pass away to meet Jesus face to face the next day not feeling alone, but rather knowing He was there to guide and lead her.

Jesus wants the world to come to experience the Good News: "God has visited his people" and continues to do so. In the darkness of our lives, may we look for Him for his light and love. In the call to be his disciples may we be the bearers of His light, the enfleshment of His love to those lost, struggling and feeling abandoned. Then the miracle of the city of Nain won’t be limited to that small city thousands of miles away, thousands of years ago but will continue to be experienced in our cities in our time.

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.