TRINITY SUNDAY: TOGETHER WE ARE ONE

Hi everyone, here's my homily for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity - SUNDAY JUNE 11, 2017.  The readings for today can be found at: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/061117.cfm .  Thanks as always for reading; for sharing this on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit; and for your feedback and comments.  Grateful for your interest and support!  May God - who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit - Bless You and yours!  Fr Jim

HOMILY:

The Solemnity of the Holy Trinity... every homilist’s favorite Sunday.

Not to be dismissive of it. Particularly because it is one of the most central dogmas of being Christian and it is yet another way that we are distinguished from every other religion. We believe that God has revealed to us, His creatures, that He is triune - three - in one. God is relational -Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

This theological truth that often causes us to ask more questions than to walk away with a better understanding or appreciation of it. Often times, we kind of are drawn to the aspect of God’s nature that most appeals to us: Jesus - as God only begotten Son, fully human, fully divine - who has made us his brothers and sisters.... Who has revealed that God isn’t some distant, creator who treats us as pitiable creatures but rather a Loving, Eternal Father who created us out of love and for love... and has gifted us with God the Holy Spirit -who imparts gifts on us that make us attentive to God’s voice and his grace working our lives; that make us love the things of God and open to his prompts...

But in that, we have to remember they’re not three gods, but three persons - one God... which can be difficult, complicated for us to understand or even appreciate. And there’s that temptation to skip it. But this God who loves us, who we love and worship here - has revealed His very nature to us, so how do make sense of it so that it can mean something to us.

Of all places for me to think of the trinity this past week, something struck me while I was at the gym. Seriously. And not because in a moment of sheer desperation I was making the sign of the cross. I was on a treadmill, and this guy happened to get on a treadmill a row in front of me with his sweatshirt from a Police Academy. On the back it had the patches of all the different police departments that were represented in the class and among them were these words:


Although we are many - together we are one.


For many passers-by who just see that sweatshirt, it might seem a nice sentiment, or a cool motto. But for the men and women who made up that class that prepared them for their law enforcement careers - they know the truth of those words. How they had to help each other navigate the difficult routines, the long hours, the challenges physically, mentally and emotionally to make it from day one to their graduation days. They did this together, they came together as individuals from very different backgrounds, histories, experiences to make up this one class of police officers. And that experience will always remain an important bond that people outside that group will never be able to fully appreciate or understand.

That same sentiment - of many coming together as one is true of different sports. Football players who make the team, start training in the heat of summer - navigate the ups and downs of a difficult season with unexpected victories (and losses) injuries, and breakthroughs - the 11 who are on the field and the number of substitutes on the bench all know that in order for the team to be victorious - the many have to become one.

You could say the same thing for a cast of a play. The group of actors and actresses who go from audition to being cast; begin the grueling hours of rehearsals - the challenge of memorizing scripts and lines. In order for this group of actors and actresses to be able to give a great performance, they need to come together as one.

These are just a few examples that demonstrates how there is something about us as human beings that reveals we are designed for relationship. Yes we are independent individuals, capable of unique, impressive abilities through our God-given gifts and talents. And in this fiercely independent age that we live in, that reality is often celebrated to admire the one who is winning the award or has accomplished whatever impressive feat that has caught our attention (sadly, sometimes, forgetting all the others who helped contribute in that success being possible).

But God, in sharing with us the secret, the mystery of who He is in this celebration of The Trinity - does so not to leave us perplexed with some difficult, in-explainable  riddle. Bur rather to encourage us to see the many ways that He calls us as individuals into something greater - when we come together into one - we begin to appreciate the importance of relationships in our lives because it’s who God is as well:

When a husband and wife come together in the beauty, the sacredness of the Sacrament of Matrimony and that love is so strong that new life comes about in children....

When a geographical area is marked out and a priest is assigned by the Archbishop and together they become a parish family like this one - which eventually builds a magnificent home, this Church...

When you and I and every other baptized man and women recognizes how that has made us brothers and sisters and the billions of us form one body - the Body of Christ...

In these different ways, we start to recognize how we are made in God’s image and likeness - and this complex theological belief is more common to us than we may have thought.

PEACE BE WITH YOU - IF YOU CHOOSE

Hi everyone - Happy Pentecost Sunday!  The readings for today can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/060417-day-mass.cfm.  Thanks as always for reading this blog; for sharing it on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit; and for you comments and feedback.  Have a great week.  God Bless - Fr Jim

HOMILY:

Because I was attending a priest-friend’s 25th anniversary celebration this afternoon, I didn’t have to prepare a homily myself for the celebration of Pentecost. I had looked at and discussed the readings on "The Catholic Guy Show"; the Sirius/XM Satellite Radio show I co-host on Thursdays and Fridays for one of the segments called "homily on the spot." That’s the bit where the host Lino Rulli will read the gospel and want me to give an instant homily... which rarely goes well for me (which is one of the comedic aspects for sure). So I knew what the readings for today were going to be before Mass, even though I hadn’t prepared a homily.

But I guess that’s why I was surprised that when the deacon proclaimed the Gospel I kind of was taken aback. It’s not like we haven’t heard this passage from John before. In fact it’s actually a "repeat" from the Second Sunday of Easter – Jesus enters the locked upper room of the Apostles on Easter Sunday Night. So this reading isn’t an obscure passage that hasn’t been heard for some time, it’s not something that is unfamiliar. But what was jarring was the words of Jesus:

"Peace be with you" - which in this very short passage of only 4 verses, he repeats... "Peace be with you" before he bestows the Holy Spirit on them.

Those words seemed jarring in light of, yet another terrorist attack which occurred less than 24 hours earlier in London. To be honest, as soon as I started to see tweets with the headlines of this attrocity last night - I tuned out. I could feel myself getting tense, and upset, and fearful... I could sense my own anger just seeing the British flag circulating on social media as people in their own way want to express their connection to people who are suffering. Anger that it seems everytime we see a flag it means there’s another horrific atrocity that has taken place.

"Peace be with you."

Last night wasn’t the first time I’ve found myself turning off the news – and even the so called "entertainment" world. I’ve been finding myself doing that a lot more often to be honest. When I do put the TV on, I’ve been opting for something calm or peaceful like HGTV more and more. Because the amount of negativity in so much of what is being broadcasted has grown increasingly toxic. The news is filled with talking heads on either side of every issue ready to pounce to defend themselves and explain why it’s the other side’s fault as they launch another tirade. Entertainers or celebrities seem to buy the notion that any publicity is good publicity and grown more vile and disgusting in their attempts at humor - which is followed by OUTRAGE OUTRAGE OUTRAGE... With calls for boycotts, protests... And those who have been in the public eye for any length of time and end up going through a personal crisis, once we’re done hearing how one politician is the anti-christ; and gotten the update over which celebrity said something so awful and terrible that we’re going to talk about it and show it to you another 15 times.... we’ll close out with picking apart this other celebrities fall from grace. Yeah, I’d much rather see the Property Brothers - take a train-wreck of a house and transformed into something beautiful (magically reducing months of work to a nice 30-60 minute program)

"Peace be with you"

Truth be told... it’s not just the outside world that brings us down... that seems to speak words completely contrary to those words of Jesus. I think of the family who just lost someone they loved way too young and too tragically... I think of a relative who’s been fighting cancer for over 10 years and being told their remaining options are very limited.... I think of people who are confined to awful work situations - knowing they’re in an unhealthy and horrible place, but can’t just walk in quit and walk away when they have bills to pay, and no other viable option in front of them... I think of students struggling to figure out how they can afford next semesters tuition when they have already taken out more loans than they had hoped or anticipated... There’s no shortage of problems, difficulties, struggles that are all around us if we take a moment to categorize them all that all seem to make hearing those words - "Peace be with you" jarring... Insulting? Unreal? Idealistic?

But the more I thought about it over the afternoon, the more it hit me was that Jesus is offering us Peace - but it’s a choice. It’s our choice, our decision to receive it. It’s our choice, our decision to utilize it, to live it.

And it always has been.

We tend to look at Pentecost, at this Easter season that we conclude today with stained-glass vision. Beautiful, spiritual, transformational events that changed the world and that we recall as happy memories. I think about the mosaic I saw in St. Louis’s Cathedral of Pentecost where it’s this awesome illustration of the apostles, dressed in their heavenly looking robes, with the Blessed Mother sitting there with a halo and the dove hovering over them with these tongues of fire over each of their heads. It looks so perfect. It looks so amazing. It looks like everything they could’ve wanted or imagined has been fulfilled instantly and completely. And it looks so removed from our experience. Because what we miss in images like that was that it was a choice - it was a decision for the apostles, for Mary to be there. They were filled with fear. We can’t forget, that in this very gospel, we hear that the room was locked. And St. John makes no excuses for the locked doors, it was - "for fear of the Jew [-ish leaders who had conspired with the Romans to kill Jesus, and who they feared were after them next]." Yet despite the sadness and sorrow which was still looming in their heads and hearts from Good Friday... despite these fears, they choose to be there. They choose Jesus.

It’s not like they didn’t have choices. Maybe because we’ve heard this story many times, we tend to think of the apostles as characters in a play that we know how it’s going to play out. Yet they were just like us. They could’ve given into despair. We can’t forget that one of the 12 had... Judas after choosing to follow the world, and at least securing himself with the Romans and the Jewish leaders for turning Jesus over, recognized the horror of that decision. But rather than remembering all that Jesus had said and done... the words of Mercy, the acts of love – the forgiveness to sinners - he choose despair and hung himself.

Judas was not the only one... there are other instances throughout the gospels where we hear of people who walked away from Jesus: The rich young man for one who after asking Jesus what more could he do, found Jesus’ call to give up all that mattered in the world and devote himself solely to Jesus too much for him to do. The group of disciples who first heard Jesus’ teaching ton the Eucharist hat they must eat his flesh and drink his blood - and couldn’t or wouldn’t hear these words - they walked away as well.

The 12 could’ve taken off as well after Good Friday, and perhaps some of them were even contemplating it. Yet they choose to come together - as Jesus had told them to do. And Jesus enters into that locked room; enters into that fear - already blowing their minds having been risen from the dead – and then He offers them His Peace which is tied to His gift of the Holy Spirit.

In the days that followed that Easter night, the apostles would be confronted again with all kinds of fear. After appearing to them for 40 days, Jesus commissions them to now Go and proclaim His Gospel and then He ascends into heaven. They leave Mount Olivet - they return to the upper room - they had to choose to be there together - to dedicate themselves to prayer - to believing and trusting that Jesus’ promise of sending this "gift" this "Holy Spirit" upon them would somehow enable them to fulfill Jesus’ commands. And so it happened. The Spirit comes upon them, and we see that the apostles are transformed to speak in new languages and the beginning of the Church takes place. But just reading through the Acts of the Apostles - after that event, this would be a daily choice, an ongoing thing that they had to do. They would be confronted with difficult missions, hostile crowds, angry leaders - and ultimately almost all of them would face their own deaths for being apostles of Christ. Yet they kept choosing Peace they kept choosing the Holy Spirit and looking to Him to provide the strength, to give them the words, to be their consoler in the moments of darkness when it felt there was no one left in the world to support them.

That’s what struck me today. We too have to choose to be men and women of Peace - We too have to choose to let the Holy Spirit into our lives and our decisions:

So when we hear of the terrors of London, we have to be cautious of our reactions, our responses individually and personally. Do we choose Christ and let His Peace be with us?

When we hear of nasty, deviant things being said by entertainers, do we share them (and help amplify them); do we join in the slugfest and buying into the non-stop "Outrage" culture that only seems to be creating a "gotcha" environment. Or do we stop before we tune in, or "share," or chime in and comment, and choose Christ and let His Peace be with us?

When we think of all the personal struggles that family, or friends or even each of us are going through personally - do we let our hearts get weighed down, give into despair, and walk away in our depression, our fear, our worry? Or do we come as we are, looking to the apostles example, and yes acknowledging our fears, our worry’s but not giving into them and choose Christ and let His Peace be with us?

That is the difficult place we find ourselves in. We who have received this same Holy Spirit, we already have this precious gift of God within us. It’s not a distant spiritual reality. It’s not some confusing theological concept that we need extensive teaching. Jesus, who remains with us in His Word, in His Body and Blood in the Eucharist, in the Church - continues to pour out His gift of the Holy Spirit upon us. He has promised that He will never leave us. He has promised that He will continue to do tremendous deeds through each and every one of us who make up the Church. But it’s still a matter of a choice, a decision on our parts.

We have to want the Holy Spirit.

We have to want His Peace.

BITTERSWEET MOMENTS

Hi everyone... here's my homily for the 7th SUNDAY OF EASTER - May 28, 2017.  The readings for today can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/052817-seventh-sunday-easter.cfm .  Thanks as always for reading; sharing on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit; and for your comments and feedback.  Grateful for your support!  Have a great week and God Bless - Fr Jim


HOMILY:

Working in Campus Ministry, this is always an exciting time of year. This past Thursday we celebrated Commencement for the more than 5,000 graduates of Montclair State University. The build up over the last few weeks with all kinds of celebrations; awards dinners... even seeing graduates taking pictures with friends and family members all around campus - you definitely felt that excitement in the air. But I have to confess that there’s something amazingly bittersweet about this time of year that I never really appreciated when I was the one graduating all those years ago. I don’t know if this is true for everyone else, but it seemed that when I was the one donning the cap and gown, I kept seeing graduation as that finish line and the requirement to help launch into whatever that next big adventure is going to be. In High School I couldn’t wait to go off to college - to have that independence, studying specific things that I was interested in, living in a dorm with peers they’ve never met before and establishing life long friendships. As college was ending, I was excited to be done with papers, exams and talk about moving on to"real life" which for me was going into seminary and to seriously discern and then prepare for priesthood. It seems similar with a lot of the seniors I see graduating now: they are excited about being able to actually do something rather than studying and talking about something. For the most part, graduates are extremely excited about what comes next.

But it’s interesting – for parents - while they have eagerly anticipated this day for their children and are proud and joyful... you can see for some of them the shock of it as they ask themselves "weren’t we just bringing them home from the hospital??? and not quite ready to yield even more freedom and independence to their ‘babies.’ For those of us who work with and have gotten close with the students, it can be pretty jarring too. A couple of years back when students I had met as freshmen or sophomores when I was new as well, and I got to know them and work with them and see them grow from an up close vantage point... well I was kind of shocked by how choked up I got at our Senior Send off Mass. I had never had an experience where a quarter of my congregation would leave each year... and for the kids who were in leadership who I got to work with and spend time with more closely, I was stunned by how hard it hit having to say goodbye to them. There was a selfish, fleeting thought of not wanting them to leave.

Now I’m older and embittered by having been left multiple times – I’ve gotten over that(Hahaha) Joking... I still can catch myself with a lump in my throat at these senior gatherings looking out and seeing some of these kids I’ve gotten close with and realizing I’m not going to see them much anymore or have that same experience of working so closely with them. But that’s a good thing. They aren’t meant to stay at Montclair State forever (which is welcome news to their parents I’m sure) - nor are they to stay as part of Newman Catholic forever. They were created by God for much greater things. He has bigger things in store for them... And I’ve just been blessed with the opportunity to meet them and hopefully help them to appreciate and see how much God loves them and has these amazingly beautiful dreams in mind for each of them.

That came to mind reading this Gospel. We’re hearing Jesus at the Last Supper again and the Gospel of John it can sound kind of confusing - I am in you, you are in me, we are in them sounds almost Dr. Suess-esque. But Jesus is talking about leaving the apostles. The epitome of bitter-sweet. Because he first says these words before Good Friday. Which was horrifying, terrifying and frightening departure of Jesus from the apostles. And here we are recalling them after Easter when Jesus was risen from the dead. Here we are reflecting on them after Jesus has now ascended into Heaven - leaving the apostles in one sense again... yes He was coming to them in the Holy Spirit being poured out on Pentecost. Yes He was with them really, physically and spiritually in the Eucharist... but He this was a massive change for them from how they had encountered and experienced Jesus. And that was a bitter-sweet moment for them: not wanting Jesus to go. Not wanting things to change. Of enjoying what they had been experiencing.

But if they, and we, get stuck on that - we would forget and miss how each and everyone of us has been created by God to accomplish greater things than we can imagine... Jesus didn’t want the apostles to get stuck on those understandable but self centered thoughts . And so those words from the Last Supper speak of deeper realities that only make sense in hindsight. Jesus being glorified in His Sacrifice on the Cross. Jesus being glorified in His Resurrection from the dead. Jesus being glorified in Ascending into Heaven. Jesus being glorified in the works His apostles and the young Church would accomplish in their own sacrifices, in their own obedince to God’s will. And now Jesus being glorified in us . That as you and I take on the work that God the Father had given Christ to do He is glorified.

We might all be hesitant, resistant to any changes we encounter. Even spiritually. Our faith lives can become a routine, start to form familiar patterns. Yet, Christ encourages us to be open to not simply settling for what’s comfortable, what’s familiar. Jesus expects us to take on the work of compassion, of justice, of reconciliation, of peace. Each of us is called to be Christ in our own time and place to the poor, the suffering, the lost. Each of us has a role to play in realizing Jesus’ dream for His Church: to be a community of salt and light for the world, to be the forgiving father of the prodigal Son, to be humble and eager "foot washers".. as we serve one another. And in the process discover the beauty of witnessing how Jesus’s presence and action has not diminished, but continues to expand and grow, and challenge, and transform us and the world around us in ways we never imagined.

On Sunset Boulevard: "THE WORLD IS FULL OF JOE'S AND NORMA'S" -

For those who claim the only thing I post on here is my Sunday homilies... well, here you go... something different...

"Hey Father Jim... I didn’t know you’re a ‘theatre geek.’" Nice start to a conversation on Facebook from a "friend". I wrote back and said "Haha - well, I don’t know if I fall into that category or not... I rarely get to theatre (embarrassingly, I’ve not even made it to the shows our students are in on campus)" I can tell you how I fell asleep during "The King and I"; "Cats"; "Urinetown" and "Rent" with friends or family members over the years. Most of what’s on Broadway I don’t have the slightest of interest in (someone asked if I wanted to see "Hello Dolly" which is the hottest ticket in NY right now and I said I sincerely have zero interest in it, despite the hype). So I don’t really consider myself a huge fan of all theater. For me, I really have to care about the story and get swept up into the music to enjoy a theater outing.

The response was "Well what’s the deal with Sunset Boulevard" and then went on to talk about how Lino Rulli (the host of The Catholic Guy show on Sirius/XM, whose show I’m a part of every Thursday and Friday) had talked about how I had suggested that he and his wife go to see Sunset on the air.

Ah... Sunset Boulevard... well that’s a different thing all together.

It is true, I’ve been encouraging probably everyone I know to go see it before it closes on June 25th. Sunset Boulevard remains my all-time favorite musicals. I saw the original production in the mid 1990's more times than I’ve seen anything else on Broadway. In this revival, which opened in February for a limited run till June 25th, the score has never sounded more lavish with an orchestra of over 40 musicians right on stage (which is the largest orchestra ever on a Broadway stage in over 50 years). From the first notes of the Overture to the instrumental postlude that takes place during the final bows at the end of the show, there’s over two hours of just incredibly moving music from the legendary Andrew Lloyd Webber (who wrote the scores of Phantom of the Opera, Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita) In 20+ years, there’s rarely a week that’s gone by that I at some point don’t listen to something from Sunset Boulevard I love the music that much. At this point I’ve heard it enough that I can even hear the differences in the orchestrations (which is why I’ve been hoping they’ll make a new recording of this revival).

For those who aren’t familiar with the story - which was first a legendary film considered by many to be an all time classic:

Norma Desmond, is, according to her devoted servant butler Max "the greatest star of all" - having been one of the leading film actresses in Hollywood when movies were first being made and the films were silent (films with sound would take some time to be invented... so initially the films were silent or in some cases, a live pianist playing at the movie theaters during a screening). It’s actually true that with the advent of "talking pictures" (talkies) a great number of actors and actresses were cast aside for one reason or another... including the fictitious Norma Desmond. In this story, Joe Gillis is an unemployed writer who can’t get a job at any studio, is running out of money. He stumbles into Norma’s home, and eventually into her life in a bid to ditch the men who were trying to repossess his car. Very quickly he sees that Norma is delusional - believing that millions of eager fans are desperate for her to "return" to the screen... something that has been enabled by Max sending phony fan mail to her every day. She remains captive to her delusions - sitting home watching her old silent films, reliving her glory days - and convincing herself that her self-written script for the famous Cecil B. DeMille to direct will resurrect her career (A film which she intends to be a silent film based on the character Salome from the Bible who asks for the head of John the Baptist)

What’s fascinating to me was seeing how all of these characters are living in fantasy worlds... desperate for attention, for fame. All of these characters have been used by others and then return in kind to use others. Norma by movie studios, and even fans who idolized her and then cast that idol aside in favor of new ones... ignoring that there’s a person - as fragile and as vulnerable as any one of us there. Norma turns around and uses Joe to help breath new life into her fantasy world (and Joe in turn uses her, seeing how delusional she is and sensing an opportunity to make a quick buck off the lady). Max seems obsessed with this "idol" of Norma and sacrifices his life to keep this illusion alive.

Why is this story so compelling to me that I’ve seen this revival twice (and am itching to go to at least once more before it closes in a few weeks)? It seems such a dated tale. But towards the end of Act II, Joe sings "the world is full of Joe’s and Norma’s" and for some reason, when I saw this revival and heard that line (after the amazing performances by Glenn Close, Michael Xavier, Fred Johanson and Siobhan Dillon, who made the story much more vulnerable, human and even relatable than the original) Sunset Boulevard not only made sense but even seemed more relevant to me in this day and age we’re living in.

Because it’s not just celebrities... athletes... politicians... who with our help have the potential of becoming "Joe’s" and "Norma’s." With our Facebook-Twitter-Instagram-Snapchat obsessed world - we too find ourselves at risk. We’re being told we can "broadcast yourself" by You-tube. We share our very lives on multiple platforms hoping for "friends" "followers" "fans" to like and share what we offer. Countless studies are being offered talking about the psychological risks and damage that’s been done in our social-media obsessed culture.

Perhaps that’s why I found this revival so moving. Having worked with so many students over the last few years and seeing some who’ve really been beaten up by seemingly anonymous folks out there in the dark on their screens - I couldn’t help but feel for these characters who are both perpetrators and victims of their own demise in which in the end, Norma will lose her mind; Joe will lose his life and Max will lose his reason for being. Hopefully leaving the theatre, you not only are thankful this is a fictitious story - but mindful of the importance of recognizing the dignity, the fragility, the vulnerability that each human being has... and break that cycle of the world being filled with Joe’s and Normas.

That I could reflect on this story (with the soundtrack on in the background) - to me is what great theater is. Hope you’ll have a chance to catch this revival in it’s final weeks. (For students, if you’re interested in seeing this, I can give you links to how to get discounts - as tickets can be pretty steep)

WHAT'S YOUR LOVE LANGUAGE?

Hi everyone... here's my homily for the SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER - May 21, 2017.  The readings for today can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/052117.cfm.  As always, thanks so much for stopping by; for sharing this blog on Twitter, Facebook and Reddit - and for all your comments and feedback.  Grateful for all your support!  God Bless - Fr Jim

HOMILY:
What's your love language?

Uhm... What?

That was my reaction when a group of students asked me that question. It was one of those moments when they all knew what they were talking about but I was clueless (a moment that seems to be happening more and more these days, but I digress). I asked what magazine or what guru was peddling this "love language" mumbo jumbo - as they put a quiz before me to answer a few questions which would determine what category I fell into. The creators of this theory claim that there are 5 different categories which describe the most effective way for someone to demonstrate their love to different people based on their personalities, their temperaments, their likes/dislikes. Obviously there are aspects of each of these that appeals to everyone to different degrees. But the developers of this test claim that of the countless ways people express themselves, that when we boil them all down, they can be characterized in 5 specific groups and that one out of the 5 speak the loudest to each of us:

1 - words of affirmation - for those who fall into this group, when someone uses simple, but honest and direct words to build the other person up, that is greatly appreciated.

2 - quality time - for people who this appeals to, what is most meaningful is giving that person undivided, un distracted attention

3 - giving gifts - while this is something that most people enjoy, for some, receiving gifts is the loudest expression of love

4 - acts of service - for those who fall into this category - the simple act of taking care of an annoying chore like taking out the trash, setting the table, speaks louder than any material gift could.

And 5 - physical touch... For those who fall into this category, an embrace, a hug, a kiss are important, significant acts that speak deeply to them.

One of the things that the students enjoyed was trying to guess what category each of their friends and classmates would fall into. It was also interesting how quickly they figured mine out - saying "acts of service" and pointing out how happy I am when I come back to the Newman Center and see people have actually cleaned up or taken care of some household chores without me having to ask someone to do so.

I was surprised at what an in-depth and interesting conversation this turned into. We tend to think that expressing our love for those who are nearest and dearest to us should be an easy thing to do. Yet anyone who’s worked with married couples will tell you that’s part of the problem. People simply expecting that the other person knows how best to express themselves and their feelings to another person.

As we get to this late part of Easter - with the celebration of Jesus’ Ascension into heaven this Thursday and the end of the Easter season quickly coming in two weeks with Pentecost, today we as a Church reflect on a Gospel passage which is another flashback to Holy Thursday. This Gospel address has Jesus speaking to his apostles at the Last Supper. Before the horrific events that will take place on Good Friday... Before the amazing, awesome, life-changing events of Easter Sunday - Jesus is speaking very intimately with those closest to Him. And by our Baptisms, we’re included in that personal, intimate circle as one of Jesus’ close friends... His brothers and sisters. And what we hear him express today is His love language. Jesus explaining how we can demonstrate our Love for Him.


Jesus quite clearly tells us - If you love me, you will keep my commands... (and then again he reiterates the point) whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And in a sense, that incorporates all 5 of the love languages. Because those commandments are more than feelings, emotions, sentiments... Those commandments call for actions, choices, decisions that are far reaching... Are we ready to love Jesus in His language? Because if we are, we find:

Jesus love language is about intentionally caring for the poor, the sick, the weak and vulnerable. Finding ways materially, spiritually that we’re actively being attentive to those who are struggling.

Jesus love language is about defending and protecting the life of everyone from the womb, to the terminally ill, to the one sentenced to death. Which means going out of our comfort zones and putting ourselves into really difficult positions where we walk with someone who is dying... defending someone who’s done defenseless things but still recognizing the dignity of all life... and yes, speaking out against abortion and lending our voices to protect those who cannot speak.

Jesus love language is about offering forgiveness and working towards reconciliation with those who have hurt us. That might mean we have to start by simply recognizing a hurt, allowing ourselves to face a painful thing and just being open to the idea of getting to a place of forgiveness.

Jesus love language is about loving our enemies. Often times our impulse is to say we don’t have any - so we might have to dig deep, seeing that we have enemies - maybe not personally, but individuals, people who work against what we believe, what we work for - and trying to find loving responses to them.

Jesus love language is about feasting on His word and His Body and Blood in the Eucharist. Recognizing our spiritual hunger - and looking to Him as the only source that can truly nourish us.

Jesus love language is about you and I sharing His word and becoming His body to the rest of the world. More and more people are disconnected from Jesus... from His Church... then at any time in our histories. So you and I might be the only face of Christ that some people might ever see... It’s important.

All of this is important... All of it is more demanding, and challenging then sending flowers, patting someone on the back, setting the table, taking a walk or simply saying I love you. Jesus’ expectations are more all-consuming. Which makes sense when we see that his act of love on the cross was all consuming as well. When we begin to keep his commands... striving to do all these things... we speak Jesus’ love language - and demonstrate not just our love for Him, but for one another. It’s a powerful and impacting love language for all to show that God is here among us.

THIS IS YOUR LIFE!

Hi everyone, here's my homily for the FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER - MAY 7, 2017.  The readings for today can be found at: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/050717.cfm.  Thanks for stopping by to read this blog, for sharing it on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit - and for your comments and feedback.  I'm grateful for your support!  God Bless - Fr Jim

HOMILY:
I wonder how many people remember the television program This is your life. I can remember watching re-runs when I was growing up and was home sick from school or on a snow day...but it was a show that was from way before my time originally airing in the 1950's. For those who aren’t familiar with it, the show was something like a documentary/reality TV/ game show. A person would be brought to the TV studios under some false pretense, surprised to learn that they would be the focus of an hour-long retrospective on their lives. People from their past – many of whom they hadn’t seen or heard from in years – would be there to surprise them. That’s probably why it wouldn’t work any more. With social media, it’s hard to imagine anyone completely losing track with people from their past - which was kind of essential because part of the drama of the program was to see the honoree hearing a voice of a friend or someone influential in their lives who they hadn’t seen or heard from in decades; you watched the expressions, the excitement, the flood of memories that would overwhelm the guests of honor as they recognized those voices.

The idea for the show started when Ralph Edwards it’s creator and host, was approached by some people from the United States Army and asked if he could "do something" for soldiers who were suffering in a hospital from traumatic injuries and were dealing with major depression as a result. Edwards went and visited them and found one soldier who was particularly despondent. He was pretty much confined to a bed and had this isolation, this distance about him. That’s when Edwards thought of the idea of presenting the man’s life on air. Rather than focusing solely on where the soldier was at that point, he wanted to integrate happier times from his past. So he brought in the soldier’s former track coach, people from his childhood, military officials he knew, and so on, for the first episode of the program, which was an overwhelmingly beautiful experience for the soldier. Hearing these voices, and re-engaging with people from his past, helped him to remember who he was. Not simply a man injured in the horrors of war. Two years later to the day that this first episode aired, the soldier, now rehabilitated, came to Edward’s studio in a wheelchair accompanied by his wife who he had recently married for one of the most emotional scenes on a show that had many high emotions. As the soldier was wheeled in, Edwards said "I told him, 'Here's a year's rent, and here's your key to your new home. Come and get it.' And the young soldier who just two years earlier was imprisoned by the wreckage he viewed his life as, got up and walked to the microphone. Edwards said "It was the greatest thrill I ever had. The crowd stood up and cheered.." Edwards recognized that what was essential to helping the soldier move out of his depression and begin his rehab and start a new life was to bring back memories through the voices of those who knew him; who could remind him of a happier past, to help the young man see that there was still hope for a happier future.

Throughout this Easter season, we’ve heard Gospel narratives, where even though Jesus’ friends keep learning news of and empty tomb, angelic visitors announcing Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead - that news doesn’t seem to be enough to relieve the fear, the terror, the sadness that the first followers were experiencing from Good Friday. Which makes sense. That day for those closest to Jesus was horrific for many reasons - but not the least of which was because they had rejected, betrayed and abandoned him at Jesus’ most trying moment. Those images from Good Friday of His torturous, brutal, gruesome death had left them devastated.


Last week we heard in the Gospel how the two disciples were heading out of town towards Emmaus even though they had been told the "good news"of Jesus’ resurrection... Thomas, misses the first encounter and doesn’t believe his fellow apostles testimony... When Mary Magdalene first saw the empty tomb, she feared that there had been another insult to Jesus, someone stealing His body – and when she first sees Jesus she thinks he’s a gardener and asks him did he steal the body and where did he put it...

What is able to transform the "good news" of Jesus’ victory over death from something they’ve heard about to something they experience: Hearing the voice of Jesus... In hearing that voice - they were reminded of all that Jesus had taught them.... all that he spoke of how God had never and would never abandon his people... and how that had been definitively, eternally demonstrated in His being risen from the dead, never to die again. With that, their hope for a happier future would resurrect as well.

Which leads us to today’s Gospel. Jesus refers to himself as "the Good Shepherd" and the "gate for the sheep" which is a popular image, but needs a bit of an explanation to those of us who don’t have a lot of experience with sheep. Sheep have a connection with the shepherd unlike that of other farmers with their animals. The Shepherd knows every one of his sheep: the one with the strange looking ear; that one with the cute face; the one who’s bigger and fuller than the rest- A Shepherd knows all of them. He knows when one out of 100 of them are missing.

At night, during Jesus' time, there would be three or four shepherds who’d put all of their sheep together in a pen while one of the shepherds would watch though the night protecting them from thieves, or wild animals; and in the morning, the shepherds would call, and the flocks would split and follow their respective shepherd. They knew which voice to follow in order to find direction in life. They recognized the voice of their shepherd.

As our Good Shepherd, Jesus tells us in this Gospel that if we listen to His voice and follow Him, He will lead us to an abundant life. That we will be saved. That death will have no power over us.

But simply having knowledge of this "good news" as something that we as Catholic-Christians believe isn’t enough... In fact, we may find ourselves like the disciples on the road to Emmaus on the way out of town, unable to truly believe it; like Thomas, thinking it can’t be true; or like Mary Magdalene, unable to recognize Jesus Christ standing right in front of her. We might even belike that soldier who was paralyzed literally and figuratively in the hospital thinking that his future was a limited one of despair and pain.

What will lift us out of those thoughts of despair is by hearing Jesus voice and remembering who we are.

Pope Francis gave three ways we can be sure we’re listening to the voice of Jesus. He said First "you will find the voice of Jesus in the Beatitudes. Second: you... know it when that voice speaks of the works of mercy. For example, in chapter 25 of St. Matthew: if someone tells you what Jesus says there, that is the voice of Jesus. Third: you may know it is the voice of Jesus when it teaches you to say ‘Father’, that is, when it teaches you to pray the Our Father."

It is good for us as Jesus’ beloved sheep to be here. We too need to hear the voice of the shepherd to remember who we are and who we belong to. Listening to the voice of the Shepherd, we hear him reminding us of God’s promises, how He has fulfilled those promises and has never, and will never abandon His People. Listening to the voice of the Shepherd, we hear Him inviting us to follow Him, even as we walk through our own dark nights with things that terrorize us. Listening to the voice of the Shepherd, we too can have our hopes for a happier future restored. If we are able to listen and hear that voice, follow that voice, then we can be confident that despite the unpleasant chapters we have to endure, the ending to our own hypothetical episode of this is your life has a real promise of an eternal, abundant conclusion.

GUARANTEED FIXES FOR EVERYTHING!!!!

Hi everyone - here's my homily for the THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER - APRIL 30, 2017.  The readings can be found at http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/043017.cfm .  Thanks as always for reading; for sharing it on Reddit, Twitter, Facebook and for your comments and feedback.  Thanks as always!  Fr Jim

HOMILY:
On Friday’s The Catholic Guy Show, the host, Lino Rulli talked about this growth of what can be described as "Catholic Self-Help" books and programs... Which as we started to look at the advertisements for them, you could be concerned they were making some lofty promises and outrageous claims. One guaranteeing to free you from any addiction. Another one promising to help you achieve the peace, the happiness you’re longing for. All you have to do is buy their book!  

One "program" in particular that I found particularly frustrating was directed to parents saying "You wish your child would return to church?" and then after sharing some frighteningly true statistics about the number of people who’ve stopped going to Mass, or claim not to be Catholic anymore made the bold claim ‘You need proven strategies that work’ - as they introduced their 16 part video series that promises "How to get your child back to the Church."

While it’s troubling to see such dramatic claims like that, I realized part of that disappointment came from them reminding me of some personal experiences. I don’t know how many conversations I have had over the years that start with "Yeah, I was raised Catholic, I used to go to Mass, but . . ." And then it might go in a whole bunch of different directions - I got a divorce . . .  The priest in my parish was accused of abuse . . Both of my parents died within three months of each other . . .

Or something like,
I prayed and prayed for my friend to be healed from this awful illness; for this job to come through; to win this award or that competition; to get accepted to that school, get that scholarship; and it didn't happen, so. . .

They leave. They check out. They don’t see the point to it any more. They might not have made a conscious decision about it. They might not have removed their names from the membership rolls. But in their hearts or their minds - they’ve left. I have to confess that earlier in my priesthood, when a story started with "Yeah, I was raised Catholic, I used to go to Mass but . . ,"  I used to be prepared to get into 'debate mode,' prepared to argue. I was going to make them see the light, I was going to get them back, trying to score another point with Jesus (Look, Jesus - I brought another one back!) 

I'd say, 'You got a divorce? Well, maybe we can meet and I can help you get an annulment' (as if that would erase all the pain involved in divorce). Or I'd say, 'Your priest was removed? Well, did you know that the number of priests like that is statistically very small compared to the vast numbers of good guys' (as if that would somehow would make those horrific atrocities go away)

Sure I was well intentioned and there was some truth in those statements. But when I think back I kind of cringe at those memories. For one thing, I can’t remember any time where that approach actually worked.  In fact, those times were all utter failures. Because my focus was on me and what I wanted to do... I was going to logically convince them they were wrong - I was going to get them to go to Church, be a part of a community, fix whatever problem or mistakes, so that - so what, exactly?


So that I'd feel important? So that I'd be right? So that I'd feel I earned my paycheck that week? What I finally learned was that it's not until you go through your own tough times, your own struggles, your own times of doubt and despair that you realize how inadequate this approach is.

If a relative dies, and someone tells you, "It’s great because they're with Jesus now," that doesn't help - it just brings you deeper into sadness (sure, I’m happy they’re with Jesus, but I’m still really, really sad, and I still really, really miss them). 

If a person you love is sick, and a well intentioned friend tells you that, "God never gives you more than you can handle" that often times makes people feel worse and it just leads you deeper into confusion (as if God wants evil for any person).

People say these types of things, share these expressions and the last thing they want to do is cause any more pain or hurt, but they do hurt.  These well intentioned folks want to be a light, relieve pain, somehow make things better -  and, somehow, they end up arguing with you, demanding to be heard, telling you how wrong you are. And because they seem so confident - and you can’t see it - can't hear it - can't understand it - you feel even more lost, even more disconnected.   

For us as Catholic Christians, it might be a novel idea to actually look to Jesus for an example on how to handle difficult, delicate, painful situations. Like we just heard in this Gospel. Where we hear of the two people on the road to Emmaus, on their way out of town. It's all been too much. Jesus was tortured, mocked, killed.   That was traumatic enough. In their minds, their hope is gone... Jesus’ vision and promises have all been crucified on that cross with Him.  In addition, they themselves have all been miserable failures in being able to stop the madness - or even have the guts to stand by their friend as he died. While Jesus was in the tomb, they had huddled together with the other disciples, hiding in fear.  Then, here it is Easter Sunday Morning, they hear these crazy reports from the women announcing they've not only seen angels, but angels proclaiming Jesus is alive.  Their response: They hit the road.

It's just too much for them to believe. And so we read they are "looking downcast" - basically,  they’re depressed – they're arguing among themselves- and they’re on their way out of town.
"Yeah, I was a follower of Jesus, but . . ."


What stands out in reading this beautiful encounter is that what ultimately brings their slow hearts back 'up to speed' is how they meet Jesus in their depression - on their roads of sadness, in the midst of their confusion.   They discover Jesus’ loving presence in the midst of their pain, doubts, and failures.  And how does Jesus do that? He patiently listens to them, (notice he doesn’t jump out and say "Uh, guys, it’s me...") Because He knows what they’ve gone through has been awful - Not that Jesus hasn’t had a bad couple days too – but in His selfless love, he listens to them share their pain and because He Listens to them, they are prepared for Jesus to share His story - even though they don’t at first realize it is Him. 

And what do they hear? That were able to hear Jesus recount to them that even in the midst of incredible suffering, He knew His Father was with Him- Knew he wasn’t abandoned and knew the Father was leading Jesus into His Glory. As they listen to Jesus, little by little, the unbelievable words of the women became a little less unbelievable . . . 

As these Emmaus-bound travelers listen to the Jesus they still don’t yet recognize, something about what He is saying is different - their hearts start to "burn within them." They can hear in His words the testimony of someone who has gone through incredible pain but never doubted God was present to Him, was present in Him.

They want that too. 
And so - as this 'stranger' seems about to leave them behind and continue His journey - they ask Him, and He agrees to stay with them. And in that staying with them, in that sharing in the Eucharist, their eyes are opened and they finally see that Jesus has been right there with them, all along.

That’s the central message that this Gospel wants us to rejoice in. Easter wasn’t just a historic event that happened thousands of years ago and ended. We as Jesus’ disciples 2000+ years later have come to know, and experienced and believe that Jesus is right here with us, too.  But we can’t allow our faith our belief to blind us to those we know who aren’t with us - or perhaps even some who are - who might not feel that; might not believe that – because of some pain, confusion, doubt, uncertainty they’re experiencing in their lives.  Something that is causing distress or despair in their spiritual lives that makes it hard for them to see Jesus, knowing Jesus is present to them in whatever trial, whatever cross they are bearing...

Rather than trying to explain to them how He is, Jesus invites us to listen to their pain. Instead of looking for proven strategies to get them to come to Mass, Jesus wants us to help them carry their cross. Then perhaps, our Love, our daily walking with each other through, at times, unbelievable difficulties, will make these words of scripture believable, relatable. We will experience and be able to share how our own hearts 'burning within us' as Jesus becomes present to us - in the Eucharist, in His word, and in our service to one another. And rejoice that Jesus remains and has indeed, 'stayed with us.'