HEY - WHERE'S MY MIRACLE?

Hi Everyone! Today we celebrate the great SOLEMNITY OF PENTECOST - May 23, 2015 - the event that concludes the 50 days of Easter when the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles and they left the Upper Room to preach the Gospel to the ends of the Earth. I thank you for finding this blog on this virtual part of the earth and for spreading it via facebook, twitter, reddit, etc. - and hope it helps you to come to know, love and share Jesus Christ in realtime. The readings for today can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/052415-pentecost-day.cfm (I used the reading from Galatians and the Gospel from John 20)


COME HOLY SPIRIT!

HOMILY:

A few months ago a friend of mine said "Fr. Jim you gotta check this movie out." It was called Henry Poole is Here and starred Luke Wilson - an actor some of you probably can’t picture right now, but might recognize if you saw him. In the film, Henry has been recently diagnosed with a terminal illness, and in response, he purchases a new home where he can consume a steady diet of pizza and whiskey in solitude as he awaits the inevitable.

Not long after moving into this house though, a strange phenomenon occurs. A somewhat nosey neighbor notices the image of Christ on the side of his house, she is convinced it has miraculous powers and it mysteriously starts to exude blood. While Henry doesn’t see it and refuses to acknowledge this phenomenon, a growing number of people begin coming to this site, almost making pilgrimage to it. Even people close to Henry are genuinely affected, sincerely moved, some begin to experience miracles themselves. Yet, Henry remains skeptical... even angry at all of the commotion. People who know all that Henry is suffering from keep suggesting that he touch the wall himself... What does he have to lose, they ask? He already is dying - why not give it a shot?

It was funny because I found myself feeling the same tension and saying just touch the stupid wall already! Yet the source of the tension and the main question that the film did a great job exploring was- is that the basis of faith? Is faith determined by whether they touch this phenomenon and experience a miraculous healing themselves - or were people able to see the image, experience the healing because they were already believers or because their hearts were even remotely open to it. If Henry touches it and he’s cured does that make him a believer? Will he discount it as merely a coincidence? If he touches it and nothing happens, does that confirm his lack of belief?

The film really captured a struggle that is all too familiar isn’t it? Why do some experience a miracle and some don’t? Or even more generally, more ordinary: Why doesn’t God perform some major phenomenon for us to make it clear, make it plain, to prove to us once and for all to us that he’s here... that he’s present... that he’s active in our midst?


For example, we heard in the First Reading from the Acts of the Apostles that fantastical account of the first Pentecost Sunday. The Apostles are gathered in that upper room – this strong driving wind fills the house, tongues as of fire comes upon the men gathered there - they are filled with the Holy Spirit which empowers them to go forth and speak foreign languages - and perform mighty acts of God.

We can envy that experience -- thinking "Lord that would be kind of cool... kind of nice?" If we were able to feel and experience something that miraculous. If we were able to go out and do something that impactful. I can fall into that temptation too. When I read how St. Peter - the same guy who denied he even knew Jesus on Good Friday at his darkest hour – yet after Pentecost Sunday is able to go forth, preach with such conviction, such boldness that thousands of people are baptized in one day - well let me just put it this way: in 16 years of priesthood, that’s not happened yet...

But all of those thoughts, as well intentioned as they might be, really are fruitless - in some ways even destructive. The truth of the matter is - the Holy Spirit is active in me, and in you. One obvious example is that we’re here. While it is Pentecost Sunday – for most people they only know it to be Memorial Day weekend. Of all the things we could be doing, of all the things that a majority of people are doing at this very moment - we are here. A great number of people we know, we love aren’t here today with us. Yet something moved us, motivated us to carve out this space, this time to be here. Maybe it is routine? That’s not a bad thing. We discount that good habits are just that - good habits - that are there to support us in good behavior, good movement. But we’re here — To hear this word...to take part in a truly miraculous event - To receive Jesus’ Body and Blood in the Eucharist.

And one of the things that struck me was how often we discount that type of action of the Holy Spirit in those types of good habits, those choices we make in our daily lives. As we keep looking for those big moments, the reality is that there are miraculous experiences where the Holy Spirit can be found, is acting, is moving in you and me in countless ways.

Think back to that second reading from St. Paul to the Galatians. Paul gives this whole list of examples of how we live as people touched and empowered by the Holy Spirit. But before that, he also offers a substantial list - an uncomfortable list -possibly a convicting list of the opposite of that type of living; outlining what he calls the works of the flesh...


immorality, impurity, lust, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like...

We often allow failures of the past when we’ve succumbed to one or all of the items in that list, (or maybe are struggling with right now) as well as other sins to weigh us down and perhaps dampen our faith. Yet the Gospel today specifically points to how Jesus is calling us not to stay there... not to live in the past, not to believe the lie that we are merely people of the flesh, letting those things weigh us down or define us. That’s why we hear in the Gospel on this last day of Easter, a flashback to the first thing Jesus does when He is risen from the dead on Easter Sunday: He offers us His lavish gift of mercy, of the forgiveness of our sins.

When we accept that gift, when we respond to that gift and start to let that impact our daily choices... when instead of letting our eyes give into seduction we open them to see the needs of those around us; when instead of raising our hands in anger we offer them to the Lord to do His work; when instead of letting our feet lead us to a place where we focus merely on our own comfort we allow our feet to move us to share the good news of Jesus Christ with others – then we start to experience the fruit of the Spirit Paul talked about ...love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

That is the miracle!! It's not something you hope for, but already have. The miracles of the Bible and today that we see or hear about are bonus, and they are for God's kingdom. There is a purpose for every miracle … they are never random.

When we open ourselves to see and experience those things ourselves happening in our daily lives, through our daily choices, - we have that image of Jesus Christ - not on a wall of a house, but in our very lives.... We are transforming to His image. When others can discern those things and see the Holy Spirit bringing Christ to life in us - then they too will have seen and experienced a miracle.

UPDATE - Incident at Newman Center II - May 21

Thanks to everyone who's called, texted, messaged, etc us regarding the incident from last evening (posted below).  We're grateful that our landscaper (Joe Lauritano Landscapers in Clifton NJ) were able to get a crane and crew together to spend over 2 hours cutting branches and lifting them off our building.  They were able to remove about 3/4 of the tree from the house, put temporary roofing (tarps and plywood) up to prevent further damage.

Tomorrow, General Contractors will be arriving to clear out the massive debris and an Architect will be out to assess the structural integrity of the house - hopefully giving us an "all clear" sign to allow us back into Newman II.  He will also map out a game plan for the substantial work that will be necessary.

By next week, we hope to have an even larger crane on site to finish the removal of the one tree and to remove three other massive trees in a similar area that have now, obviously, been deemed dangerous.

We appreciate your concern, and especially your prayers and support.  Again, my thanks to everyone from the City of Clifton, to the Archdiocese of Newark, to Joe Lauritano and his crew - and to all of our friends - both local and around the world checking in on us.





Incident at Newman II - May 21, 2015

I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall be always in my mouth Psalm 34:1

Last night, a few hours after Commencement exercises concluded at Montclair State University, we had a substantial tree fall onto the house which has been unofficially dubbed “Newman II” – the new property the Archdiocese of Newark purchased for our expanding program here last August.  The tree appears to have rotted out inside and simply fell (considering there was no rain or even a breeze last night) around midnight.

Thank God - no one was injured.  That’s the most important thing.  

And additionally, thankfully we have insurance, the dedication and support of the Archdiocese of Newark, attentive responses from the City of Clifton (Fire Department, Police Department, Buildings Department) as well as our own landscaper (who is also a Clifton Firefighter) who were on scene soon after this incident and been on site since 7 am and are putting together a plan of action to get the tree off the house, do some temporary work to make sure there’s no further damage - and will eventually repair/rebuild the roof.

Obviously anyone who’s been a homeowner and gone through similar incidents (and far worse – particularly thinking back to almost 2 years ago with Superstorm Sandy) know this is a stressful, unwelcome thing.  But it’s good to keep in mind the blessings when discouraging things arise.

In this social-media world, and before stories and things get exaggerated, I thought I’d share this with you all.  Will keep you posted.  In the meantime, keep us in your prayers...



THE COMPANY WE KEEP

Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the 7th SUNDAY OF EASTER (out here in the North East of the United States, we still celebrate Ascension Thursday on Ascension Thursday :) ) – MAY 17, 2015. The readings for today can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/051715-seventh-sunday-easter.cfm - Thanks as always for reading and sharing this blog on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, etc. and for your feedback and comments. God Bless - have a great week - Fr. Jim


HOMILY:


Elizabeth Durand, was a writer for the New York Post and a few years ago she wrote a column describing a really bad day she was having. After being able to get free internet access from a neighbor’s WIFI for a few months, the neighbor moved (the nerve of them), leaving her disconnected. She decided it was (finally) time to order her own service. Which resulted in a test of patience as Verizon had to send her four "home installation kits" (the first two were sent to the wrong addresses – and the third kit had a box that was empty). When the fourth finally arrived, you can imagine her frustration when she plugged it in and nothing happened. After all this a technician would have to come to her apartment for a visit.

So she chronicles how the Verizon tech arrives, tells her he needs to find the "Verizon box" for the apartment building. This sets off the "difficult day:" She doesn’t know where that box is; she has to call the super; the super tells her it’s in the courtyard; "well how do you get into the courtyard?" she asks; "well you have to go thru Bills apartment... But you know what??" Bill is late in his rent!" the Superintendent angrily remembers, so the super hangs up; the Verizon guy suggests to Elizabeth, they just knock on Bills door and get into the courtyard themselves, which they do.

They knock on Bills door, pound on it as no one answers and just as they’re banging on the door– it just opens. Elizabeth says out loud "who leaves their door open in New York?" as she steps inside. To her surprise, Bill was there - however he was dead. The Verizon tech told her to call the super as he went to look for the Verizon box. When they found the door to the courtyard had been padlocked, the Verizon tech suggests that Elizabeth look around the apartment for the key, which she decided against. "Suit yourself" the tech said as he left. The super arrived and then said to Elizabeth, "well it will be easier next time for the technician [to hook your internet up] because you don’t need Bill’s permission [to get in here]." With that he said "How about you and me grab a drink?" She declined.

With that, Elizabeth left, needing to clear her head, going to the library where she could email some friends. She said as she walking to the library, she was reflecting on the whole thing - wondering what happens that everyone seemed so callous. The phone guy has to come back - Her super is hitting on her, she needs to log on to the internet to send some emails - and oh yeah, Bill - her neighbor - is dead. She poured out all of this to a friend in an email. Her friend replied with all the love and concern you’d hope for as he asked "Do you know how much for the dead guy’s apartment?"

Oh, yeah, she did - she had already decided to rent it.

It was a bizarre read, to be sure. I wasn’t sure if she meant it as a parody or what - Because even the headline to the story "Death of sentiment: an apartment, a body and what New York does to you" seems to go along with the almost unapologetic tone of the entire article. Here a man has died, and yet life continues on without much thought - little to no care at all ...other than how this affects their schedules, their lives. "Ah well," all of these characters seem to say, "that’s what being a New Yorker does to you...ya want yo internet or what???"

Its unfair to accept this writer’s characterization that all the citizens of New York are like this, but it’s interesting that many didn’t seem to have a problem with that type of portrayal. There wasn’t any letters to the editor condemning this or citing more noble examples to counter this episode of self-absorption. It’s almost as if people aren’t shocked by this story of a dead man discovered in an apartment as the world around the man seems more concerned with the internet hooked up.

There is something to that theory or that belief that the company we keep - who we surround ourselves with – that affects us. A friend said not too long ago "I am blessed to work each day with very holy people. Being around holy people makes you want to be more holy. The opposite holds true, too." (No he doesn’t work with me!)

I think that’s what is at the heart of Jesus prayer in today’s Gospel passage. Here we are on the last Sunday of Easter... (Next Sunday the season of Easter will conclude with the Feast of Pentecost) And the Gospel passage comes from Jesus’ prayer at the Last Supper before his Passion begins. And what is it on his heart and mind? It’s a theme we’ve been hearing for the last few weeks - this desire for unity, this hope for "remaining in Him and He remaining in us."

In today’s Jesus takes that a step further and reveals some of his concerns.

He’s praying that his followers will not be corrupted by the world. He’s praying that they will not be pulled apart from one another as a group and even more that they won’t be lured away from the Father to become something he knows they’re not. He knows the great capacity of each of His followers to bring the very Life and Love of the Lord to the ends of the earth. And at the same time, that’s a choice every follower has to make (and renew almost daily) for the possibility is right there to be the one who will betray, deny or abandon Him. To forget all that He has said.; forget all that he has done.

Jesus’ prayer isn’t simply out of loving concern for us individually, but also because of the effect we have on one another. Which is why he commands us to celebrate the Eucharist together "DO THIS IN MEMORY OF ME" - every week. We aren’t here on Sunday morning to somehow appease God... We are here to receive the very life of God, to receive Jesus body and blood - and to become His body to be there for each other. We need one another - we need to support one another and to be Christ for one another and one of the essential ways that happens is when we come together around this Altar.

For if it’s understood or accepted that being a citizen of an earthly city (like New York) can make people so unsensitive and so uncaring that a death of a neighbor isn’t mourned but seen as an opportunity to get a better apartment (at a cheaper rent) - then perhaps the opposite is true...being together as God’s family, hearing His word, receiving His Body and Blood, can change our hearts, minds, perspectives too. Then Jesus’ prayer that our belonging to His eternal city will "do something"positive to you (and I) and the world around us.

AN INCONVENIENT (& INEFFICIENT) REALITY: LOVE

Hi everyone – Here’s my homily for MAY 10, 2015 - 6th SUNDAY OF EASTER. The readings for today can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/051015.cfm Thanks as always for reading - and for sharing this blog on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit -etc... I’m always grateful for your feedback and comments as well. Have a great week - and to all our Mom’s, Happy Mother’s Day! - God Bless - Fr. Jim

HOMILY:

Sometimes our modern world seems to be bringing to life what life was depicted in the cartoon "The Jetsons" - the show that took place in the future with these devices and inventions that never seemed possible (or at least not to me).  The other night there was a commercial for this thing called the Roomba (which sounds like a dance) which is this thing that looks like a giant hockey puck that simply drives around on your carpets all day long vacuuming on its own.  We have skype on computers (and "Face-time" on some phones) which allows people to talk to each other face to face, video screen to video screen with seeming relative ease and somewhat inexpensive...And in the not too distant future, there will be self-driving cars and trucks.  Vehicles that will be for the most part autonomous.  This last week the first self-driving semi-truck hit the road in Nevada.  It boasts:  It will take control only on the highway, maintaining a safe distance from other vehicles and staying in its lane. It won’t pass slower vehicles on its own. If the truck encounters a situation it can’t confidently handle, like heavy snow that covers lane lines, it will alert the human that it’s time for him to take over, via beeps and icons in the dashboard. If the driver doesn’t respond within about five seconds, the truck will slow down gradually, then stop.  All things that George Jetson, Jane, his wife and company would be all too familiar with - but things that to us has been fascinating and amazing.  It’s transforming how we live.   In a lot of instances, the motivation has been to make things more efficient, safer.  Just think if (or rather when) they perfect the self-driving cars and trucks - the number of car accidents due to drunk driving, distracted driving, people falling asleep - could theoretically disappear.

And we’ve almost grown accustomed to this type of living- and in some ways expect that type of efficiency, and convenience in every walk of life...  I laugh because I sound like an old curmudgeon talking to our college students during this final exam time about how much easier finals are today compared to when I last took a final exam 16 years ago.  Thanks to the wide-availability of laptaps and wifi and professors wanting the convenience as well - a lot of them don’t have to sit in a room for two hours per class and write in a blue book things that they learned, memorized (or crammed for that matter) into their heads.  In one case, a professor has given them a take home exam which is open note, open book which even the students confess "you have to work to fail this course" (Geez, where was this professor for Freshmen Spanish????) 


 

But even things that we imagined were givens - things that we always imagined needed to be done face to face, person to person are starting to be bypassed in the name of efficiency and convenience by the "rise of the machines": more and more doctors are chatting with patients virtually on a video screen, asking their symptoms and prescribing something without seeing them at all.  The number of people talking on the phone has decreased in favor of texting -which while both can convey the same useful necessary information we’re looking for is somewhat cold and impersonal.  

 

The reality is we’re not going to stop the march forward in these inventions and the progress they bring, the challenge is for us to recognize not everything in life is convenient, efficient.   We hear in the Gospel Jesus giving his definition of Love: No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends concluding with "I command you: love on another".

 

That’s not something that is fulfilled in sending an emoticon of a heart to someone; or
ordering something online and having something delivered to a person that you "love."  It’s not even fulfilled when we see a commercial for people who are suffering, like St. Jude’s Childrens Hospital or those devastated by the earthquakes in Nepal or Tornados in Oklahoma and we pull out our credit cards and make a donation.  Don’t get me wrong, those are good things and steps - but the love that Jesus commands, demands of us costs us more than all of these things.

 

Love cost us, our convenience, our preferences, our desires.  Love asks us to focus not on ourselves - but to forget ourselves - in light of that which is loved.    That’s why its beautiful that this Gospel should fall on Mother’s Day.  This profoundly beautiful vocation that women are called to, when responded to correctly, beautifully demonstrates that definition of love quite profoundly.  Our biological Mom’s, from the moments of our conceptions, literally gave their very lives to us... nourishing us, enabling us to grow and form - physically, emotionally, spiritually - in their very wombs...at tremendous cost to them personally — ask any Mom about things like morning sickness, the sleepless nights, the pain of delivering a child.   Mom’s give beautiful witness to Jesus’ command of laying down one’s life for another... and in most cases, that’s a lifelong gift of themselves to their children.  This is even demonstrated in those who are Mothers in a non-biological relationship - Aunt’s, Godmothers, Grandmothers...  Religious figures like many religious sisters, the epitome of which we find in Mother Teresa - we see how that "maternal instinct" to selflessly nurture, care for others is lived out in many beautiful ways that this National Holiday asks us to pause, reflect, honor and give thanks for.


It’s true that some have trouble celebrating this day because they may have had difficult experiences with their mothers. Mothers are human beings who can make wrong choices just like any one of us, and there are consequences for these actions. We have high expectations for mothers, and when they are not met, conflict occurs. Sometimes expectations are built on the "perfect" families people see on television, or from their friends that have "perfect" mothers, and other areas in our lives. When your experience is the opposite of what you believe should be, it is very painful and can often leave a scar.

It doesn't need to stay that way.

Laying down our life in these instances can be found in the difficult act of Forgiveness. Forgiveness is an act of compassion and grace, much like what Jesus gives to us. If we don't forgive, we put ourselves in a prison of anger, hate and bitterness. By forgiving, (or if you’re not ready to consider that right now, maybe just starting by praying for the desire to forgive) we begin to free ourselves from this prison. We are no longer are controlled by all the emotions of not forgiving. We begin to experience the profound freedom to love as Jesus modeled for us on the cross. Just as we didn’t deserve His forgiveness, He gave it to us anyways. So if you’re struggling with your relationship with your Mom, struggling with forgiveness, that can be your challenge to allow Jesus into that pain... Allow the Lord to help you.... who promises to always be with you, because you are not an in inconvenience to Him.
 
But for all of us Christians, we are challenged to see in those examples here the vocation of Motherhood is lived out in fruitful ways – one example, one image of fulfilling Jesus’ expectations of what it means to be his disciple, what it means to follow him, what it means to be His friends, what it means to Love.  That’s not accomplished simply in "liking" Jesus on facebook; That’s not fulfilled even in our being here every Sunday. 

That happens when we love one another selfllessly. That happens when we offer that gift lavishly especially to those most in need... not counting the cost, not expecting anything in return - simply doing this, simply living this way because that is the example He has set for us.


HAPPY MOTHERS DAY

Mom and I after my Ordination to the Priesthood


Recently, I came across this beautiful quote from Cardinal Joseph Mindszenty, a former Archbishop of Esztergom, Hungary. As I give thanks to God, for my Mom, especially this weekend as we celebrate Mother's Day, I share this for all of you to reflect on and hopefully spur you to give thanks and express gratitude for your Mom's as well:


Mom and I after my First Mass
The most important person on Earth is a mother.
She cannot claim the honor of having built Notre Dame Cathedral.
She need not.
She has built something more magnificent than any cathedral
- a dwelling for an immortal Soul,
the tiny perfection of her baby's body...

The Angels have not been blessed with such a grace.
They cannot share in God's creative miracle to bring new Saints to Heaven.

Only a human mother can.

Mothers are closer to God the Creator than any other creature.
God joins forces with mothers in performing this act of creation...
What on God's good earth is more glorious than this: to be a mother?



Remember one thing: GROW

 Hi everyone!  - Here's my homily for the FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER- MAY 3, 2015 - which is also our 8th Annual "Senior Send-Off" Celebration (sort of a "Baccalaureate Mass for our graduates and those seniors who will be finishing either over the Summer or next semester and won't be here for next year's Senior Send off)  The readings for today's Mass can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/050315.cfm.  Thanks as always for reading, commenting, sharing this blog on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and whererver else you're all coming from.  (Crazy looking at the statistics, over 4,000 people visited this blog last month, and crazier, the second country with the most page views after the United States?  Ukraine!  So welcome all Ukrainian visitors!!!!)  Have a great week - God Bless- Fr Jim


HOMILY:
I’ve been pretty reflective lately…


This June I will have been here at Montclair State for 8 years, which when I think about the different schools I’ve attended, different priestly assignments I’ve had - is the longest I’ve ever been in one place. And now - begrudgingly I might add – having crossed the line into my 40's, I tend to be more reflective as well. One crazy revelation is that this group of Seniors is basically "my" 2nd class of seniors that I’ve been with since Freshmen year. To me, in a lot of ways - you all become part of my family (it’s one of the beautiful things of priesthood - and one of the reasons you call me Father - well that’s a reciprocal thing - you all become my kids, who I think about, worry about, pray about a lot more than I might let on) - but it’s a bizarre experience that you kids, don’t know my first batch of kids - unless you join our alumni group (which I’m hoping all our seniors will do).

Anyway, with Senior Send-off being tonight, it’s always this mix of emotions.  A great deal of memories come up for all of us as we honor those preparing to leave Montclair State.  For you seniors, what are some things floating through your minds? Maybe you’re thinking of that first time you visited this campus... your first class... your first roommate. Maybe you're remembering that class you struggled with and didn’t think you were going to get through (yet somehow did). Maybe you're remembering late nights at the Red Hawk Diner - waiting three hours for a milkshake...(and not really caring since you’re hanging out with your friends). Maybe you're remembering a really difficult time you went through and a friend that stayed up, talking you through it.


That’s the thing with memories, you can’t really control which ones seem to suddenly emerge.  In praying with these scriptures, thinking about this evening, one memory comes to mind. It was 8 years ago - at my first Homecoming here at MSU. Like the freshmen, I was clueless so I had no idea what to expect.   But having been to homecoming events at my alma matter, I knew they were usually big, fun, exciting events. So I wanted to check it out. The schedule said there was some parade going on at the Ampi-theater.    So I sat and watched these different floats come by - usually pulled by a pick-up truck. It was usually a different sorority or fraternity, or some of the other clubs and organizations on campus putting together a musical act, a dance act - sometimes a comedy act (sometimes unintentionally so). Honestly, I don’t remember any of those acts in particular. I only have one memory from that day….


This being a student run thing, it wasn’t exactly the most well orchestrated of events (shocking, I know) So one act would finish up and then they would try to clear their props and stuff, get pulled away, and the next group would come in. The weird thing was in between these "acts" they didn’t have any music on while these transitions were going on - so there would be this awkwardness between each "act".  Somewhat surprisingly to me was that it seemed kind of quiet among the audience - almost like we were sitting in a theater or something.

As we were sitting there, in the distance was one of the Montclair State trucks that we see regularly on campus driving from college hall area towards University Hall.  For some reason, the entire audience was now silently transfixed – watching the truck driving past us all. And then all you heard in this awkward silence was the voice of one obviously inebriated young male correctly demonstrating his reading abilities as he screamed out the word that was printed on the side of the truck next to a picture of a tree.  In a cry- scream - he shouted GROW - which, to me, remains my most vivid memory of Homecoming at MSU.

Why, 8 years later that just sticks in my mind, I don’t quite know. Memories are weird like that. What visuals, sounds, smells even surround particular moments, events - become cemented in the heart and mind and pop up at random - we don’t seem to have control over that.

But if we can remember one thing tonight - and if my drunken friend, whoever you are, is a way to remember it - that one thing would be the word - Grow.  Because at the heart of today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us that He wants us to GROW. Think about what we just heard about our being connected, our being in a relationship with him, this image of a vine and branches. That’s a tremendously beautiful thing. If you ever have seen or looked at a vine and its branches, you can’t quite see where the vine ends and the branch begins. There’s such a connection between the two that they are fused together. And from that, the branches continue to grow, they can become massive almost vine-like themselves as they continue to bear fruit... So think about that:  what a comfort it is to hear, to know in our heart of hearts that God looks at each and everyone of us as an extension of His love, as an extension of Himself.  That He has tremendous plans for each of us - each of you... Plans that will bring joy to your lives - plans that will build up his kingdom all around us: whether you are looking to work as a musician; a teacher; work in ministry; be a police officer – whatever it is that has lit that fire within you, motivated you to study what you’ve studied and begun to pursue what you are pursuing - that’s one of many gifts God is blessing you with. A gift that will bring you joy and happiness - not in a childlike way where everyday will be sunshine, rainbows, and candy - but the mature joy of doing what you were meant to do. Seeing and experiencing the effect that has on the world around you.   Knowing you are wanted, you are needed by God – He desires that you will continue to Grow into the very young men and women He has called you to be to fulfill a specific purpose in this world. 

But this imagery of the vine and branches – this call to Grow - it can be a terrifying thing as well. Because we have to be humble enough to recognize that connection to Jesus, our true vine, is essential. Without Him we have no life, we have no potential to grow.  In a world that so often seems to be demonstrating selfish behavior, self-centered behavior - People have seemed to buy into the lie that somehow they’ve created themselves into being. There’s almost a loss of memory about who we are and whose we are.... It’s a humbling and necessary thing to recognize, especially dear Seniors, all the professors who challenged you, the classmates who helped you to see things differently, the people who make up this great institution who've helped make you (soon to be) great graduates of this University... It’s a humbling and necessary thing to recognize your Mom’s and Dad’s; your grandparents; your brothers and sisters and everyone else who has helped you throughout your lives who helped you even make it to the doors of this institution and helped you through your 4 (in some cases, 4 plus) years here - and equipped you with the opportunities to come to MSU. But even more, it’s a humbling and necessary thing to recognize our connection to Jesus Christ - that without God’s very gift of life, without His overflowing abundance of blessings of gifts, talents, abilities He’s showered us with - without His love to sustain us, none of us, none of this would exist. 

Once we recognize that, then, sure, it’s humbling, it’s even a little frightening to hear Jesus tell us "I need to prune you" – not because we’re bad, not as some kind of punishment - but so that we can continue to grow, to flourish, to become our true - our truest - selves.  As John says in his first epistle, ‘We are now the sons of God; and it hath not yet appeared what we shall be.’  That transformation can only happen when we allow Jesus to prune out the unloving things we do, the self-centered things we often choose that only can lead to our destruction.  We grow every time we serve rather than look to be served.  We grow when we emulate examples of holiness, generosity and sacrifice in our world, rather than putting ourselves first, being self-centered... We grow when we deal with people who are - let’s be honest - not always easy to love, who make demands of us and our time, who fail to live as they should, who - like all of us -need to be forgiven. We grow, when we follow Jesus' command, which he says 8 times in this short scripture - REMAIN IN ME - do not go elsewhere, do not go away, do not be apart from Me, for it is only by remaining in Me that you will ever truly be yourself.  

As we say goodbye to our Seniors tonight, my advice to you is the same advice I give to all of you gathered here, the same advice I try to follow myself, that I struggle to follow everyday.  Wherever you go, wherever your path leads you in life, do not give up Christ.  The world may seem to offer you shortcuts - 'work-arounds,' ways to get what you want, to excel, to succeed - that by-pass Christ altogether.  But remember who we are.  As beautiful, as talented, as good-natured and good-hearted as we are at our best we are, in the end, His branches.  Christ is our vine.  From that Vine we draw our strength, we draw our charity, we draw our inner-beauty, our self-respect, our endurance, our vitality, our will to help others and better our world. Christ says He is the vine, and that without Him, we can do nothing.  That does not mean we are worthless, that we are, in fact, nothing - far from it.  It is simply a statement of fact - that, to become our truest selves, we must have Him, we must include Him and the love He brings into our lives.  The grace He gives us, His life, His love - with that, wherever we may go, we will always have enough, always have more than enough, really.


Without Christ in our lives, we can do nothing.  With Him, we can do anything.

A SHEPHERD WHO CHANGES DIAPERS

Hi everyone, here’s my homily for - April 25, 2015 - Fourth Sunday of Easter. The readings for today’s Mass can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/042615.cfm Thanks as always for reading, for your feedback and for sharing this on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, etc. Have a great week - God Bless, Fr Jim

HOMILY:

The picture that floated on my facebook feed looked like it could’ve been one of many of the students I minister to at Montclair State. That’s probably why it caught my attention: this young guy, dressed like he just came back from being on the beach, holding this beautiful newborn baby boy. Was this a current student with a new brother or nephew? Maybe an alumn holding his son? And then I noticed the headline attached to the picture: 23 year old Australian student adopts pregnant, homeless 17 year old cousin to ‘give her a chance at a better life.’

Tommy Connolly who was an aspiring athlete went to track down his long-lost cousin before resuming studies at the University of the Sunshine Coast.  It had been almost a decade since he had last seen her, but never in his wildest imaginations could he have imagined how much had changed for her in those years.  She was sleeping outdoors near the coast; 32 weeks pregnant; the father of the baby was in jail; the girl’s parents being heroin addicts themselves were not a part of her life (as Tommy describes it, "She's spent more time on the streets than anywhere else, and knows the police better than she knows her own family")  She was practically illiterate, no phone, no shoes. So Tommy made a bold decision:  he took his cousin into his home during her last weeks of pregnancy; and then began to sell fruits and vegetables in between studies to cover the cost of moving into a new, bigger space and to prepare to welcome his baby cousin. 


Most of this would’ve remained anonymous, had it not been for Tommy’s older brother starting a go-fund me page to help them get a little more secure. As his brother describes it: Without giving a second thought Tommy took her in and spent all his spare time working to get her clothes, medical needs and government assistance. At the age of just 23 Tommy took in our little cousin and found them both a place to live that was safe and could house them both plus the new born baby. He did all of this whilst studying, training and working long hours to make ends meet. A month ago our little cousin gave birth to a health baby boy and the first person he saw that cut the cord was my brother Tommy. So dedicated he was that he sat patiently in the emergency room finishing his University assignments while he waited for her to recover from the birth. As you can see by this picture mum and baby are perfectly healthy and happy and Tommy was there for the whole thing. [The GO-FUND Me page can be found at http://www.gofundme.com/helpmybrotommy]

Every year on this Fourth Sunday of Easter we hear one of Jesus’ "The Good Shepherd" gospels. Being removed from farm life, not knowing much about sheep or shepherds, the full weight of the symbolism, the meaning, the significance of all that can fly over our heads. But for Jesus and his original listeners, it would’ve resonated quite profoundly. 

Shepherds are by their nature protective of these simple, needy, lovable creatures, these sheep.  They become so protective that they end up sleeping in front of the gate of the pen to make sure they don’t wander off or, even more, to keep watch to make sure that some other vicious animal - like a wolf - preying on these weak animals, don’t come and attack them.  Should one of the sheep get lost, the Shepherd would know, and the sheep would be able to identify their shepherd by his voice, by his smell as they were being sought after by the Shepherd.

Sadly that dedication seems foreign to many in our day and age. We might be more accustomed to the image of the hired hand - who works for a period of time, does his "job" - but his mind, his heart is elsewhere.  Taking care of the sheep, feeding them, getting them to their pen, yep - fine, but 5:00 its quitting time - see ya sheep. And you can bet if there’s some wild, ravenous wolf on the scene, he’s out of there.  Which is why Jesus makes the contrast - For the Shepherd, his life is tied to His sheep. Good times, bad times, they are his and he is theirs. The shepherd knows that in his heart, as do the sheep, who hear his voice and follow him.  So throughout these 7 short verses, Jesus keeps repeating I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
We know the depth of the meaning of those words to Christ as we look at the Cross. We see the standard he has set. And while on some level those images - whether they be sheep and shepherd or the cross on Calvary are familiar, and speak to us on some level, they still seem removed, still seem like a distant, foreign example for us to comprehend or ever begin to emulate.

Which is why stories like 23-year old Tommy Connolly are important for us to hear.  Interestingly, his older brother shared that previously Tommy had volunteered to work and raise funds for a school for underprivileged children in Ecuador.  No doubt most people would look at doing something like that as making him a "good person" – almost fulfilling some unwritten expectation that would place that title on him – and see this recent act, of putting himself out to the extent he has might even be dismissed or characterized as "extreme"  (I can almost hear some friend or relative saying to Tommy "that’s sweet Tommy, but don’t get involved... That’s not your worry...") Yet, when we think about it, to go to the lengths he has, taking on his cousin’s burdens and new cousin’s needs – truly laying down his own wants, his own needs, his life–  all with the single hope of trying to help the little boy have the life his mother never had seems to be the personification of being a "Good shepherd."

His cousin beautifully expressed her gratitude (where else but on facebook) as she said: Since carrying this gorgeous boy, all of my friends kept telling me that he would be taken away from me. This made my pregnancy very difficult. All I wanted was to give this little man a better life than I had – a second chance was all I wanted. Thank-you, Tommy for everything, and for helping me with my spelling.
To give birth to that kind of hope, to reawaken a faith – not even in God, but just in humanity, in her own family – that wasn’t something that could’ve been accomplished simply with a few generous donations or the perfunctory actions that any number of hired hands could’ve offered.  No, like Jesus, our Good Shepherd, Tommy seemed to know there was a call to lay down his life for another.


For you and I, we know that we’re being called and challenged at this very moment to do something for someone…  Who is it that we’re being sent to go out and seek? Who is it that is lost, scattered, forgotten that we need to bring back?  Who are the people filled with fear and doubts who need to have rekindled within themselves their great value, gifts and talents?  How are we being asked to bring the peace and justice of God into our relationships and communities? Jesus is giving us this true model of leadership – of humble, selflessness – of being Good Shepherds ourselves. Will we answer that call?