Don't ignore the WARNING!!

Hello everyone, here's my homily for the 26th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - September 25, 2016.  The readings for today can be found at: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/092516.cfm .  Thanks for stopping by to read this blog, for sharing it on facebook, twitter and reddit - and for your feedback and comments. Have a great week!  Fr Jim


HOMILY:

Have you ever noticed how many warning signs we get over things that you wouldn’t think we needed?  For example:

You would think that it would be obvious to all of us that driving 65 mph on the Garden State Parkway, or even slower on local roads with all kinds of split minute distractions and things to be aware of, that texting and driving isn’t a good idea. You would think we wouldn’t need to be reminded of that. Yet the fact that there's a nationwide campaign with the slogan over the last few years called "Stop the Texts/Stop the Wrecks" all begging, pleading people not to text and drive says we do. Just a few that you might have seen took various approaches to try to get the point across to people - "Texting and Driving the same as suicide" "11 Teens die per week from texting and driving" "It’s a short trip from OMG to 911."

Or - you would think that by now, everyone knows the dangers of smoking cigarettes (not going to get into the discussion of the dangers of smoking other things, lest this turn into an unintended debate). We’ve heard it in health classes in high school learning the dangers that tobacco, nicotine can cause to our bodies;    we’ve seen the dramatic commercials on Television where people who’ve lost limbs, been diagnosed with Cancer appeal directly to viewers not to suffer a similar fate that they have from smoking;    we can’t miss the huge warning labels slapped right on every packaging of cigarettes basically saying "THIS STUFF CAN KILL YOU."   While the number of people smoking has decreased in the last few decades, obviously there’s a great number of people who do seem to be ignoring these warnings.


Or drunk driving...  How many celebrities do we need to see get arrested followed by a horrible public spectacle;  How many DWI checkpoints need to take place (some that are even announced well in advance, so it’s not like police want to arrest people) How many simulations have high schools done dramatically showing students getting arrested and others being portrayed as being killed in the accident to underline in our minds that we shouldn’t drink and drive?  Yet, people still take the chance - lie to themselves "I’m okay it’s only a few blocks" - get behind the wheel and ignore the warning...

All of these different efforts, campaigns, messages warning people of the possibilities of making poor choices... can be extremely powerful, effective, heartfelt and sincere messages.  But ultimately the decision to pay attention, to heed, to change our behaviors or not... to take the warnings to heart. . . to not be foolish to think we won’t suffer similar disastrous events as these other poor folks rests on us.

That’s the thing with warning signs we have to see the importance of them, realize what’s at jeopardy and then make a fundamental choice or decision to pay attention to them. To learn from them.  To heed the warning...

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is issuing a warning.  And it’s not simply a warning about the need of taking care of the poor. For the last few weeks we’ve been hearing Jesus teaching.  And in this crowd he’s got different groups listening to him:

- He’s got his disciples and followers there - so those are the ones who are already committed to Him. 

- He’s got those who’ve heard about Him coming around and wanting to see what all the fuss is about.

- He’s got the Pharisees, the religious elite, the people who believed they were the religious experts of the day -- they are there checking out what Jesus is saying too. 

And what have they been listening to Jesus say?  Well in this one day, they first heard the parables of the Lost sheep - the Lost Coin - and "The prodigal son" (which we reflected on 2 weeks ago); then they heard the parable of the dishonest steward (which was last week’s gospel). And then right before we pick up on today’s Gospel reading, there was a small but really important incident that the lectionary skips before we get to Jesus telling this story about a dead man named Lazarus. 

In that skipped portion, the Gospel says that "the Pharisees who heard all of this sneered at Jesus."

Imagine that - they sneered at all that they had just heard. What was it exactly that they were so dismissive over?

- Were they laughing at Jesus’ revelation of who God is, this loving, merciful father who never stops thinking about any of His Children any of us - even the most lost, wayward of us...

- Were they rejecting Jesus’ telling them that the blessings of wealth, health and power aren’t signs – aren’t ways of showing how great and wonderful we are in God’s eyes... but rather it’s in what we do with those things, how we live as God’s own children that will determine that. 

- Were they dismissing all of these things, considering themselves more superior to Jesus?


Whatever the case might be, they were missing the warning sign that Jesus was offering which was how destructive they were being to their spiritual lives.  Because as the rich and powerful Pharisees - who thought to themselves that they knew it all - that they "got" religion... (and probably thought to themselves Who’s this Jesus telling us who God is?  How dare he tell us that we need to take these blessings which tells us God loves us and help those who God has cursed - that’s why we’re rich and they're poor).

Jesus loves and cares even for the Pharisees even as they mock him, He remains undeterred and tries again with another warning. So we hear this cautionary tale about this poor man Lazarus.  

Now the thing about this message though is that it’s not Jesus being a pre-cursor to Robin Hood. He’s not interested in "class warfare" and pitting the rich versus the poor - which sadly some try to do to advance political arguments or agendas.

Because if you listened carefully, Jesus isn’t condemning wealth or riches. He’s condemning that the rich man who died was so attached to them, so blinded by them, embarked on a lifelong relentless pursuit for them, even to the expense of everyone around him.   Lazarus –who was materially poor and suffering didn’t even cross this guy’s mind as he passed him on the front stoop everyday. What’s so jarring is that the poor man isn’t some nameless, anonymous individual. The rich guy (interestingly who does remain nameless)  knows the poor guy’s name — LAZARUS.  After he had ignored the opportunity to utilize the most precious gifts of wealth, health and power to help the man at the door. After he had rejected the love of God which could have been radically transformed his and Lazarus life and countelss others around him... after all that, he’s wondering why there’s this abyss and chasm between him and God. He’s the one who’s created this chasm. Even then he remains self-centered...as he finally acknowledges Lazarus- calling out to him by name, he doesn’t beg his forgiveness - he only does so to ask Lazarus to now alleviate the torment he’s created for himself.

By then, Jesus explains, it’s too late.

God’s love, His Mercy, His desire for us to be with Him for all eternity never ends. That’s who God is. So these warning aren’t meant to scare us into following Him.  But Jesus wants us to be clear that these are all choices that we make. You and I might not be the "rich man" in the parable in terms of material wealth, but if we take stock of our blessings, our opportunities, our comforts - we have to see how indeed rich we are in many different ways. And there are people in our lives, in our visions who are in a sense calling out to us for our attention, our assistance, our love. There are choices that are played out everyday in countless ways right here in our towns, our families, our campus, dorms and classrooms. 

How we recognize them by name and respond with offering whatever it is of ourselves that we can to fulfill their needs testifies whether we are pursuing Jesus or not.  Are we trying to follow him?  Are we striving to live this life in the way He created me too? Are we desiring and seeking Him? Or do I laugh in the face of Christ by my actions or inactions.

On a certain level, when we really reflect and think of all that God has done for us, all that we’ve experienced and continue to learn and grasp, it should be as obvious what it is we should do with these blessings, with this life of ours to serve God and one another. It’s kind of sad that we even need such warning signs over some obvious things.  What is sadder still is if we chose to ignore them.

CATCH 'EM (or HIM?) ALL

Hi everyone, here's my homily for the 25th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - September 18, 2016.  The readings for today's Mass can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/091816.cfm .  Thanks as always for reading, your feedback and for sharing it on Reddit, Twitter and Facebook.  I'm grateful for all your support!  Have a great week and God Bless - Fr Jim

HOMILY:

Starting my 9th year working in Campus Ministry, its hard to say that I’m surprised by much anymore. So when those moments happen, they are a bit more surprising. This past Monday night was one of those memorable moments. I was asking the members of a fraternity what they did over the summer. Expecting variations of stories about places they traveled, classes they took, jobs they held - I wasn’t prepared for this answer- I was obsessed playing Pokemon Go. As the one guy shared his achievement/frustration being stuck at level 20, another student who had just shared how he was in the country Turkey for a study abroad experience was sitting nearby. In an attempt at making a joke, I asked him what level he achieved in Pokemon Go over there. Shockingly he answered with complete seriousness "I didn’t get too far, they didn’t have a lot of locations over there for Pokemon Go."

As some of you know I don’t have much of a poker face, so I felt bad when a third member chimed in saying "Father Jim, I wish you could see the look of genuine disgust on your face right now." I don’t think it was disgust... or I should say I didn’t intend it to be. I guess I just assumed that this wasn’t something college students would be into. High School - Middle School - yeah... but men starting their junior year in college - not so much.


But as it was pointed out to me, considering you need a smart phone, you need to be able to travel to catch these virtual things - I guess I just missed how the college aged and even those outside college age people are fascinated with this game. Obsessed even. It didn’t take too much research to find out how people have crashed their cars while playing this game; another guy fell off a cliff (ignoring No Trespassing and Do Not Cross signs by the way... ) and a third story that I can’t share at Mass but will add to my posting this online- just to show the disgusting lengths people have gone to: (Man Accidently urniates on kid while hunting pokemon’s – http://www.inquisitr.com/3341656/pokemon-go-accident-man-accidentally-urinates-on-kid-while-hunting-pokemons/)

Outside those extremes though - there is a great number of people that seem genuinely excited at the prospect of trying to "catch ‘em all". Even though it was only released two months ago - Pokemon Go became a global phenomenon being downloaded over 500 million times and becoming the most used and profitable mobile app of 2016.

What gets you excited... Or what are you obsessed over... Really passionate about? Fantasy Football? Work? That band you’ve seen in concert 19 times and counting? What is the something you really love to do, or at least people would think that you do by the amount of time and energy and resources you exert on something?

The Gospel today contains probably one of the most off-putting parables we’ve heard. Because Jesus seems to be commending some questionable (at best) activities by this steward... even acknowledging that he’s being"dishonest" in his actions. What is Jesus getting at? The steward had "squandered" the rich man’s property. He has made a complete mess of things. He botched up what had been entrusted to him.

Realizing what he had done, knowing that his job was on the line – a job that did mean a lot to him, since he admits that there’s really not a lot else out there that he was equipped or motivated to do - he somewhat craftily goes from person to person, from debtor to debtor and works out all kinds of new deals. Sure it would’ve been much better had he not gotten into the mess in the first place - but once he had, rather than simply giving up, he gets this single minded, laser like focus to do whatever it was to accomplish the task before him. As he does, he is able to turn the whole thing around.

Whether it’s the Pokemon Go player "catching them all"; the athlete spending months or weeks preparing for their big match; or the steward who wheels and deals to turn around a man’s business - what Jesus is admiring is how determined, how committed to things that we can become when we get passionate about something. Most likely, every one of us can see that’s true in all of our lives. Whether its rattling off stats of players and teams you follow; playing an instrument, learning how to cook, or playing Madden Football on X-box – as individuals, when we find something we’re really interested in, something we enjoy, something that’s important to us, we become invested in it. Some even make sacrifices for them.

What Jesus is challenging us on is how committed, how single minded are we about bringing about His Kingdom here on earth? How focused are we on serving Him? How passionate are we about this faith of ours that promises us eternal life? How consumed are we with trying to live by the teachings of the Gospel? Or are we so focused on the things of this world, the things that we’re interested in that we forget God — let alone put him at the center of our lives.

Jesus isn’t saying you can’t get excited by the things that we’re passionate about... He’s not saying you have to delete Pokemon Go from your phones, give up sports, you cannot have any hobbies - to prove you love Jesus more than those things. The things you’re passionate about - the interests you have are part of what makes you so uniquely special in this massive masterpiece that the Lord has created.

The challenge is to take those gifts, to take ourselves and to put them at his service. Being creative in using any and everything in bringing the Gospel to others. The name Tim Tebow comes to mind as someone who has been able to take his athletic career and has become a bit of a celebrity because he was unabashedly one of the few Christian athletes who really testifies and witnesses to his faith, who used any of his fame, his talent, to glorify God - both on and off the field... so much so people couldn’t help but root for the guy and wanted to watch him and watch him in his pursuits.

For us, we have to start by acknowledging and being grateful for who we are - how God has fashioned us - recognizing how gifted, how blessed, how unique each and every one of us are. That we possess great ability and great potential which is revealed every time we strive to excel at these different desires that we have. But not to turn in on ourselves, lose ourselves in those pursuits, and fixating on accomplishments and achievements where we risk losing sight of the one who gave us those gifts and talents in the first place.

Instead, we have to renew ourselves in being passionate about Him and serving Him -- utilizing all of those gifts and talents to glorify Him... recognizing that we belong to God and His Kingdom. Knowing that who we are - who we are to fully become can be found in our relationship with Him. Then we will testify by our lives that we truly only have one "Master" who matters... that we belong to Him... both here on earth and in eternity to come.

A FATHER WILLING TO DO ANYTHING TO SAVE US

Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the 24th SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME - September 11, 2016.   The readings for today's Mass can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/091116.cfm  Thanks as always for stopping by to read this blog, for sharing on Twitter, Facebook and Reddit.  Have a great week. God Bless - Fr Jim

HOMILY:
Back in January of 2015, George Pickering III, a 27 year old man from Texas suffered a massive stroke.  Doctors and medical authorities had declared that the young man was not going to recover, that he was clinically brain dead, and had spoken to George’s mother and one of his brothers to get authorization to remove him from life support.  His father, (who is also named George) refused to believe that his son was brain dead.  Convinced that they were moving too fast, that no one was listening to his ‘father’s intuition’ that he was going to recover and with doctors preparing to begin the process of weaning the younger George off the life-saving machines, George Sr did something incredibly dramatic. He marched into the Tomball Regional Medical Center; went to his son’s bed side, grabbed his hand and pulled out a gun in the other hand yelling "I’ll kill you all."  While he was quickly disarmed by one of his other sons, the stand off continued for hours as the father refused to surrender to police officers and George Sr. continued holding his son - George Jr’s hand. 
 
That’s when something amazing happened. His son squeezed his hand back. In fact, it happened a few times... To the point that the SWAT team’s own doctors came in and saw that the son was in fact responding to his father’s command to squeeze his hand, proving that he wasn’t brain dead.  George Sr now convincing himself and the hospital authorities that his son was not brain dead surrendered to the police.  George Sr. ended up in prison for 10 months for his actions, but felt it was worth it to be able to be next to his son upon his release, seeing him fully recovered and hearing him say "Everything good that made me a man is because of that man sitting next to me.  There was a law broken, but it was broken for all the right reasons. I’m here now because of it. It was love."
Stories like that generate lots of buzz, lots of interest. It has every element - it’s frightening (that there could be a medical mistake like that which could have cost the young man’s life) it’s incredibly dramatic, you have legal/family dynamics to it... It almost feels like a movie or maybe a bad TV movie.  But at the core of it, the amazingly beautiful, moving thing is seeing a father willing to do anything to save his son.

While I had heard this story right before Christmas in 2015, it didn’t come back to mind till I read, reflected and prayed with today’s Gospel for awhile.  This story is often characterized as simply "The Prodigal Son." That’s what people have labeled it in the centuries since Jesus first told this parable. But to be honest, I think that really is a mistake. It shifts the focus the wrong way.  By titling it that, we are zeroing in on the terrible move made by this younger son.  But that’s really burying the real story - the real message. It would be like calling the movie "The Godfather" "Michael Corleone’s big break" or "The Wizard of Oz" "Adventures with Toto."

The focus shouldn’t be about the prodigal son - but about a Father, willing to do anything to save his sons and daughters out of love. 

You almost get the sense that Jesus knows how hard it is for his listeners to hear that, or maybe not hear that, but to actually, really believe that. Look at the crowd who has come to hear him – Pharisees and scribes who are already suspicious (at best) of Jesus and looking at these other dregs of society, these "sinners" coming around and saying "what are they doing here?" - thinking to themselves that if this Jesus is who He says He is, well, he should know that these sinners, these losers (tax collectors - even they’re here, come on... adulterers that’s one thing, but tax collectors...) All these losers don’t belong here. They shouldn’t even dare come into the remotest corners of God’s presence... Those who were labeled sinners already felt that way. That something they had done, said, mistakes they had made, wrongs they had committed – those things had left them disconnected from their neighbors, families and friends. So they believed God, too, had little use for them. Nothing to do but wait for that eternal punishment...

Jesus as he look at this group of people with all of these thoughts doesn’t throw his hands up in the air and say "YOU’RE ALL A BUNCH OF LOSERS - YOU’RE ALL A MESS - I’M OUTTA HERE..." He looks at the Pharisee, he looks at the Scribe, He looks at the tax collector he looks at the entire crowd full of sinners - those who were known to be - and those foolishly thinking they weren’t (but are) and says "Do you guys realize that my Father never stops thinking of you? Never stops thinking about any one of you? Never stops caring, loving, desiring you... and that he will do anything to save you?"

You almost get this sense that Jesus can’t contain His excitement as he’s trying to explain this – That one sheep, who gets lost out of the 100 – yeah, our Father can’t stop thinking about him... He’s worried about the sheep - is the sheep lost... is the sheep hurt... is the sheep scared... is the sheep about to be attacked by ravenous wolves... I have to find my lost sheep...

That one lost coin our of the 10, yeah our Father can’t stop thinking about that either – I know, I have other coins, I’m not broke... but it couldn’t have just "ceased" to exist... it didn’t just disappear, I need, no I must keep looking - I have to find that.

And then, almost like Jesus is thinking - ok maybe those two images don’t get it - so here’s another one - these two sons, our Father can’t stop thinking about either one of them either. They’re both grown men, the Father has done all that he could for them to share His love and His life with them. And what happens.

First the one wishes him dead (that’s the not so subtle thing he’s saying by asking for his "share of the estate" - Dad I really can’t wait for you to die so I get my inheritance, how’s ‘bout you give me mine now - talk about being an entitled brat). Despite the insult, the Father simply gives his son what he promised and gives him the inheritance, and watches as the kid takes off. The gospel says after the wayward one has finished making a complete mess and with shame and guilt starts to walk home, "when he was still far off, the Father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him." That always struck me - the Father is there, looking for the Son, thinking of him, and at the sight of him, there’s not pain or anger over the past, there’s just joy that the one he’s been thinking of is coming home...


Now the other son somehow thinks he’s getting the raw end of the deal because the Father actually loves the brother who messes up as much as he loves him. The Father goes to him, not to argue, not to smack him in the head and ask ARE YOU KIDDING ME - NOW YOU TOO??? - he goes to him hoping the son will see he has never lacked, never been slighted and is loved. That the Father never stopped thinking of Him either, even as he was worried about what was lost.


The thing is that we live in a world keeps perpetuating lies, lies that say that people are as dispensable as lost sheep (hey, got 99 others...) That people are replaceable as lost coins (one of my coins is missing? well that’s what insurance is for) or that there’s a limit to the number of blessings available in this life (I better get my share or make sure he’s not getting more than I did). We see and hear so many things that make us question what can we believe. Leaders (both religious and public officials) have let us down abusing their authority by lying to their people...families experience broken-ness as parents aren’t faithful to one another or to their obligations to their kids which leaves us wounded and untrusting

In the face of those sad realities, Jesus’ can’t contain the joy within himself to tell us... To tell every one of us that God never stops thinking of every one of us. He never stops looking for us. He never stops loving us. He never takes his sights off of us. And even when we run away from his sight, even when we’ve hurt him, taken advantage of his love, forgotten him... even then, He is always hoping for our return, wanting the best for us, His love never ends. He never stops thinking of us.  
There’s nothing the Father won’t do to save us. 

That’s what we mean when we say that the Gospel is "good news" That Jesus came to us and His mission was to fulfill the Father’s will that none should be lost – that all of us should be saved. He’s not living by our broken human standards that 99 out of 100 is excellent – far above expectations – he is interested in the one… You. Me. Each and every one of us. 

How do you feel hearing this right now?

Perhaps you are one of the rare lucky ones who has a good grasp on this gospel message. The reality is, understanding God’s amazing love isn’t exactly easy for us. There is so much broken-ness that we see around the world – here we are on the 15th anniversary of 9/11 - a day filled with emotion, images, painful, painful memories that despite the beautiful stories of courage, selflessness and sacrifices, it’s hard not to focus solely on the brokenness of the world. There’s brokenness in our families, and in our own lives, and with all that, we’re fortunate if we catch glimpses of true love offered and received sincerely and are able in faith, hope and love to realize that these are just glimpses and that the fullness God’s love won’t be possible till we see Him face to face.

Maybe you feel undeserving of God’s love. Sadly, there’s a whole lot of us who probably are in that same boat with that too. And if you are, it’s good to remember that there is no one on this earth that deserves it. That’s not the point.


The point is He does.

That’s one reason that on the shirts this year of our Student Leaders, our Focus missionaries and the rest of the staff here at Newman, we picked the quote by Pope Francis "Everyone should be able to experience the joy of being loved by God." As the Catholic Christian community here at Montclair State, we strive to do that each and every day in countless ways. We know we’re not perfect... we’re all sinners... we’re all in need of God’s love and mercy. And we come together to remind one another of His promises. We come to share our experiences of how our lives are transformed by our responding to God’s promises. We share this tremendous good news and continue to proclaim the Gospel through sharing our very lives on this campus. So that each and every soul has the opportunity to come to know how God our Father is desperately, longing, looking for each one of us - that he might embrace us and know how there’s nothing He wouldn’t do to save us - now and for all eternity.

MOTHER TERESA'S SWIMMING LESSONS

My homily for the Feast of St. Teresa of Calcutta - Monday, September 5, 2016.  

So here we are on Labor Day, which if Memorial Day is the unofficial start of the summer season, Labor Day seems to be it’s less popular counterpart - the unofficial end of the summer.  Sorry to state the obvious.

While it’s always exciting to see our students come back, meet our new students arriving and begin a new Academic Year, Labor Day kind of makes me melancholy with memories of the summer ending.  Unlike winter, which we seem so ready to part with, Summer with it’s warm sun-rich days, somewhat slower, lazier pace is often much more popular.  And for this Jersey guy - filled with  lots of memories down the Shore.  (The sobering reality that it will probably be a solid 9 months before I can make some new ones - kind of brings me down a bit)

One such image that kept coming to mind today was this one time down in Wildwood Crest NJ - the crown jewel of the Jersey Shore (for you non-Jersey natives, you have to understand that each of us professes to know which of the shore points is the best.  And while us natives might argue among ourselves about which one actually is... try telling us that your cute little beach in some other state is the best and we’ll unite together quite dramatically.  Anyway...)

When I was a kid, I used to love swimming in the ocean.  And down in Wildwood, you had a good couple of hundreds of feet that you could walk before you actually got waist deep.  My brothers and I would go as far as possible to get the good waves to ride in.  As far as was possible before the lifeguard or my Mother would go nuts.

But it was always remarkable to me how we would be simply walking, swimming, riding - and before you knew it, how far out, how deep we could get.  And if you simply kept looking out at the horizon, how you could keep going without even realizing it.  You were doing these simple, ordinary things and all of a sudden you found yourself in the deep, the vastness of the ocean.  You realized how small you were in comparison.  To a little kid, just learning about who God was, you could say the image was impressionable.

While that could be a dangerous (even deadly) lesson to learn in ocean swimming, it’s perfect on this last day of summer which more importantly is a feast day - the first celebration of St. Teresa of Calcutta who was canonized a Saint by Pope Francis yesterday in St. Peter’s Square in Rome.  One of the Pope’s unscripted remarks that seems to have been repeated over and over in the last 24 hours from his homily was that people may struggle to call her St. Teresa and would continue to call her Mother Teresa.  Why?

Because of the ordinariness of mother hood.  Not  to say it’s not an extraordinarily important vocation.  But rather because of how relatable Motherhood is.  The beauty of motherhood - the nurturing, caring, love that we give thanks for in our own lives, that we long for, that we mourn when it’s been missing or is lost.    In Mother Teresa, the world  saw how this simple little nun believed she heard what she calls “the call within a call” to leave her first religious community and start this new one - the Missionaries of Charity.  With a few sisters, and the most simplest of "motherly" tasks, lovingly caring for those who no one cared about - the poorest of the poor, the sickest of the ill, the dying.  Tasks that initially few in the world would care about or even notice.

But as she continued humbly, simply, being this dispenser of divine Mercy as Pope Francis put it yesterday - that changed.  Spiritually she kept swimming towards that horizon.  She probably didn’t even realize how deep she had swam.  Far from the coast lines, the people around her warning her or trying to temper her enthusiasm.  The poor, the sick, the dying flocked to her... as did those who felt called to assist them... And the Gospel message was brought to birth anew once again, as it has over and over throughout the centuries in this simple, little woman who proved to be anything but.

And those of us who stand on the coastline, or are just wading into the water a little bit - we still marvel at this little nun who simply wanted to love Jesus and to let His love radiate from each and every little action of her precious earthly life.

We who call her Saint (or continue to call her Mother) Teresa ask her to pray for us.  Pray that we too can stop fixating on the fears, the worries, the crowds around us who try to inhibit the power of God (just as they attempted to do to Jesus in today’s Gospel from healing a man on the sabbath).  Pray for us that we not try to imitate her - since there can only be one Mother Teresa - but that we follow her counsel, that we be inspired by her example, that we strive for holiness in our own way, in our own lives by following her simple advice: “Not all of us can do great things, but we can each do small things with Great Love.
Doing that, we might be surprised how deep we can swim as well.
Saint - Mother Teresa - Pray for us.

TRUMP, CLINTON & BEING CHRISTIAN


Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the 23rd SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME - September 4, 2016.   The readings for today's Mass can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/090416.cfm  Thanks as always for stopping by to read this blog, for sharing on Twitter, Facebook and Reddit.  Have a great week!  God Bless - Fr Jim


HOMILY:

So we’re about 9 weeks away from Election Day. God Help Us - literally and figuratively. It’s an amazing thing that these campaigns have become - more and more - a media circus, rather than a more sober, intellectual, discussion/debate about issues, positions. A process where as citizens we gather to share our concerns, our differences and try to come together to see who would serve us best. Instead it seems more and more we hear about polls; stories of optics or visuals and how they are moving the polls; campaign ads and how they effect the polls and so on.

Interestingly though, is how the media will spend some time talking about each candidates faith. It’s interesting because so often the same media will try to marginalize people of faith or discredit it. But for a variety of reasons, there’s no shortage of stories about the candidates and their faith. Just a variety of headlines from the last few weeks that I’ve seen: "Hillary Clinton gets personal on Christ and her Faith;" "Donald Trumps ‘born-again’ conversion to Christianity" "Mike Pence’s journey from Catholic Democrat to Evangelical Republican." "A Pope Francis Catholic, now that Tim Kaine is Clinton’s VP pick will his faith matter?"

Whatever the political leanings each of us has, its curious that so many media outlets would do stories like these. Particularly as Americans where this mis understood notion of separation of Church and State went from a phrase Thomas Jefferson used to explain the first amendment saying Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof to the mistaken belief held by many that any discussion of religion or faith in the public square is forbidden. Religion and politics here in the US is a difficult thing to navigate.

In any event, I always find it interesting when stories do emerge about politicians or celebrities and their faith, their religious convictions (or in some instances their lack of). Because hopefully it makes us take a look at ourselves as we read these profiles and perspectives. To ask ourselves What makes a Christian a Christian? What makes a follower of Jesus Christ a disciple? Does my simply saying "I’m a Christian" make me one? Is it when I fill out a registration form to a particular parish or Church? As Catholics, we know that being Baptized, Confirmed and receiving the Eucharist are essential, but is that enough? There’s a lot of people who went through those sacraments that don’t seem to be very interested in Jesus Christ...

What makes a Christian a Christian?


In today’s Gospel, Jesus seems to be hitting that issue pretty directly. At the start of the passage, we hear that there’s "great crowds" of people who’ve been traveling with him. If we were to be able to time travel and come upon the scene there and see these groups of people all walking behind Jesus, more than likely we’d assume they must be followers of his. Yet, with a closer look, in that crowd are people who would betray him, plot against him, deny even knowing him, even shouting for his death.

Jesus knowing their hearts (as well as ours) realizes this, and makes it clear that simply being in his presence or in proximity to him does not make them (or us) a follower. Nor does being able to identify Him or recognize Him for who He is, the Son of God, the Savior, the one sent to redeem us make us a disciple.

"If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple."

Oh, that’s all that’s required, phew, I thought it was difficult!

That’s pretty demanding stuff. It’s hard to even consider that Jesus is asking us to "hate" anything as a way of showing our love. It’s hard to consider that Jesus is asking us to suffer the weight of a Cross to demonstrate our following Him. Especially since I do love my family, I do love my life. And I try to avoid suffering at any costs (first sign of a headache I’m popping Advil)

Jesus isn’t telling his followers to go and break all of our family relationships saying "Yeah I hate all of you", nor run out of here saying "OK How Can I suffer today" ("YIPEE!") He’s basically saying, to truly come to Him, we need to recognize who He truly is. And if we really believe that He is who He says He is - then there’s no way that He can come second to anyone or anything.

If Jesus is the Son of God; If Jesus is our Savior, our Redeemer; If Jesus is our Hope for eternal life; then logically,

we have to love Him even more than even those we love the most on this earth.

We have to be willing to endure being mocked at by those who don’t believe.

We have to suffer with the crosses that come when we decide to live the life He’s calling us too when many in the world around us seem to be going in a very different direction.

Because to be selfless as Jesus is. To care about the poor, the lost, the sick and the dying when people are stepping over those individuals to make sure they don’t end up in the same spots (which, inevitably, as people of this world - we all will eventually) threatens the "balances of power" in the world. When Jesus did these things, they killed Him. And those of the world continue to be threatened by the name of Jesus and his radical Gospel.

That’s some stark realities to be faced with. The thing is, the crowd initially start following him because they were fired up. They saw some pretty awesome miracles. They heard some tremendous preachings and teachings. Something drew them to Him. But fear entered in. Maybe they went home to their Mothers and Fathers; their husbands and wives; their brothers and sisters and when they told them what they saw, what they experienced, what there hearts felt when they were in Jesus presence they were laughed at. Maybe when they went to work or school and people asked them "where were you today" and they told him they spent time with Jesus they got suspicious looks, passed over for jobs or positions of honor. And they couldn’t handle that. They were upset with those reactions. So they ended up being part of the crowd that had travelled with Jesus, but didn’t become a disciple.

Something continues to draw people, draw us to Jesus. Something within us knows that He’s different. Knows that he heals the worst fears the turmoils that we experience in those dark nights of our souls. Knows that He touches our hearts and minds and taps into the deepest longings (promising us eternal life can do that to people who’ve seen and experienced death). And He continues to call out to us, inviting us to go deeper, drawing closer, trusting Him more. Calling this community to gather, to come and hear His words, experiencing the miracle of His presence in the Bread and the Wine becoming His Body and Blood - so selfless is He that He’s not demanding us to be obedient to his demands or else, but nourishes us with Himself when we chose to.

What makes a Christian a Christian? It’s somewhat easy to speculate, and debate that question as we’re holding the people running for elected office or any public person up for scrutiny whether they truly are a Christian or not. Yet, Jesus’ answer to that question - as he looks at you and I leaves us with a different one - are we ready to claim that we are?

 

THE DAY I MET MOTHER TERESA

Mother Teresa - a much younger looking
(and then, just a seminarian) Fr Jim Chern
and Fr. Eugene Marcone, Pastor of St. Agnes
in Clark NJ.  Taken at the Missionaries of Charity
Convent in North Plainfield NJ
This Sunday, September 4 - 19 years after she died, the Church will confirm what many had assumed long ago - that the little, frail nun from Calcutta who served the poor, the sick, the dying in some of the most deplorable of conditions - is a Saint.  (The Church moves slowly... prudently I might add)

With all of the coverage leading up to this celebration, I couldn’t help but recall the day I met Mother Teresa.   I’m thinking that it had to have been 1996.  I was a seminarian at the time and my pastor, Fr. Eugene Marcone, from St. Agnes in Clark, NJ at the end of the Sunday Masses had said to me “do you have any plans this afternoon?”  I said that I hadn’t and he told me to come back later that day, that he had been invited to something very special that I wouldn’t want to miss.

I went back that afternoon, and as we started driving he explained that every other week, he had been teaching Mother Teresa’s sisters a class in Church history at their convent in North Plainfield, NJ.  Mother Teresa had come to visit the sisters this day and the sisters were inviting some of their close friends, including Fr. Marcone to meet her.

Not going to lie, I was starting to freak out a bit.  I mean, what do you say to a living saint?  The dead saints - who are alive in heaven and in God’s presence - are a lot easier to talk to when we ask then to pray for us and our various needs.  We got to the convent, and were lead into the chapel where they were having adoration of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament - a time of silent prayer.  As I walked in, there she was, in the back of the chapel, in a wheel chair, sitting quietly in prayer.  I had to take a seat a few rows in front, and have to admit I wasn’t as attentive to the Lord as I was looking back at this frail, little woman who despite her stature and declining help still radiated in a way that only faith in the risen Jesus Christ can explain.

After the Holy Hour concluded, we were all lead to this outside room, where she was going to greet the sisters and their visitors.  Father Marcone walked in front, and spoke with her for a few moments and then turned to introduce me...

Mother Teresa - this is Jim Chern, he is a seminarian studying for the priesthood from our parish.

I couldn’t believe I was meeting her, she had this amazing smile, grabbed my hand with both of her hands and we had an encounter I will never forget:

She said “You’re studying to be a priest...
“Yes Mother...”
Where?
“Here in New Jersey - at Immaculate Conception Seminary.  I’m studying for the Archdiocese of Newark.”
Then came the part that I’ve replayed in my mind a million times
You must come to Calcutta
without even the slightest pause or hesitation I said:
“You must talk to my Archbishop.”

At which point she laughed...  As I type this I’m actually laughing, shaking my head and blushing - because I’m still shocked that despite all my nerves, my admiration for this woman - at a moment like that I could have been so . . . – well I don’t know what word goes next there’s a variety of words that come to mind.  I know when I shared this with Lino Rulli on “The Catholic Guy Show” on Sirius/XM satellite radio a few weeks ago - he had a few suggestions.

Because quite simply, I was pretty confident that should she have asked Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, the Archbishop at the time, he would have diplomatically said No to Mother Teresa.

In any event, I’ve taken a good amount (and for good reason) ribbing whenever I’ve shared this story - “You said No to a saint... good luck with that” “Why do you hate Mother Teresa” “Why do you hate the poor”... none of which is true (well maybe the first one)

But two things that come to mind about this that I’ve reflected on recently, both concerning God’s will.  One was Mother Teresa’s absolute dedication to God’s will and call in her life.  Here she was, near the end of her earthly life; still making these visits to her sisters around the world.  Not only did she continue to push herself to make these visits - but her beloved homeland, and the poor, the sick, the dying - those that the world would shun and forget; those that for many would be the reason they’d want to flee Calcutta -were the very ones who made her homeland her beloved homeland - was still one of the first things on her mind.  That she was still calling people to join her mission - even a reluctant 20 something seminarian.

But the other thing was that look, that laugh she gave when I blurted out my lame response “you must talk to my Archbishop.”  While people have observed I said that “because you’re scared of flying” “because you hate leaving New Jersey” - both true observations - the reality is I know I was called to be a priest here.  To serve the people of God here.  To attend to the poor, the sick, the dying of this local Church.

And I think Mother Teresa knew that too - with that smile, that laugh and her giving me a miraculous medal as I left.  I ask St. Teresa of Calcutta to pray for me that I may always do so until the day I hope to meet her again in God’s eternal kingdom.

RYAN LOCHTE, TABLE FOR ONE

Hi everyone, here's my homily for the 22nd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - August 28, 2016
The readings for today’s Mass can be found at:  http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/082816.cfm.Thanks as always for stopping by to read this blog; for sharing it on Facebook, twitter, Reddit and elsewhere on the Internet - and for all your feedback and comments.  God Bless You and yours and have a great week! Fr Jim
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HOMILY:

So the 2016 Rio Olympics are over: The medals have been awarded; the olympic flame has been extinguished; the athletes have returned home - jubilant at their accomplishments, frustrated by their performance or somewhere in between. In the midst of all those stories though, has been one of the most bizarre episodes that hasn’t seemed to go away.

You probably can guess what I’m talking about. The bizarre case of Ryan Lochte. For those who haven’t heard (or lost track of it) The story started on Sunday August 14th when there were rumors spread of a burglary that took place of some Olympians, which was followed by Ryan Lochte’s mom telling USA Today that her son had his wallet stolen. Spokespersons for the Olympics pretty quickly denied the story, but then Lochte was interviewed by a TV reporter Billy Bush and confirmed that he was indeed robbed saying "We got pulled over, in the taxi, and these guys came out with a badge, a police badge, no lights, no nothing just a police badge and they pulled us over. They pulled out their guns, they told the other swimmers to get down on the ground — they got down on the ground. I refused, I was like we didn’t do anything wrong, so — I’m not getting down on the ground. And then the guy pulled out his gun, he cocked it, put it to my forehead and he said, ‘Get down,’ and I put my hands up, I was like ‘whatever.’ He took our money, he took my wallet — he left my cell phone, he left my credentials." He repeated the story or a variation of it to Matt Laurer. 

The Brazillian Police, who were already under great scrutiny about out of control crime before the games even began, were not taking this lightly, and quickly felt something wasn’t right about the story. While Lochte flew home, two of the others involved in this story were taken off the plane by the police and questioned. Soon, the real story emerged. These guys were never held up, but rather, had been drunk, doing some stupid things in public.

The kookiness of all this has left many people thinking Why - Why would he invent such a bizarre story, continue to lie and tell it; and then appear somewhat shocked when the truth came out. The NY Times weighed in with their answer in the headline: For the Spotlight, Lochte was ready to do anything. They speculated that Lochte has been jealous of Michael Phelps as they are both swimmers, both nearly the same age, both highly successful - but Phelps being far superior with 28 medals (21 gold) and Lochte with 12 medals (6 gold). As the writer put it:

They are separated by slivers of time in the pool, but the gulf between them in their personal lives is yawning. On the ill-fated night that Lochte chose to go out partying with teammates, Phelps also left the athletes’ village. He spent the night at a hotel with his fiancĂ©e, Nicole Johnson, whom he helped with diaper duty for their 3-month-old son, Boomer. . . If Phelps’s dreams revolved around surpassing (world record holder,) Mark Spitz, Lochte would appear to have set his sights on becoming the next (Pop-icon) Ryan Seacrest... In a conversation with his family that was caught on camera during his reality show (from 2013 called What would Ryan Lochte Do), Lochte said he envisioned a future in Los Angeles. "I see me being a designer, I see me being a model, I see me being a TV star," Lochte said. He did corral the spotlight in Rio, just not the way he planned.

In the two weeks since this all happened, the story continues. Lochte has given some interviews where he’s (sort of) apologized... He’s lost two sponsorships; gotten some offers for other sponsorships from not the most family-friendly companies... Brazillian authorities want him to stand trial for whatever charges they’ve come up with. Meanwhile, on Thursday reports came out that he would be on the TV show Dancing with the stars. All of which kind of bolsters that theory: That Lochte wasn’t satisfied with being a bona fide, respected, Olympic Champion. That the desire to distinguish himself from Phelps, the desire for more attention, more fame drove him to become somewhat unhinged in this bizarre story playing out before all of our eyes.

In other words, he couldn’t rejoice in who he was... He wanted to be something greater than who God made him to be. And he decided to take whatever means necessary to distinguish himself even if it meant making false reports, lying about it to an all-too willing media who loves following celebrities (especially when they implode)

I couldn’t help but thinking that if Ryan Lochte was at this dinner in today’s Gospel, it’s obvious he didn’t think he was sitting at a good enough table.

Why are such temptations so, well tempting? To want to see ourselves differently than how God sees us? To think we have better plans than He does? And then go about attempting to pursue them using any means possible to achieve them?

In this Gospel encounter - Jesus doesn’t have a problem with the Pharisees wanting to have this dinner party (otherwise he probably wouldn’t have attended). The problems begin, as they always do, whenever God is removed from the picture. Which is what happened here. All of a sudden this dinner party isn’t a dinner party. These Jewish leaders start to see the gifts of wealth that they enjoyed, being people of power and influence as things they deserved, were entitled to, and ultimately became obsessed over. In the process, they forgot that God had given them the abilities and opportunities and gifts to be in those positions and that they were still His children. They stopped remembering that and instead saw themselves as something different, greater, more important than being God’s children. So first they exclude some from there banquet, then they start trying to outdo, outshine each other (I should sit at the head table!)


But this is about something more than seating arrangements at a dinner party.

Look carefully, Jesus doesn’t say "don’t desire to be honored" - He’s not surprised that we have feelings of wanting to be admired and exalted. He’s trying to correct, even make that desire, that feeling holy. How do we do that? He teaches us: through Humility. Humility is about knowing who we are. Rejoicing in who we are. Seeing how good, beautiful, & unique we have been made. Not because we’ve outsmarted the competition, lied or cheated or won some achievement or been honored with a seat of prestige. No, we can rejoice in who we are because we have been lovingly made by God. Because we possess the beauty of the Creator... Because all these things that we possess, the quirks, the talents, make each of us the most unique you, the most unique I that’s ever been on this planet. And those things shines more and more brilliantly when we live in selfless, loving ways.

The sad thing is that so many of us have been led to believe otherwise. We’re not as smart as "her." Or we’re not as talented as "him." We start to believe those lies, that diminish us and so it’s understandable that we find it hard to resist the temptation to see ourselves as better than everyone else, to try to become someone greater than everyone else, and to do whatever we have to get there. When we buy into that lie, we find that we end up pushing God aside as we rush to the head table too.

In a week, we will celebrate the canonization of Blessed Mother Teresa. It’s amazing how nearly 20 years after her death, this woman from Calcutta still captures our attention and affection as people remember that at the Banquet of Life, she didn’t even care where she sat and in fact didn’t even take a place at the table. She showed us the incredible joy that can be found in not having a seat but being a servant at the dinner. Sadly, despite all the good that Ryan Lochte did, this lapse he made when he jockeyed for an even better seat than he already had had will always be remembered, will be a part of his story.

The question we’re left with, where do we want to sit? How do we see ourselves? Are we feel comfortable where we are, with who we are or do we desire more in the way of recognition? God loves us where we are, who we are. There is no reason for us to make ourselves more important … Jesus has showed us how we are already very important – important enough to die for.

Whenever we force ourselves to be the leading man or woman, the perception by others is normally negative and you lose credibility. However, if we allow God to bring us to the place we need to sit, it will be a beautiful model of the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.

May we be thankful where we sit today for it has been made just for each of us and nobody else. Each of our story’s is ongoing and God hasn't finished writing it until we have breathed our last. He has a lot for each of us to do for Him until then. So we shouldn’t worry about our glory - rather we are to give it all to God who deserves it. May you and I be the active image of Jesus reflecting His love to others. When we do, people will be naturally drawn to that and invite us to sit by them, an honored place in their hearts.