REPENT AND BELIEVE IN THE GOSPEL

Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT - FEBRUARY 18, 2018 - The readings for today’s Mass can be found at:  http://usccb.org/bible/readings/021818.cfm.  Thanks as always for reading, for sharing this on Facebook, Twitter, reddit and other social media and for your feedback and comments.  Hope you have a great week!  God Bless - Fr Jim  

HOMILY:
 Like many others all over the world, I’ve been distressed by yet another mass shooting that shook the conscience of our country in a High School in Florida.  I struggle with such an extreme act of evil that killed 17, injured at least another 14 and has terrorized countless others well beyond the confines of the High School in Parkland, Florida.  To exacerbate matters, apart from the fact that we’ve gotten way too comfortable or used to hearing and normalizing horrific stories like this, the reactions we’re seeing is a lot more than just disappointing.  The blame-gaming... the finger pointing... the angry rhetoric that is said to be justified because these things have become a common occurrence... the politics of it all where some are taking our already fiercely partisan divided nation and attempting to hijack a massacre for their own talking points... it honestly depressed me a great deal.  When I started thinking of all the issues and questions such as gun control; mental illness; bullying; extremism... coupled with the reflections on different meetings that I’ve attended where we talk about how many young people continue to struggle with depression, stress, and anxiety (and how that’s depressing, stressing and making many of us anxious as well), it made me feel a little hopeless.  And I don’t think I’m the only one who felt that way.

 That was very much on my mind when I kept going back to these readings today... Whenever we have some major horrific event, there’s always a temptation to allow our own personal biases, opinions and agendas to enter in. Yet, that’s not what a homily is supposed to be about.  I’m not supposed to be another talking head on a cable news channel, a politician giving a lofty campaign speech or an opinion writer.   The Church tells us that the scripture readings proclaimed at Mass are meant to be a dialogue between God and us- and the Homily is to try to open our ears and hearts to hear what God is saying to us... and how to connect He who is eternal, who is out of time, and He who never fails, to us here in this time and space.

 Every year on this first Sunday of Lent, we hear an account of Jesus being tempted in the desert.  It’s understandable if you feel like you might have just missed out on that in this brief passage.  Unlike Matthew or Luke who gives a much more detailed account of what happens between Jesus and the devil, Mark is incredibly succinct.  In as little as three words, we are told that Jesus was “tempted by Satan.”   It sounds so matter-of-fact that you almost get the impression that St. Mark is downplaying this encounter.  

 However, St. Mark approaches his entire Gospel as Jesus’ victory over evil in this all-important spiritual war.  So, far from trying to gloss over this episode, it’s more likely that Mark doesn’t want to even give Satan an opportunity to explain his twisted logic and distortions in Mark’s proclamation of the good news of Jesus.    Importantly, we can’t fall into the error of thinking that Satan’s not still an enemy that we have to fight.  Yes, Jesus defeated him spectacularly on the Cross and in His resurrection.  But we have to choose whose side we are on.  That’s the heart and soul of the last words Jesus speaks in tonight’s very short passage. 

 Too often we, or others, use these words “Repent, and believe in the gospel” as directed outside of the walls of this Mass, or our Churches - claiming that the problem is out there somewhere else.  If all those who are now outside were inside here, if they would repent of their pagan, unbelieving ways, everything would be all right...    But Jesus is speaking these words to us - to you and me.  Before we dare to be so presumptuous to say we have all the answers, all the fixes, and all the antidotes to every evil   afflicting our human family, we have to be sure that we’ve taken these words to heart ourselves. 

 When Jesus calls us to “repent” He’s asking more than just a quick examination of conscience;   it’s deeper than that...  We have to recognize the choices between the values of God and the values of this world... to see how those choices are made on a daily basis.  Over time these seemingly harmless choices add up to things which bring about and encourage life, and things that bring about and encourage death on every level - physically, emotionally and spiritually.    So this first Sunday of Lent, we’re challenged with the question - What is it that God wants us to confront in our own desert of 40 days?  In what ways has Satan tried (or has been successful) in tempting us not to follow God’s plan for us?    In what ways have my doubts, my discouragements and my fears undermined my belief that I am giving into the depths of hopelessness?  It’s in repenting of them, and believing in the supreme power of the gospel that God redirects each and every one of us in a unique, personal, individual way to not merely transform our hearts, our souls, our lives... but also help us do that in countless ways in the world around us. 

 Friday afternoon I read an example of someone who is doing just that.  This fifth grade teacher after witnessing the horrors of Columbine in 1999 where 13 were killed and 24 others were wounded by two young men wielding guns and knives in their high school - she decided that every week, -every Friday afternoon - she would ask her students to take out a piece of paper and write down the names of four children with whom they’d like to sit with the following week and nominate one student who they believe has been an exceptional classroom citizen for that week. As she goes through these private ballots handed out to her, she’s not really interested in making a new seating chart or declaring a “student of the week” winner.  Instead, she asks herself:  Who is not getting requested by anyone else? Who can’t think of anyone to request? Who never gets noticed enough to be nominated?  Who had a million friends last week and none this week?   She explained that her purpose was to look for lonely children;  look for children who are struggling to connect with other children. To identify the little ones who are falling through the cracks of the class’s social circle. To discover whose gifts are going unnoticed by their peers. And she’s pinning down—right away—who’s being bullied and who is doing the bullying.  In her own creative way... in a way that’s not partisan or even overly religious, she’s very clearly being loving, caring, attentive, and compassionate and possibly redirecting people at a vulnerable age - shifting the very trajectory of their lives.

 It’s easy to give into despair.  It’s easy to join in Satan’s favorite activity of being more divisive and indulge in mindless name-call, blame game.  In the face of the most recent horror of Parkland Florida, it’s almost understandable that we have gotten into the routine of feeling helpless or hopeless.  Rather than comforting us, Jesus calls us to action and reminds us we have no time for that.  We have got far more important things to do and time is running out. And we’re called to escape that mindset.  This is the time of fulfillment.  The kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent, and believe in the gospel...  It’s way past time for us to get serious and get down on some action that makes a meaningful and eternal difference.

#UsToo - SARAH SILVERMAN AND ASH WEDNESDAY

Hi everyone, here’s my homily for ASH WEDNESDAY - FEBRUARY 14, 2018 - The readings for today’s Mass can be found at:  http://usccb.org/bible/readings/021418.cfm.  Thanks as always for reading, for sharing this on Facebook, Twitter, reddit and other social media and for your feedback and comments.  Hope you have a great week!  God Bless - Fr Jim  

HOMILY:

    It seems like it’s been a lot longer, but the initial reporting which started an avalanche of stories surrounding celebrities and horrific stories of rape, sexual assault, harassment of women by men in positions of power only started in October of last year.  On October 5th the NY Times published a story about the allegations against Harvey Weinstein, one of the most powerful men in all entertainment as a film mogul and producer of countless movies and television shows.  These accusations were followed by a not well-received apology from Weinstein and him being ousted  from his own company.  Even more noteworthy was that in some ways the horrible episode empowered many other women to come forward and publicly and courageously say #MeToo as they recounted their own personal struggles dealing with similar horrific treatment by men who were respected journalists, celebrated actors, and accomplished media personalities.  
    It’s probably too early to tell exactly where and how these revelations will result in real, meaningful change where women are treated with the respect and dignity they deserve when auditioning for a role, competing for a job or simply in day to day interactions in the workplace with men in positions of power.   The #MeToo movement became #TimesUp and as awards season continues, there seems to be a groundswell of actresses and actors who are even using those annual events as an opportunity to come together to flush out this abhorrent and unacceptable behavior.
    In the peak of this story though, when the allegations were coming out, followed by apologies, firings/resignations in such a rapid pace - to the point you couldn’t even keep up with it on a daily basis - there was one story in particular that really caught my attention.  Several women made complaints to the NY Times that the comedian Louis C.K. had also committed several acts of sexual misconduct.  Pretty quickly, Louis C.K. acknowledged that the stories were completely true.  He was fired by the network that ran his TV show, and he’s really not been heard or seen of since then.   What was different about this case though was the response that came from fellow comedienne Sarah Silverman.  
    Sarah Silverman started a monologue on her Hulu show I Love You, America, saying the growing wave of people “calling-out of sexual assault has been a long time coming... [and] “It’s good,” she said. “It’s like cutting out tumors: it’s messy and it’s complicated...”  This statement was undoubtedly hard though for Silverman since Louis CK had been one of her closest friends for a long time.  She said her initial reaction when people asked for a comment about Louis’ admission was “I really, really, really don’t want to [comment on this story]. I wish I could sit this one out.
    At the same time she acknowledged the painful reality that Louis C.K. “wielded his power with women in ways that were troubling and sometimes made these women feel they had to leave the field of comedy entirely.”   The courage that Ms. Silverman had shown didn’t end there either, She asked rhetorically: “I could couch this with heartwarming stories of our friendship and what a great dad he is, but that’s totally irrelevant, isn’t it? Yes, it is.”   After reading her heartbroken statement about the situation, what really hit me was this final point she made:    “I love Louie,” she said, “but Louie did these things. Both of those statements are true. So, I just keep asking myself, can you love someone who did bad things? Can you still love them?
    For me that humanized all of the celebrities that are involved in this painful chapter of the entertainment history.  The reality of the ugliness of this abhorrent behavior.  The pain and justified anger the victims have experienced.  The confusion and sadness that friends, family members, colleagues, and fans of both the victims and those who committed these acts are going through right now.  And yes, even the pain that those guilty of these crimes, these behaviors are experiencing.  That’s what evil does... that’s the effects of sin... it hurts everyone in ways you couldn’t possibly imagine.  Which is why I appreciated Silvernman’s heartfelt question so much – can you love someone who did bad things? Can you still love them?
    Because Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent that we begin today forces us to personally ask ourselves a similar question.  Not so much can we love someone who did bad things - (although that’s a part of it, when we deal with the difficult, but necessary call to forgiveness of others) - but Can we love ourselves who have done bad things.  That is what we are here to acknowledge as we receive these ashes on our forehead.  These ashes are a symbol reminding us that without the very breath of life from our loving, faithful, and generous God - if that breath  was removed from us, then all we would be is a pile of ashes.  And as those ashes are put on our foreheads we hear the words “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.”  We need this symbol. We need to hear those words because the truth is, we all fail, we all fall short, we all sin...  So we’re here to be honest with ourselves to recognize that we haven’t always been thankful for this gift of life; we haven’t utilized all the tremendous gifts and talents that God has entrusted to us in a way that glorifies Him, ourselves or others.
    That is not exactly something that anyone would enjoy acknowledging.  Particularly in a world where personal appearance, and image are so important.    Yet when we look closely, the scars we’ve left on others, the wounds we’ve caused on ourselves -all of those things, are the results of our sins, are there.   And that can be a harsh realization.

    But we can - no check that - we should in fact love ourselves - despite that harsh realization.  Because that’s why Jesus came in the first place.  Jesus’ whole purpose for leaving the perfection of love and life with the Father and the Holy Spirit in Heaven was to come to each and everyone of us personally and individually to tell us that God does indeed love us as well - even when we’ve done bad things.  He’s never “done” with us.  In fact, that’s precisely why Jesus has come - to save us from sin and death.  There’s never a moment when he’s run out of patience with us.  He loves us.  Jesus has come to save us from those bad things that makes us forget how loved we are... that makes us not want to love ourselves. 
    The Lord lays out the map on how to learn to love ourselves in today’s Scriptures: The Old Testament Prophet Joel teaches us: ...return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God. (Joel 2:12) St. Paul follows up with: We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God concluding: Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.  These passages set us up to hear this Gospel message where Jesus once again calls us to intentionally move away from our self-centered pursuits and instead embrace the call to Fast - to Give Alms - to Pray... not only for those who have harmed us, but for the harm that we have caused through our own bad choices our own selfishness.  When we do these things, we are participating in the pure love of God.  We are doing something for someone who has no way of repaying us.  [For more information, check out our weekly bulletin at www.MSUNEWMAN.com ]
    These are the basics... it’s up to us to see that NOW is the acceptable time NOW is the day of salvation to personalize those basics and to do something to make this Lent a meaningful time where we confront the reality of the sins we’ve committed; the pain it has caused in the lives of others and to ourselves.
    Sarah Silverman ended her thoughts on Louis C.K. saying  “I hope it’s O.K. if I am at once very angry for the women he wronged and the culture that enabled it. And also sad, because he’s my friend. But I believe with all my heart that this moment in time is essential. It’s vital that people are held accountable for their actions, no matter who they are. We need to be better. We will be better.

    Lent provides us with the same opportunity to explore the depths of our souls and hold ourselves accountable for our own actions.  It’s not easy, but God lovingly and patiently wants to meet us as we begin this difficult task.  With the cross of Jesus traced on our foreheads to remind us the lengths to which he has gone for us to save us from our sins.   That is the good news today...   Jesus walks with us on this journey of repentance and renewal - as we recognize that we too need to be better for ourselves and for the world around us... and with His grace, we will be better.

DO WE WISH IT?

Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the SIXTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - FEBRUARY 11, 2018 - The readings for today’s Mass can be found at:  http://usccb.org/bible/readings/021118.cfm.  Thanks as always for reading, for sharing this on Facebook, Twitter, reddit and other social media and for your feedback and comments.  Hope you have a great week!  God Bless - Fr Jim  

HOMILY

    Tuesday night, at our Newman Night, we had a discussion on the Corporal Works of Mercy - acts that are found in the teachings of Jesus Christ as a model for how to treat others as if they were Jesus in disguise.  They are to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, visit the prisoners, bury the dead, giving to the poor.  We were able to share and talk about some of the ways we’ve been doing that here this past year at Newman:   We’ve had members go to work with kids who had Cerebral Palsy; help clean up and prepare a garden that provides food for those in need; visit and bring cards to adults in a nursing home.  This past Tuesday we wrote letters to a Montclair State University alumni who is in prison in North Carolina after he drove being impaired with alcohol and drugs and killed a young lady. In a few weeks a group of us will be heading to Kentucky to help rebuild homes in one of the poorest parts of the country - Appalachia.  And a few weeks ago we had our first Midnight Run where people had donated clothing, toiletries, food - our members sorted through the piles of donations, prepared the meals and then got to deliver to the homeless in New York City on a late Saturday night. 

    As people shared their impressions and memories of their experiences at these different “mercy events” that evening, the recurring thing was how many of us felt we had received more than the people we were ministering to.  I know that the one gentleman that night of the Midnight Run who I helped find a new winter coat - who was just so excited and grateful and just spontaneously hugged me that night, has not left my mind since that evening.  For all of us, in each of these encounters, we recognized why Jesus left these demands upon us to do these acts.  It’s more than just supplying a service or providing temporal, practical  needs to people.  It’s about providing something more valuable to the people we encountered :  the importance of being noticed... being loved...

    That’s what’s at the heart of tonight’s Gospel. We read about this leper coming forward to Jesus.  We don’t know the man’s name and in this day and age, we don’t hear much about the disease (even though there are people who still suffer from it around the world)   Leprosy is a bacterial infection of the skin, which can eventually paralyze someone and ultimately kill them. It is repulsive on many levels: people’s body parts literally decay in plain sight; there is a horrible stench associated with it; and (as if all that weren't bad enough) it is highly contagious. That's why lepers were separated from the rest of the community, and even required to wear a bell to announce there presence - so people could run away from them.

   People afflicted with leprosy not only suffered physical pain - but imagine how alone they felt, how isolated from the rest of the world they were. The suffering in their bodies was matched by the suffering in their souls.  For this man suffering from Leprosy in the Gospel, we don’t know how long it had been since someone shook this guy’s hand, patted him on the back, hugged him, touched his cheek, wiped a tear from his eye, or kissed him... The truth is, all those things were merely a memory as he lived in the leper colony in his cave.

    Until he met Jesus and cried out to him: "IF YOU WISH, YOU CAN MAKE ME CLEAN." Not - can you do this for me? – Not I’ve heard about you, you’re the miracle guy, right, can you help a leper out?   In his heart and soul he recognizes that in Jesus all things are possible. That Jesus desires our wholeness, our healing, our connectedness. He recognizes that Jesus can heal him, can clean him, can restore him...

    In that moment, Jesus’ healing more than miraculously restores this man’s physical health. That truly is an amazing gift - but the deeper thing, the longer lasting thing, the thing that will change the lepers perspective, change his life:   To be noticed... To be loved.

    Whether it’s the aged person in the nursing home; the man in prison in North Carolina; the homeless in NYC or the leper in Galilee 2,000 years ago - what unites all of these people is that sense of aloneness, isolation... in some cases embarrassment or even shame.   More than likely, we can search our own memories and remember times where we can relate. Times where we felt alone, felt unloved. Moments of despair and isolation. Overwhelmed with a darkness and a despair convincing us there’s nothing that will lift it. Perhaps you’re going through one of those times right now. If that’s the case - then thank God you’re here. Because then you’re like the leper - believing in some corner of that darkened room in your heart those words "If you wish, you can make me clean."
    He does... He desires it. He can do it. He will do it. If we remain open, vulnerable, trusting to His presence and activity in our lives.

    But we’re also meant to recognize we’re not always the leper in the story.   By our Baptisms, we’ve been incorporated into the Body of Christ.  And He wants to utilize us as well.  St. Theresa of Avila once said very beautifully:
    Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
    no hands but yours,
    no feet but yours,
    Yours are the eyes through which to look out Christ's compassion to the world
    Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good;
    Yours are the hands with which he is to bless men now.

    Do we recognize the "lepers" if they are in our sight or are they part of the background that we may not notice because of our schedule or priorities? Sometimes the healing is in the seeing. Choosing to make an effort to notice those who are hurting will in turn bring healing to our souls that may have intentionally or unintentionally distanced ourselves from them. Who needs healing more? Us or them?

    Who are the "lepers" - the "unclean" among us? Who are those looking for healing? Who is it that is looking to be noticed, to be loved? Who is it wallowing in the darkness of sin, the painful isolation of sickness or disease? Who is it that the Lord is putting on our hearts right now who we know, we know that are hurting in some way that we are equipped right now in some real way to bring some healing, some relief, some love and compassion to?

    Will we answer the call or turn away? Who is it that is waiting for an invitation to come to meet Christ - someone you can invite to come with you to Mass - someone who’s been away from Church and simply needs someone to show them care, show them authentic friendship to invite them...   This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday - the beginning of the season of Lent... it’s probably the easiest occasion to invite people who don’t ordinarily come to Mass to join us - and maybe each one of us doing that and being that friend that accompanies someone else is just what someone needs to reconnect to the Lord, to find the healing they’ve been looking for.

    Maybe it’s a classmate, a colleague, a relative... maybe its someone not that we’re not too close to or think about that much but that the Holy Spirit is raising in your mind right now. There’s someone he’s trying to utilize each and everyone of us to bring the power of His love, His life, His light into the deepest, darkest recesses of their souls. Not to solve all their problems. And definitely not to enable them and keep them in their same places of suffering. Rather to proclaim to them that they are noticed - that they are loved - with a true, authentic love. They "the lepers" of the world are crying out to you and I - if you wish, you can make it clean. Do we?

JOEL OSTEEN AND MAKING SENSE OF SUFFERING

Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the FIFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - FEBRUARY 4, 2018 - The readings for today’s Mass can be found at:  http://usccb.org/bible/readings/020418.cfm.  Thanks as always for reading, for sharing this on Facebook, Twitter, reddit and other social media and for your feedback and comments.  Hope you have a great week!  God Bless - Fr Jim  

HOMILY:
            Not too long ago, I bumped into a friend of mine from High School that I hadn’t seen in a long time.  We had kept up with each other’s lives basically through Facebook, so he knew that I was a priest.  That’s usually an interesting thing.  Friends of mine from growing up often feel more confident to talk to me in an incredibly frank way about their thoughts about religion without any real provocation on my part.  So the conversation went from “Hey Joe - man good to see you... what are you up to...” To him asking pretty quickly, “Hey so what do you think about Joel Osteen.”
            Joel Osteen - for those of you who don’t know - is an immensely popular Pastor.  He’s an author of a bunch of best sellers.  I think his Church in Texas is a former stadium or something and they get something like over 20,000 people in person every weekend.   Osteen’s services, and sermons are heard on Satellite Radio on his own channel, and numerous Television stations - reaching millions around the globe - including my friend Joe, who, is a big fan and listens to him every week.
            I explained that I’ve listened to Pastor Osteen a bunch of times - maybe a dozen or so - and found him to be incredibly charismatic, optimistic and very gifted communicator.   I mean he preaches for a solid half hour without any notes in front of him, so that in itself is impressive to me as I need to have my thoughts written out.  From what I heard and have seen on his twitter feed - most of his preaching can be categorized as “prosperity gospel”, meaning that he believes that God always wills financial blessing and physical well being for His children - and if we are faithful to Him, those blessings will manifest in our lives.   On New Year’s Eve, this friend shared Osteen’s tweet that summarized this theme of prosperity Gospel:  Let this sink down in your spirit; your due season is here. Promotion is coming, increase is coming, good breaks are coming. In this due season, your cup is going to overflow. We wish you and your family a #HappyNewYear
            It’s not hard to see why Osteen is immensely popular.  He’s tapping into those universal human desires for wealth and health.  It’s true that God does desire those things for us.  Its how things were going for all creation in the Garden of Eden before sin entered when Adam and Eve decided, at Satan’s insinuation, that what God had prepared for them wasn’t enough. As a result, they rebelled against God - and sin entered into the human existence.  And unfortunately that reality - that sin has affected, or rather afflicted humanity ever since.
            That’s why when we hear those words from that first reading, from the book of Job in the Old Testament; they must resonate for a whole lot of people.  Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery? That probably caught a lot of people’s ears who don’t necessarily expect to hear such negative (but real talk) in Church.  Job has more than one reason to complain.  At this point, he has experienced catastrophic losses of wealth, health, family and friends– rather too suddenly.   His so-called friends are trying to debate with him and convince Job that he must have done something to spark God’s wrath - that all of his woes have to be the result of some unknown sin.  Job rejects that premise - he knows in his heart that his conscience is clear.  But he’s sure sounding pretty beat up tonight.  As he continues.... "I have been assigned months of misery... troubled nights have been allotted to me...I shall not see happiness again.”  Job’s story puzzles readers for a whole bunch of reasons.  Despite this, (spoiler alert) Job will never curse God for what has happened to him, he remains faithful despite his profound misery.  Even when he gets the opportunity to speak directly to God, God’s answers to his questions are far from answers.  Yet, Job continues to praise and bless God.
            Then in the Gospel tonight... we hear about Simon-Peter’s mother-in law (yep, you heard that, St. Peter was a married guy...topic for another day) who is suffering from a fever - which in the ancient world was a serious thing that more often than not meant that someone was dying.  Jesus instantly heals St Peter’s mother in law.  And we read in the very next paragraph, He cures many townspeople as the Gospel describes it “who were sick with various diseases.”  Jesus is able to miraculously heal their pain at that very moment.  But those physical cures are not forever.   Jesus leaves the town.  And at some point, Simon-Peter’s mother, and everyone else, who had experienced such great miracles, would again be vulnerable to suffering, endure illnesses, and experience death.
            We tend to forget that it’s a fate that Jesus himself would not avoid.  Jesus too would be in pain as he witnessed other people’s pain.  Throughout the Gospels, we see instances of how his heart is moved with compassion when someone experiences loss, or pain, or misery.  Ultimately, He would choose to experience every aspect of human suffering, unimaginable pain in mind, body, spirit and heart - on the cross.  We have no idea about this kind of pain, but we know that it was done for a purpose. 
            So this is where the divide often comes between those who follow the prosperity gospel and our perspective as Catholic Christians.   We often ask the deeply challenging question, does our pain also have a purpose?   That’s one of the toughest questions people of faith are left to struggle with.  When we look at the crucifix, we can almost romanticize it.  We can see it as beautiful - which it is for us, the beneficiaries of that supreme act of love.  But when we’re in the midst of that - our own “crucifixions” - when we’re suffering ourselves, it’s not all that pretty.  
            A couple of years ago, Pope Francis was in the Philippines, visiting hundreds of thousands of people who were touched by the devastation of the typhoons.  At that visit, a 12 year old asked the Pope “why so much suffering?”    He basically admitted in tears that he didn’t have an easy answer for her or for any of us.  On another occasion though, he explained "Faith is not a light which scatters all our darkness, but a lamp which guides our steps in the night and suffices for the journey.”  Then, he continued with a point that has been of great comfort to me in times of trial:  “To those who suffer, God does not provide arguments which explain everything; rather, his response is that of an accompanying presence, a history of goodness which touches every story of suffering and opens up a ray of light...”
            Sure, everyone of us, to some extent desire health and wealth... And I know God desires that for all his people.  But in our  far from perfect world, where sin still affects and afflicts us on a personal level and global level, the majority of us might not be experiencing those things. That doesn’t mean He’s not blessing us - nor does it mean we’re doing something wrong and are being punished for it.  For people of faith, we are called to recognize that the things we struggle with in this life aren’t supposed to be the end. Often times they can prepare us for our work on earth and our ultimate home in heaven. That’s not an easy thing to accept.  We prefer the health and wealth now... and with those realities out of our reach, it's hard to imagine what eternal life will be like with no pain. That's when we will be completely healed and not just momentarily, but forever.   For now though, Jesus  calls us, sometimes through pain, to follow Him wholeheartedly.
            Because in the end, for Job, for St. Peter’s mother in law, and for everyone who experienced a miracle cure - the deeper, the more important miracle wasn’t these instances where their pain was taken away in a dramatic moment that blew everyone’s mind.  The more important thing was the strengthening of their faith, the confidence that came from experiencing God’s mercy in the midst of their pain - and being called to follow Him who wouldn’t simply suffer so we can commiserate with Him.  Rather, the one who would rise from the dead would overcome all that suffering and pain and experience the glorious New Life.  So Jesus calls us to follow Him.
            Follow Him when we mourn...
            Follow Him when we weep...
            Follow Him when we feel alone and abandoned...
            Follow Him when we are in agony...
            Follow Him when we in pain...
            Follow Him, knowing that He hasn’t ceased reaching out to us, that he hasn’t abandoned us... He is the all-powerful, omnipresent God who sees me. He knows every minute detail of our pain. He sustains us in our weakness and promises us that if we continue to follow Him, He will do far more than merely blessing us individually with prosperity, promotion or short term gains here and now.  Rather- we will be able to conquer all suffering and death, eventually experiencing eternal life with Him in His loving presence.

CASTING OUT DEMONS

Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the FOURTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - JANUARY 28, 2018 - The readings for today’s Mass can be found at:  http://usccb.org/bible/readings/012818.cfm.  Thanks as always for reading, for sharing this on Facebook, Twitter, reddit and other social media and for your feedback and comments.  Hope you have a great week!  God Bless - Fr Jim  


HOMILY:
It was about a year and a half ago that the Newman Center at Montclair State University welcomed Father Vincent Lampert as a guest lecture.  Here was a parish priest from Indianapolis who for the most part is very unknown, coming to a public, state run university campus.  And he filled the Conference Center (over 600 students) for the second time (he was here in 2010 as well with similar crowds) on a Wednesday Night and had people on the edges of their seats for over 2 and a half hours. 

This was no ordinary parish priest.  Father Lampert is an official exorcist of the Roman Catholic Church who was trained by the Vatican at his Bishop’s request to learn how to perform this dramatic, often depicted but very rarely understood ritual of the Church.   When we announced that Father Lampert was coming and what the topic was, it’s true, we had fun with the advertising and wanted it to be a bit provocative.  Coming a few weeks prior to Halloween, there was already that imaginary “spooky sense” in the atmosphere with decorations on campus of spider webs, tomb stones, witches and black cats.  We billed it as “An Evening with an Exorcist” - and before we knew it, there was quite a stir about it both on and off the campus.
 For the most part it seemed people came out of curiosity.  And I don’t know if I could pit a guess on what percentages this falls to, but I would say a majority came in thinking “This isn’t really real, right?  We don’t actually believe the devil possesses people — That there’s evil operating in the world?”  – We’re too sophisticated to believe such things (especially in this academic environment)
 Father Lampert would most definitely disagree with those notions, not simply because of what the Church and the scriptures teach - but by his own personal experiences.  Witnessing some incredibly dramatic (and for some in the audience, terrifying) things as he has tends to make you more definitive about tthe presence and activity of evil in the world. 

 And while he did share those experiences with us of people posessed:  people levitating, speaking in strange languages and having super human strength – one of the major things he wanted people to walk away from the lecture wasn’t just that exorcisms are real, they’re not simply the stuff of the movies and fiction - but even more important that the devil is real.  The evil one is real.  And while “demonic possession” is very, very, very rare (I think that he said something along the lines of out of 100 calls he receives asking for advice, 99 won’t be demonic possession) the presence and activity of the evil one is much more common, much less dramatic - subtle even, as the evil one doesn’t need to do great and spectacular things.  What are the main goals of the evil one?  

To cause division among humanity so that brother turns against brother – sister turns against sister...  To cause division within ourselves so that we find ourselves conflicted falling short of being who we’re called to be;   To his ultimate goal, desiring to cause separation from the Heavenly Father and us his sons and daughters– who became such through Jesus Christ.   With those goals, the devil doesn’t need to become overly dramatic in causing such things to happen.

 We can see demons all around us – Roaming our world not so much with red pitch-forks and horns, but in much more real and destructive ways: 
 -People who are suffering from a demonic possession by their addictions to alcohol, or drugs  blinding them to the pain they are in and causing those around them. . .
 - People who are tempted by the demons of lust, being trapped by pornography, giving into those distorted desires causing them to have pre-marital sex or affairs...
 - There are demons who in the forms of celebrity and entertainment mock our religious beliefs, mock our convictions.
 - There are demons of greed and materialism that cause people, institutions even nations to have uncontrollable appetites and will do anything, mis use, abuse and trample those who stand in the way of those pursuits...
 - There are demons of laziness and boredom - the hours we can waste being lulled by the radiation screens of our TV’s, computers, phones that make us zombie like.  (If you doubt this one, see how well we react when “the cable goes out” or there’s a power failure... )
 - and there’s so many personal demons that people suffer from, often times in silence, afraid, embarrassed and in real pain...
 The thing is we’ve gotten so cautious not to speak of these things in this way.  It’s not politically correct.  People’s sensitivities might be offended.  You might panic individuals and “turn them off” to religion.  Yet as Father Lampert said in his lecture – if there’s no evil in the world, then there’s no need for Jesus, is there?  Jesus simply becomes a nice moral teacher, a guy who said some really nice things that make for nice bumper stickers and gives us an excuse to have parties and gatherings for his birthday.

 Yet today’s Gospel gives us a different perspective that we need to remember.  We as Catholic-Christians need to realize the reality of this evil enemy we face who comes to destroy.  Not getting overwhelmed by fear (which is one of the devil’s greatest tools) but in trust, in confidence, in believing in the one who teaches and speaks with authority: this Jesus of Nazareth who even the demons know who he is (as they’re quoted in today’s gospel)– as the Holy One of God.  These demons recognize Jesus’ power,  just before he casts them out of the person one who was suffering because of there action in their lives.  Jesus’ casting out of the evil from their midst wasn’t just something to cause a buzz and all 2,000 years ago.  Jesus hasn’t “saved” us from evil in the past tense... it’s an ongoing thing.

 Jesus continues to come to cast out those demons who cause us to suffer.  The Sacrament of Reconciliation – yes, confession – is one of the most tremendous gifts we should treasure.  We have an opportunity to take responsibility for the times I’ve allowed the demons to run free in my life and hear Jesus’ words of forgiveness said directly and personally to us through a priest and those sins are instantly gone.  The Eucharist - is another opportunity: where we receive Jesus body and blood, the only food that can nourish us, strengthen us in these spiritual battles...  Only the devil could twist us so much that so few would utilize these Sacred gifts.  Someone once said “people go and confess to Oprah or Dr. Phil, and thousands tune in to watch it... and after the show ends and the credits role, those sins and demons remain.  In confession, we have an opportunity not to simply reveal those sins, but to get rid of them and to start again...and then nourished by His Body and Blood to be prepared for the spiritual battles and temptations we face. 
Jesus also continues to cast out demons outside of these walls and these sacred and essential things that we celebrate here.  All of you who helped out in collecting, organizing or giving clothes and food to the Homeless in NY last night - participated in casting out the demon of indifference, of neglect, or apathy in sharing Jesus’ love with those who had no way of repaying it other than saying “Thank You.”  All of you - who when you leave here tonight, somehow, in some small way are loving, kind, attentive to someone who is a stranger, an outsider, not part of your inner circles - you help to cast out demons of loneliness, despair as you bring Christ’s light and love to corners of this campus that seem comfortable in the darkness.  In all of those ways, what we receive and nourish on here has real time effects in our own world, here and now.

 The day after the exorcist left our campus, there was an inter-faith conversation that one of our professors from the Religion and Philosophy department runs on a weekly basis and she asked students their perceptions - what struck them in the 2 and a half hour presentation. I was expecting that they would share some of the dramatic stories Father had shared with them or some of the interesting and various questions that were asked by the audience.  But the first young lady, who wasn’t Catholic, spoke really surprised me in a good way.  She said “What struck me?  This guy had seen all of this crazy stuff and he just wasn’t scared.  And when Fr Lampert said ‘What do I have to fear?  Jesus is already victorious over all of this, so there’s nothing to be afraid of’ I really believed him.”

 For those of us who gather here today, those same questions of faith are presented to us - “What do we have to fear?” Do we believe Jesus is victorious over evil?  Even more important though is the question that precedes that, Do we recognize the evil that is in our midst... and want it driven out?

IMPERFECT PEOPLE - PERFECT MESSENGERS

Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - JANUARY 21, 2018 - The readings for today’s Mass can be found at:  http://usccb.org/bible/readings/012118.cfm.  Thanks as always for reading, for sharing this on Facebook, Twitter, reddit and other social media and for your feedback and comments.  Hope you have a great week!  God Bless - Fr Jim

HOMILY:
     Wednesday must have been a slow sports news day - because seemingly from out of nowhere came this headline: “The truth cost Lance Armstrong $100 million... and everything else.”  For those who might not remember, Lance Armstrong was a professional road racing cyclist - who had competed and won in all kinds of world-championship races, when in 1996, he was diagnosed with what was considered a potentially fatal form of cancer.   He publicly fought the disease courageously and inspired millions around the world with his “Live Strong” foundation (people still wear those yellow wrist bands that he made famous). After recovering successfully from cancer, he returned to his previous passion for competitive racing and went on to win an unprecedented 7 Tour De France’s.  He was the epitome of the feel-good story: being an inspiration to both athletes and to people struggling with illnesses. However, in midst of his successes, rumors that he was consuming some forms of banned substances kept circulating.   For years, he denied such accusations. In addition to publicly denying them, he started to sue people and counter-attack those who mentioned that he hadn’t won those medals and titles in an honest manner.
     Well, finally, in 2012, it was concluded that not only was Armstrong doping throughout his career, he was also the ringleader of the “most sophisticated professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.” He finally admitted to Oprah Winfrey in an interview a year later that he had taken banned substances in his career.  As a result, he was banned from all professional sports...   The Live Strong foundation, which he helped create and continued to lead and support, severed all ties with him...   He lost every endorsement deal he had and now lawsuits are piling up against him as reporters, former partners, and other cyclists who had publically stated their suspicions that Armstrong was cheating claim that their careers were ruined by Armstrong’s counter (and now, known to be false) attacks.   USA Today says that Armstrong reports that his saying “Yes” to Oprah’s question, "if he had taken banned substances in his career," has indeed cost him over $100 million - not to mention his reputation, his career and many of his friendships.
     This story has always bothered me more than other “juicing in sports” stories.  On one hand, other people who did similar things seem to be doing okay (Alex Rodriguez ‘A-rod’ comes to mind). They get a suspension, they come back and they’re still making millions as athletes or sports commentators. I get that there are more and different details to this story and so, such a comparison is probably unfair. 
     Maybe why it bothered me so much is because Lance Armstrong was a hero to me, and I’m not even a cycling fan...  He was a hero because he was a living, breathing example that just because you’ve been diagnosed with a serious illness, it doesn’t mean that life should be treated as a death sentence - and even more that, you can and should fight the situation and try to come back even stronger.  His winning the Tour De France wouldn’t have mattered to millions upon millions who were already inspired to see the guy get back on that bike, when a few years earlier they didn’t think he’d even be alive. Why did he think he needed to be perfect to share, what in many ways was already a perfect message?
     I guess we can ask ourselves the same question from time to time. Because it’s the reason some people shy away from important calls, important tasks... It’s the reason others spectacularly fail. We might get intimidated by what’s being asked of us - or we tend to become so delusional at our being on task at something that we lose all sense of humility about who we are.
     In today's Gospel, we have Jesus beginning his ministry by announcing good news. "The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the good news." What is this good news?  That forgiveness is available and that recovery is possible.   That one can find one's true self even after a disastrous fall, or maybe precisely through the fall itself.   That fall can be a lot of things - a failure in work, in school; the breakdown of a relationship; a serious personal sin - whatever it is, it may be exactly what we need to open our eyes to our true selves.
     It’s telling that Jesus had entrusted this good news to be conveyed by those who would testify to that reality in their own life stories.   Every single one of these men that Jesus calls would be less than ideal, and far from perfect.  Every single one of them would have their own failures and sins (some in spectacular fashion) - some recorded in scripture for all of human history to be able to read for themselves; some that are hidden from us, but must have been very memorable to them in the deepest recesses of their hearts and souls.  Yet Jesus called them.  He utilized them, as they were - imperfect men to deliver His Good News - a message of perfect love.
     The same is true for us in our day and age.   Just this past Friday that hit me, being at the March for Life.  This March is the largest, annual event to call attention to abortion being one of the greatest human rights violations of our time.  And at the March for Life, they very movingly included testimonies from women who have had abortion or participated in them and now want to help other women: women who’ve had abortions and are suffering and need healing; women who are considering ending a pregnancy and feel alone, scared and feel unable to bring that child to life (they also are trying to help men who are suffering because of abortion as well - who recognize that they failed in their roles as being fathers to these children; failed in being supportive to these mothers confronted with such a horrific choice).  Just hearing the amazing number of stories of how people are joyfully and lovingly taking something from their past and not letting those wounds, the  sadness and pain of that trauma define or defeat them, but motivate them and transform them and countless others was inspiring and moving.  They communicate in a profound way, they give witness to this the

first and greatest blessing, greatest gift we all share: life.

    That’s just one example.  Sadly in a broken world, where people are suffering with all sorts of struggles - addictions, depression, failures - all things that isolate and weigh people down, God wants us to experience His love, His healing, and the freedom that comes when we experience His embracing us in our brokenness.
     In one of the saddest parts of the Lance Armstrong story, they observed that many of his closest friends have become his enemies. The reporter from USA Today concluded their story by asking Armstrong if he had any comment about the people he has wronged and the apologies that some felt haven’t come.  He said “No comment, and no need to ever contact me again.”     I hope that will change.  I hope that won’t be his last comment or the last we’ve ever heard from him.  Because he still has much to offer, much to share, much to learn from.    And we need to learn from each other and not forget our falls and failures either.   Not so we wallow in them or tear each other down because of them.   Rather so we can experience this good news that we are not forever the prisoners of our past. We are loved by God.   Sometimes God even allows a fall to help us see ourselves as we truly are.   But God's love, mercy, and forgiveness remains readily available to us if we are open to receive them.   Yes, we are sinners but we are forgiven sinners.  He wants us to believe and experience that... and then as the disciples did back then,  today, as imperfect men and women to share that same hope to others still struggling... to bring His perfect message of Good News to the ends of the earth as we become his “fishers of men.”

WHY STAY SILENT? - Eve of March for Life

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

HOMILY:

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

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

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

How often do we stay silent?

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

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

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

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