A GIGANTIC CROSS - A LIVING WITNESS

Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the FIFTH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME - February 7, 2016. The readings for today can be found at http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/020716.cfm . Thanks as always for reading, sharing this blog on your Facebook, Twitter and Reddit - and your comments and feedback. Have a great week - enjoy the Super Bowl! God Bless - Fr. Jim


HOMILY:

Out of Texas came an interesting story this past week of an ambitious and unique construction project. In the city of Corpus Chrisi (which is Latin, by the way for "The Body of Christ" which the City was named by a group of Spanish-Catholic settlers in honor of the Eucharist, the Blessed Sacrament we receive at Mass) a group of Christians broke ground on building what they hope will be the largest Cross in the Western Hemisphere.

The plans call for a 210 feet tall (or 19 story) structure, built on this plain of land that would be easily visible for at least 5 miles away (and 10 miles from air). This will beat the nearby Texas cross in Houston which is about 170 feet tall - but will still fall short of the world’s largest cross which can be found in Madrid Spain and is more than double this one - at 495 feet! This Corpus Christi Cross will not come cheap - it will cost close to a million dollars of which about 20% has already been raised.

The idea for this came to a local pastor from Corpus Christi who while traveling with his family saw the cross in Houston. He recalled how just seeing it from a distance captured his attention and amazement and made such an impression on him that he didn’t stop thinking about it. In the days and weeks following, that image, that sight stayed in his mind and heart. He went back to Houston to talk to some of their local pastors and heard "story after story about lives that were changed, suicides that were aborted, relationships that were restored because of the influence of the cross, reminding them that the Redeemer could restore their brokenness." Not long after, he rallied people in his own community to join in making this ambitious plan a reality in their own community. They hope by year’s end for the cross to be completed.


It’s a unique, creative, ambitious plan for this group of Christians. But that gigantic cross - or even our own beautiful Crucifix that we have in front of the Newman Center - only has meaning, will only be able to be a symbol that would resonate in anyone’s heart and mind if you and I take to heart what we just heard in tonight’s Gospel.

In this passage, Jesus the carpenter after speaking with crowds tells the fishermen to go back out into the deep waters after an abysmal night fishing to try again. You can sense Simon Peter’s frustration, apprehension bordering on dismissal of the suggestion... What does the carpenter (Jesus’ craft) know about fishing? The tired and defeated fishermen are a bit grumpy. Yet Peter yields to Jesus- out of respect for all that they had seen and experienced so far. Those experiences have told them there’s more to Jesus then they fully understand. And then when they do, and experience this abundant catch, Simon Peter is embarrassed that he doubted, hesitated, was reluctant to follow Jesus commands. Rather than embarrassing him (Can you imagine Jesus screaming "TOLD YOU SO, YOU DOPE" "WHAT DO YOU THINK OF ME NOW CHUMP?" No - we can’t... ) Jesus instead calls these simple fishermen who had been listening to him, accompanying him, experiencing his interactions with the crowds and invites them to follow him in a much more committed manner. He calls them to leave behind their former ways of life: leave behind their ambition, their self-reliance, their selfish desires; leave behind their self-centeredness, their sinfulness, and to trust that He can fulfill their deepest longings, their greatest needs, heal their great hurts; relieve their tremendous burdens.

To follow Him as a disciple who will share this good news to the world. He calls them - he prepares them - and us - to be living bearers of his Word in our own homes, communities, dorms, classrooms...

As Pope Francis recently put it, Jesus needs us to be "men and women who radiate the truth, beauty and life-changing power of the Gospel. Men and women who are channels of God’s grace, who enable his mercy, kindness and truth to become the building blocks of a house that stands firm. A house which is a home, where brothers and sisters at last live in harmony and mutual respect, in obedience to the will of the true God, who has shown us, in Jesus, the way to that freedom and peace for which all hearts long.

Jesus has called, gifted, empowered each and everyone of us in our Baptism into discipleship. You and I are called to be living images of what the cross signifies. We are called to transform what is bleak and dark and hopeless by our words, our actions, our lives. May we even find in the small, simple, and unheralded acts of compassion, healing and justice that we can be that living sign which that gigantic Cross represents.

AMUR & TIMUR: A STUDY ON FRIENDSHIP

Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the FOURTH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME- JANUARY 31, 2016. The readings for today can be found at: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/013116.cfm. Thanks as always for reading, sharing this blog on your Facebook, Twitter and Reddit’s - and your comments and feedback. Always appreciate your taking the time to stop by this blog. Hope you have a great week. God Bless - Fr Jim


Homily:


It is rare that my brother forwards me a link for a story or an article or something. But when he does it’s a gem. So a few months ago - and I’m not quite sure how I missed this but - news outlets around the world were fascinated by, as the BBC described it ‘the animal friendship that was never meant to be.’ Back in November at a Zoo in Russia, a 3 year old Siberian tiger named Amur was awaiting dinner time. A goat named Timur was thrown into his pen. Amur would normally pounce on whatever was thrown into his pen, be it rabbit or goat. But for some reason these two seemed to give each other the once over. The animal experts said that this had happened once before - another goat, the prey, didn’t demonstrate fear or weakness so the tiger, the predator kind of left him alone. But the head of the park said "The situation is different now and the animals are great friends." They filmed them walking together like a pair of good friends, playing games like hide and seek and soccer together. The experts talked about how the tiger became protective of his goat friend Timur that he hissed at zoo workers who attempted to get close to either of the animals (something Amur had never done before). The brave goat was said to have appeared to get nervous and anxious whenever he lost sight of Amur and this new relationship seems to have had a positive effect on Amur’s nerves. Before, he would roar in frustration day and night, but now that he has his buddy, he’s reportedly calm and relaxed. The Zoo had recently set up 16 different cameras to film this unlikely friendship for a new reality show.

So Saturday my brother sends me the followup headline: Unlikely goat and tiger friendship ends tragically. Yahoo! News reported: "An unlikely animal friendship that inspired the world has tragically come to an end. The long companionship between a Siberian tiger named Amur and a goat named Timur dissolved in a fight on January 29th." What I found hysterical was now the experts have redefined what was called playing between the two. Now they say: "Unfortunately the relationship came to an end when Amur lashed out at the goat after what officials refer to as ‘weeks’ of bullying. Apparently Timur had been jumping on the tiger, poking it with its horns and attempting to push it... the large cat grabbed the goat by the scruff of its neck and shook it like a kitten" (reports the Siberian Times). Officials quickly entered the habitat distracting the tiger to remove Timur and give him emergency veterinary treatment. The story closed with the theory that "Amur’s patience was likely pushed to the limit due to a nearby female in heat."

So I have like a thousand questions.

The first one may offend some of you, but why did they save the goat? Not to be mean, but they had already sentenced him to be Amur’s dinner 3 months ago. Perhaps the tiger felt a little full at the time and wasn’t ready for goat that day and now decided enough with the Tiger Chow... lets have some goat.

The more frank, honest part of me though thought - how sad the whole story was... not that animals act like animals.... but that so many truly seemed to buy into this being something we would call or look at as friendship. The fact that a tiger didn’t rip into some defenseless goat and was walking around in its pen with him (until a lady tiger got horny and then Amur lost it) That’s what we think is friendship? That’s the best we can do? Maybe it just points out how trivial a thing like friendship has become. A "friend" used to be someone who was more than just a fan of some of the same things you were; was more than someone who had some of the same interests that you held or simply spend time with. Friendship used to be based on something greater than coming from the same town or University. Friendship was based on love.

But that’s another problem too. Love, is another thing people seem to have the wrong idea about. "I’m Loving it" Mc Donald’s tells us about all the things we can purchase off their value menu. Can you really Love McDonalds Quarter Pounder with Cheese, Large Fries and Vanilla Shake? I’ll grant you that it sounds really good right now- but that’s not love... Or people will say "I LOVE watching ‘The Big Bang Theory’" - no you laugh at it, you enjoy it, but that’s not love either. Sometimes you might hear an individual say "I Love this person" when what they really mean is I’m lusting after that person... or "this person is someone who does things for me that I’m glad there here to do...." – sorry... that’s not love...

The word "Love" has been mis-used so much that people forget that Love requires sacrifice, Love requires determination; Love exists when I am selfless... Love is the opposite of all that it is so often characterized as; the opposite of focusing on my enjoyment, my pleasure, my wants, my needs all being fulfilled...

The reason all of this is important is because if we don’t look at how messed up some our notions of these things are, how can we even begin to wrap our minds around the invitation that is being extended to us? How do we react to the realization that Jesus Christ wants friendship with us? True friendship based on true love.

We have been reading St. Paul’s letter to the church in the wild and wacky city of Corinth over the last couple of weeks. Most of the believers in Corinth were extremely excited about their faith, there were people with tremendous gifts in the community there were teachers and healers and those who could speak in tongues there were those who could lead in worship and there were preachers: everything you needed for a vital church was happening in their midst - but for one thing.

They didn’t really know what Love was. The passage we heard today from thirteenth chapter of Corinthians is probably the favorite wedding text of all time. I think 80% of the couples I’ve celebrated has it read during the wedding ceremony - and with good reason - it is a wonderful chapter. But when Paul wrote it - he wasn't thinking a whole lot about weddings nor was he even really trying to define or describe what love is- though he does do that. His main point was saying to his fellow Christians that in the end, nothing matters more than the answer to the question - are you truly living out the love of Christ? Love - the kind of love that God has for us - is the yardstick, measure, and norm, of our faith. The folks in Corinth despite some things on the surface that looked great, there were some things undermining the community. A man was sleeping with his step-mother; two elders dragging each other off to court rather than making peace with each other; some really didn't behave all that well at the meals in the community: some ate too much, some drank too much, while others went hungry; there were public disagreements about which of the apostles and teachers were the best - and which were worst; - and there were some who believed that their contribution to the Church was more significant than the contributions being made by others - and that their views on things should be given greater weight because of that, - while others felt like they weren't important to God or the church at all because they didn't have the gifts, or the talents, or the wealth to offer that they thought they should have. In short people in Corinth were, at times rude to one another, impatient, arrogant, greedy, selfish, egotistical, and unkind. This even though they had otherwise displayed some very wonderful spiritual gifts - this even though people were healed at their meetings, and the word of God was proclaimed, and people were clothed fed and prayed for.

This passage from Corinthians on love can be difficult to hear. If I have all faith so as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing... In short, in the end - Love is the test of our faith. People know we are Christians by our love and they know that we are something less than fully Christian - by our lack of it. That’s why we have to fight against the temptation to give into jealousy or anger or spitefulness or selfishness, or greed or sensuality or praise or any other principle that we find is ruling our lives. We do that not because it’s easy for us to do (in fact it can be very hard) - but we do it because we Love our friend Jesus.

We don’t have to be perfect at that (and probably won’t be). Again, look at what Paul’s words tonight. Think back to Paul’s own life experience for that matter... He failed and faltered which is one reason these Corinthians are so near and dear to his heart. He could relate to them. But he also knew and experienced the depth of love and friendship in Jesus’ mercy, in His forgiveness. We might find ourselves in that same position. Struggling with the same sins, holding on to hurts and angers, failing to really open ourselves to the Lord to really listen to Him- what he’s asking us to do... We may do these and a lot of things and just feel like this is too hard. Which is why Jesus gave us the essential piece for this Love to become real. One of the first things Jesus does after the Resurrection, to the Apostles who failed him was to give the gift of His Forgiveness, with the command to share that forgiveness with one another. That’s not just the basis for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, or Confession, that’s essential in our relationships with one another if we ever hope to love one another as He did.

Despite one Zoo officials publicly stated hope: It’s doubtful that Tamur and Amur will ever be able to get back together. There not supposed to. There animals. We’re not. We’re called to look for friendship that is a bit more challenging, more meaningful than simply clicking an invite button on a computer screen.

Jesus made us his friends through his life, his passion, his death and resurrection and he was not motivated by some trite, shallow reason but rather his amazing love. Are we willing to experience true friendship with him by sharing that true love with one another?

WHAT ABOUT YOU?

Hi everyone, here's my homily for the THIRD SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME - JANUARY 24, 2016 - the readings for today can be found at: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/012416.cfm .  Thanks as always for reading this blog; sharing it on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Reddit) and for your comments and feedback.  Have a great week - God Bless - Fr Jim

HOMILY:

So I got this email the other day - it was really unexpected, incredible news. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was as I’m reading this message on my laptop.  But now I cannot find it. I don’t know what I did... I KNOW I didn’t delete it, there’s no way I’d delete it. But I’ve gone up and down in that list of emails in my Inbox, I don’t know how many times. I’ve looked through all my other email files. It’s not in the Spam file, the Junk Mail file (I don’t know why I have BOTH of those, but... it’s not in either of them ) I even looked through all the other files - you know the sent file, or the drafts file to see if by mistake I moved it there...It’s not there either. So it’s gone, right? It’s just so frustrating because I keep trying to figure out HOW DID I LOSE THIS MESSAGE!  The last thing I remember was that I hit the “X” in the corner to minimize the email, but I know I was saving it... it was too important, and all I needed to do was get some information for the guy who had contacted me. I was going to get right back to it.   I’m just so frustrated, because I don’t know how the guy found me in the first place and now this opportunity is gone because I lost the message.

            You see, it seems that this prince from Nigeria was reaching out to me, he just got this HUGE inheritance and somehow found my name and email. If I could help him transfer his funds to the US, he’d give me $100 million - all I needed to do was email him my bank account. I don’t know - it’s so frustrating – First I didn’t win the Powerball, now this… I guess you win some, lose some...

            It’s amazing - that “Nigerian - Email scam” or variations of it has been circulating in email boxes for years and years now. Most people read these and realize it’s a scam because they’ve heard the stories of people who’ve gotten the same email, believed it and then have been swindled out of thousands of dollars, some hitting $10,000 or more (which I guess, in light of the millions you’re going to receive seems a drop in the bucket)

            We’re understandably skeptical people. We hear or read something like that and, sure, we wish it were true. Who couldn’t do a lot with a $100 million dollars? But most people learn pretty quickly the old adage, if it’s too good to be true, then it probably is.

            For some when they first heard the words Jesus is proclaiming in tonight’s gospel, that’s what came to mind. “Yeah, right - this guy Jesus - he’s the one God was promising would bring glad tidings to the poor. He’s the one who would proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, THIS GUY IS THE ONE WHO IS GOING to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord. Yeah, right - this carpenter - What’s the scam? some thought.  And sadly, many today, think the same thing...

            There’s an interesting thing about this whole gospel reading though. Before we heard Jesus giving this first sermon, we heard the very beginning words from the Gospel of Luke. If you didn’t have the text in front of you as the Gospel was proclaimed, you might not have realized that the reading started with these four verses from the very beginning of the Gospel of Luke . . . then we jumped ahead three chapters past all the Christmas accounts all the way to Chapter 4 verses 14-21 to get to this selection which is the beginning of Jesus’ preaching and teaching in Galilee.  On the surface, those first four verses don’t seem that important to warrant our attention in this Post-Christmas season. It’s basically like when you open a Stephen King book and see on one of the first pages, “To my Mom and Dad” or someone who’s important to him.  We read Luke’s “dedication page.”
            And just as we don’t know the people that most authors dedicate their works too, we don’t know who this guy Theophilus is.   Theophilus – sounds like a disease or a cure for one!  He’s only mentioned here, and in Luke’s sequel to the Gospel, the Acts of the Apostles where Luke continues writing to Theophilus. So we have little to no historical information on who he was.  So why does the Church want us to hear this dedication?

            I think it’s to remember that this Gospel wasn’t just written as a historical record recounting the occurrences of Jesus. A lot of people were talking about Jesus, what he said, what he did.  Things that had happened that caused them to follow Jesus themselves as they said to others, “You should, too.”

              But St. Luke is more passionate... so much so that he stops and says, “Theophilus - I know you’ve heard a lot of buzz about Jesus. I want to share my passion – my experience – my life’s witness to what I experienced.” See, Luke isn’t just passing on a critical review of Jesus’ message or giving information about Him. He’s sharing what's moved him - what's transformed him. His encounter with Christ was that important and he cared enough for Theophilus that Luke organized all his memories, all his thoughts to, as he says “write it down in an orderly sequence for you, most excellent Theophilus, (Next time my friends ask me to do something I’m not going to take them seriously unless they call me ‘most excellent’); so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received.”

            People in our day and age continue to have encounters with Christ. And when they do, it’s beautiful to witness how the blindness is gone, the freedom they seek is found - the promises that are written in the deepest recesses of the hearts are fulfilled.

           A few months ago, Pope Francis when he was visiting Philadelphia recounted the story of one of their own - Katherine Drexel, or rather, St. Katherine Drexel.  She grew up in the mid 1800's to an incredibly wealthy family (in today’s dollars, her family estate would be $500 million) But she had also experienced tremendous loss - her mother died weeks after she was born, her step mother died when she was a young-adult and then a few years later her father died.  So by her early 30's she had boatloads of money, was considered a “socialite” in the Philly scene... but had experienced tremendous personal loss.  While her family was tremendously wealthy, they were also tremendously charitable.  And Katherine was very moved by the suffering of the Native Americans as well as the African Americans.  While she was still mourning the death of her father, she had gone to Rome to visit Pope Leo XIII and was going to advocate that he send some more missionaries to support the efforts that she and her family were supporting financially.  At that, the Pope very pointedly said – “What about you?  What are you going to do?”  Those words cut to her heart.  It changed her life because now what came front and center was the reminder that by our Baptisms each and every one of us have become members, as St. Paul so beautifully told us in the second reading - of the Body of Christ.  Katherine recognized how each and every one of us has a responsibility, a mission in our own unique ways, to be the ones to share the good news of what Jesus’ brings... the glad tidings, the liberty, the recovery he promises.  With that, she rocked the entire world, as a newspaper of the time said “Miss Drexel enters convent gives up 7 million dollars.”

            St. Luke and St. Katherine in their own ways share their encounters with Jesus.  How in their poverty, Jesus brought glad tidings to them… In the areas of their lives where they felt captive, imprisoned – Jesus was the one who liberated them.  In whatever blindness they had experienced, there was a correction, there was a restoration of vision.   Whatever it was that oppressed them, how Jesus was able to provide the freedom.

           It is said that here, in the United States, the largest single religious denomination is Roman Catholics. You want to guess what the second largest group is?  Former Roman Catholics. And one of the fastest growing groups in the country is those who claim no religious identification. While there’s a lot of reasons given for that, and a lot of fingers being pointed why that is, one big finger is pointing at us...   Those words from Pope Leo to St. Katherine have to ring in our ears, in our hearts - and cause some self-reflection - What about you?  What are you going to do? Do we have this personal relationship with Jesus, have we experienced Him and been transformed by Him?  So often we can approach the Sacraments, or come to Mass as simply a weekly obligation. Just like I have to get my gas tank filled up, I gotta get my religious stuff done for the week. And we can have an equal sense of passion for both of those things.

           Do we remember what our God has done and is continuing to do for us? How Jesus continues to come to us, proclaiming glad tidings to those in poverty. For us in this “first-world nation” that poverty is for a different, almost more urgent need.  Mother Teresa observed, “There is more hunger for love and appreciation . . . than for bread.” Jesus wants to heal that.   Jesus continues to want to free us from the imprisonment that sin causes, the blindness we can have to how self-focused, self-involved, self-deluded we can become, ignoring the pains and sufferings of those around us. Jesus’ proclamation of freedom is still awaiting the selfless sharing of every one of us to relieve the world's oppression. That is Jesus’ mission, that is His mission for us . . . but that’s not going to happen simply because we happened to make it here to Mass today to hear these words.

           St. Luke and St. Katherine aren’t like some anonymous Nigerian prince offering lofty promises to unsuspecting victims, trying to pull some scam on people. They’re very lives give testimony to how they encountered Jesus Christ. How that encounter caused them to lay down the lives they had been living to share the glad tidings with you. That Jesus is the one we’ve all been waiting for. God’s son has come among us.

            Jesus is asking us to go deeper, to see what He has done for each of us personally.  How the Gospel you and I have heard proclaimed, how the Eucharist - Jesus’ Body and Blood that we consume each week - has transformed us. Maybe we need to take a step back and think about that and remember that. Remembering the difference He has made - imagining how desolate different times and spaces in our life would’ve been without him . . . And then to pass on that hope and fullness and joy to others.  To make a difference doesn’t mean you need to give up all your worldly belongings to accomplish this, although you may be moved to do so, but I think a another approach would be mindful of how you can serve God daily.   To hear Jesus ask that question What about you and to listen and look with an openness to the Holy Spirit for the nudges you feel to go into action.   It may be helping someone you don’t really like a lot that happens to be in a class your taking... it may be traveling to another country to serve.  It can be deciding to take your faith more seriously here and now... it could be opening the door to the astonishing, but amazingly beautiful call to serve him all of your life as a priest or religious...  In whatever way in small acts and life long commitments, the Lord is asking each of us - What about you... Knowing how the Theolophus’ of our day and age are waiting for this testimony... waiting for you and I to take up the example of St Luke, St Katherine and testifying to what our encounter with Jesus has brought to us and the good news He wants to bring to them....

UNDERCOVER BOSS: JESUS EDITION

Hi everyone - here's my homily for THE BAPTISM OF THE LORD - January 10, 2016.  The readings for today can be found at http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/011016.cfm (with the optional readings for "Year C").  Thanks as always for reading this blog, sharing it on Social Media (Twitter, Facebook, Reddit) and your comments and feedback.  I'm grateful for your support!   God Bless - Fr. Jim
With today being the end of the Christmas season this will be my last commercial for the Annual Christmas Appeal for Newman Catholic.  I'm immensely grateful for so many people's generous support.  If you'd like more information on the appeal and would like to make a donation, please go to our website at www.MSUNEWMAN.com The generosity of alumni, family members of our students and friends of Newman makes a tremendous difference.  Many thanks for your kindness and consideration.
HOMILY:

The television program “Undercover boss” has become another reality show that has become an international hit.  Millions of people tune in each week to see a high ranking executive or owner of a corporation taking an entry level position in their own company.  They do this job for about a week to experience what their own employees experience and get a sense of how people feel about the company from an extremely unique vantage point.  So, for example, the owner of Dunkin Donuts might get a job as a cashier at one of their shops for a week and then get to see first hand what goes on when the boss isn’t around; hear what the employees really think of the company; see what it’s like on a daily basis with customers.  To do this,the bossses have to work with some makeup or costume people to develop this tremendous disguise - shaving or coloring their hair; adding glasses or some other dramatic addition or change to help them go undercover.

In the course of the six years the show has been on the air, it’s obvious why the show has been so successful.  For millions of hard-working people who are employed by larger corporations, it’s nice to imagine their boss doing something like the owner of the chain of convenience stores named 7-11 did – donning a red apron on for a week, getting behind the cash register, grabbing a mop and seeing firsthand for themselves what people on the “front lines” of these business’ experience.  Even more exciting for viewers to see is that company change as a result of the experience.  Several companies showcased on the show have  addressed issues that were really affecting workers that perhaps had been ignored up to that point.

This one executive worked one day packing boxes in his company’s warehouse.  At the end of the day, the 37 year old called his mother and said “Mom there’s no way I’m going to be able to do this again tomorrow.”  The experience caused him to mandate that all his executives rotate into some of the call centers the company has on a regular basis, just so they will always keep their employees in mind and what they go through.  The owner of White Castle was so moved by the stress and health concerns of his employees that there company created a place online where their workers could access health information from a doctor or nurse directly and then took it a step further and re-evaluated the medical coverage his employees received which resulted in White Castle paying their employees some of their out of pocket co-payments.

The dramatic moment of each episode is “the reveal” - when the boss meets with all the employees he’s worked with undercover, now without the disguise on... and then shares his perspectives and plans to change the workplace.  Its dramatic seeing the effect this has on everyone involved – how this visit of the boss to his people could transform the whole company.

Throughout the Christmas Season, which we conclude today with this Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord, we’ve been recounting the visit of the “boss” to His people... God stepping down into humanity.  Becoming one of us... Becoming one with us... and How that has transformed the whole creation.

Just to recount... On Christmas the Gospel writers told us how Jesus was “Christ and Lord” and that Jesus was the “the true light which enlightens everyone was coming into the world.”  A few days later on the Feast of the Holy Family, we heard the one account of the domestic family life of Jesus Mary and Joseph - where as a 12 year old boy, Jesus was someone amazingly special... Filled with depth of wisdom and understanding that shocks the learned Rabbis, scholars and teachers in the Temple.  On New Years, with the Feast of Mary, the Mother of God, the Gospel reminded us that the Blessed Virgin Mary’s son was God’s Son as shown by his name Jesus meaning “God Saves.”  Yes Joseph and especially Mary were drawn into the drama of the Incarnation, of God becoming Man - but Jesus remains fully God as well.  And then last Sunday with the feast of the Epiphany, we heard of that spectacular sight: a star, which catches the attention of the wise men who following it are led to the newborn king of the Jews.

All of that has been in someways establishing this mysterious joining of God and Man.  It’s mind boggling for us to imagine that God who is the author, creator of all that is enters into humanity in this both humble way - as a baby to poor, but devout and loving people - and still possesses that divinity: with those titles: Christ and Lord; God Saves; King of the Jews.

Now as we are about to leave the Christmas season, the “Undercover Boss” has his great reveal.

He joins with the people who are longing for God to fulfill the promises he spoke of to the Prophet Isaiah.  The valley’s being filled in, the mountains and hills being made low... There’s this desire in the human heart that longs for that.  For our valleys of disappointment, discouragement, of fear to be filled in.  For the mountains in our lives: our selfishness, our self centeredness, our sins - all the things which seem to block and obscure and make God from our lives to be dealt with.  So all of these people are responding to the preaching of Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist who was calling them to repentance, to change their lives, to step into this water and to come out committed to doing that.  To take steps so they could begin to prepare to experience and encounter this God they longed for.

Jesus joins those crowds.  Walks with them.  Sees their desire for God; their resolve to try to change their lives; their hope that God will fulfill the promises of their scriptures and the preaching of John.  And in all humility, in his love for humanity, he steps into waters he doesn’t need to step into... receives a baptism of repentance he doesn’t need ...simply to show how this Christ and Lord; how this King of the Jews, how the God who saves - will save.    His “big reveal” doesn’t come with a demands of servitude revealing himself as a God who is Master and we are mere servants.  Jesus demonstrates that he’s not spying on us waiting for us to screw up and cast us into Hell.  This whole episode reveals Jesus comes as a brother who loves us... who will do anything for us - will lay down his life for us.  Why?  Because of what St Paul told us in the Second reading “not because of any righteous deeds we had done, but because of his mercy.”

Yes, because of this extravagant, undeserved gift of amazing love - His Mercy.   And as he does this, God the Father can’t hold back anymore.  He can’t contain his excitement.  As Jesus is there with these people in these waters of repentance, the Father’s voice is heard crying out “You are my beloved Son with you I am well pleased!”

Unlike the television show when the undercover boss simply improves the lives of his employees, while the boss retains his position - with this revelation, God makes it possible – and desires – that you and I to become His beloved Sons and Daughters as well.  That we will follow the examples of humility, of selflessness, of sacrifice, of mercy and love our “Boss” has offered.  Recognizing how blessed are we that he doesn’t hide His presence or limit his visits to a random week.  He remains with us here - in His Word and in His Body and Blood in the Eucharist.

May we recapture our amazement that he visits, he remains with us - with the promise to transform the world...if we would just cooperate with Him.

FINDING GOD

Hi everyone - and Happy New Year.  Here's my homily for THE EPIPHANY OF THE LORD - January 3, 2016.  The readings for today's Mass can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/010316.cfm.  Thanks as always for reading, for your feedback and comments and for sharing this blog with your families and friends on your Facebook, twitter, and other social media outlets.  I'm humbled and grateful for your tremendous support and encouragement over the years I've been sharing my homilies online.  Merry Christmas and all of God's richest blessings of Love and Peace to you and yours in this New Year - Father Jim

As the Christmas season is coming to an end in a week, so will our Annual Christmas Appeal for Newman Catholic.  I'm immensely grateful for so many people's generous support.  If you'd like more information on the appeal and would like to make a donation, please go to our website at www.MSUNEWMAN.com The generosity of alumni, family members of our students and friends of Newman makes a tremendous difference.  Many thanks for your kindness and consideration.
HOMILY:
A couple of weeks ago I was rushing around the Newman Center trying to cram more things into an hour then I should – run to the bank, swing by the Pharmacy, fill up the gas tank, maybe grab a cup of coffee - be back here for an appointment... Ok, sounds like a plan.  I grab my phone, my wallet - my keys... wait, where are my keys?  I patted my pants pocket - they weren’t there. Looked on the desk. Nope. Bathroom near the sink - another strike... And so on... Now mind you I have this stupid long lanyard attached to them precisely to make them hard to lose which is now infuriating me even more as I tear each room apart. I’m retracing every possible step, I’m emptying garbage cans... getting more and more frazzled by the moment as my jam packed hour of chores is now shortened by 25 minutes. As I looked at the mess as "Hurricane Father Jim" blew through each room and space, I put my hands in my jacket pocket - and suprise, surprise... yeah they were right there - all along. Go ahead - make an old age joke; an ADHD joke; or even quote my father’s words of exasperation when I was a teenager "you’d lose your head if it wasn’t screwed on to you"- all of them I accepted for myself in that moment of ridiculousness. How could I have missed something that while not right in front of my face wasn’t too far from it?

I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s ever had such an experience...searching for something that we know has got to be here somewhere. And feeling somewhat foolish when we find it in a somewhat ordinary, routine space.

In a sense, that’s what this feast of the Epiphany that we celebrate today is all about.

On some level, everyone is looking for God, searching for Him, longing for Him. That’s not something just limited to those who make their way to Mass every Sunday. It’s a human desire (that we recognize is part of the creator’s master plan - that He who made us, made us for Him; ergo there’s that internal desire for him)... But so many people don’t know Him, let alone know how to find Him.  

Here at the start of this new calendar year - there’s a general sense of looking for something outside of ourselves, outside of our experiences that will transform our very lives into something new and different and great... The latest shaman promising "inner peace" – The newest relationship site promising happiness – Some different spiritual guides or leaders offering us a path to connecting with a higher power that will reshape our modes of thinking and living. Even some of us who come here every Sunday might find ourselves tempted to join the many who don’t as they turn to someplace new or different to connect to God, to find Him in some new way, new place.

Hearing this Gospel, we might even be jealous of these Magi, these mysterious men from afar who are drawn by this spectacular light in the desert sky. Yet before we get lost in the Hollywood cinematic version we have in our head -- where does that star lead them to?    Not some miraculous supernatural sight like the parting of the red sea or a burning bush or something... we hear it leads them to the same poor, simple couple - Mary and Joseph - these humble holy people who were open to the Lord and said yes to Him. God chooses to enter into humanity here - in as ordinary and routine a place as we can imagine. He becomes one of us, one with us.

That is the epiphany we are called to experience, to renew ourselves in, to proclaim to the world: God walks with us, among us. That He can be found in the ordinary, the routine - right here, among us. We don’t have to go relentlessly searching for him in some distant place. And to those who continue to walk in darkness - who do not know him, it is up to us to make Him known and make Him appear.

How do we do that? He is made manifest in every act of selflessness. He is made real in every act of sacrificial love. When we do those things, then He continues to be that light that has come - that shines even as "darkness covers the art and thick clouds cover the peoples..." for as Isaiah had prophesized "no longer shall your sun go down or your moon withdraw, for the Lord will be your light forver..." (Isaiah chapter 60)

Pope Francis a few months ago reflected on the words of Isaiah the prophet when he celebrated Mass in New York City. He beautifully expressed:

One special quality of God’s people is their ability to see, to contemplate, even in "moments of darkness", the light which Christ brings. God’s faithful people can see, discern and contemplate his living presence in the midst of life, in the midst of the city. Together with the prophet Isaiah, we can say: The people who walk, breathe and live in the midst of smog, have seen a great light, have experienced a breath of fresh air... Knowing that Jesus still walks our streets, that he is part of the lives of his people, that he is involved with us in one vast history of salvation, fills us with hope. A hope which liberates us from the forces pushing us to isolation and lack of concern for the lives of others, for the life of our city. A hope which frees us from empty "connections", from abstract analyses, or sensationalist routines. A hope which is unafraid of involvement, which acts as a leaven wherever we happen to live and work. A hope which makes us see, even in the midst of smog, the presence of God as he continues to walk the streets of our city. Because God is in the city...


These wise men in the Gospel needed to "traverse afar" (as the Christmas Carol "We Three Kings" put it) following a supernatural light from a star to find Jesus. For us, today, the epiphany is that Jesus it the Emmanuel: God with us – we are to share this Christmas Joy. The Epiphany is that Jesus is the one who conquered Sin and death - He is the Risen one – we are to share this Easter Joy. The Epiphany is that Jesus remains with us...And what does He do?

He frees us from anonymity, from a life of emptiness, and brings us to the school of encounter. He removes us from the fray of competition and self-absorption, and he opens before us the path of peace. That peace which is born of accepting others, that peace which fills our hearts whenever we look upon those in need as our brothers and sisters.


"The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light". And we, as Christians, are witnesses to this.

WHY CELEBRATE JESUS' BIRTH ON DEC 25TH?

Merry Christmas!  My prayers and best wishes to you and yours on this holy feast day!  This homily is based on the Gospel (John 1: 1-18) that is designated for Christmas Mass during the Day (there's 4 different options) - http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/122515-day.cfm  .  As always thanks for sharing this blog on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and elsewhere on Social Media.  I'm grateful for all your feedback, comments and support.  Merry Christmas!  God Bless - Fr. Jim
Quick commercial - A couple of weeks ago, we had a quite unexpected and unwelcome "surprise" - the boiler at the Newman Center went kaput.  Thankfully with mild temperatures and quick response from our plumber, we were able to have a new system installed rather quickly.  Unfortunately that was another $9,000 unexpected expense to an already stretched budget from our "Tree Falling Incident" back in May.  I'm grateful for all those who've already made a gift to NEWMAN CATHOLIC in our Annual Christmas Appeal.  The generosity of alumni, family members of our students and friends of Newman makes a tremendous difference.  To make a contribution, please check out www.MSUNEWMAN.com Many thanks for your kindness and consideration.

HOMILY:
One story that seems to make the rounds every year around Christmas – whether on the internet, newspapers or television – is the discussion of how December 25th became the day we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. For the most part, it’s agreed that there’s no clear cut evidence that puts this historic event on this precise date with the certainty that we could with say some other historic events - like when we mark July 4, 1776 as the birth of our nation with the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

There are some theologians who have done some pretty interesting biblical scholarship that does support the celebration being today ( for example: http://taylormarshall.com/2012/12/yes-christ-was-really-born-on-december.html) But for so long, people have heard that the celebration of Jesus’ birth was simply placed on the calendar to counter pagan celebrations that were occurring on or around that date – that these ancient celebrations were simply "Christianized" – that has become, for the most part the generally accepted theory behind how we came to seeing Jesus’ birthday as December 25th.

One of those celebrations that has been claimed to have been usurped by Christians is the events surrounding the Winter Solstice - the annual occurrence when in the Northern Hemisphere we experience the longest night of the entire year. This is the day when the astronomical phenomenon of the tilt of the Earth results in the fewest hours of daylight and the most hours of darkness. Here in the New York City area this occurred this past Monday where we experienced the shortest hours of daylight for the entire year - only 9 hours 15 minutes and 16 seconds.... For Trivia sake, the summer solstice - happening in June will be 5 hours and 50 minutes more sunlight on what is considered the longest day of the year)

Some look at this "transforming" of celebrations or traditions as something controversial. Arguing that this was a successful co-opting done by Christians to usurp other ancient traditions (which if that’s true, one can argue, the secularists have done a pretty good counter-attack to Christmas in recent decades). Others who see Christianity as completely untrue will cite this questionable day as another piece of evidence of some grand conspiracy where the entire Christian story is held suspect.

For me, though, whether we could ever have the exact certitude or not of December 25th being the day that the Blessed Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus Christ in a manger... it does seem to be the perfect occasion or time of year to celebrate this event which has forever changed the human race.

This time of year, which particularly in our modern era has been made so busy in our elaborate celebrations of whatever holiday you wish - Christmas - Boxing Day - New Years - Festivus... Kind of distracts us from the dreariness that the ancients faced with the winter solstice. In fact, wait... in a few weeks when these celebrations are completed and we may have gained only about 10 or 15 minutes of daylight, stories will be making the rounds of how people are experiencing what are called the "Winter blues."

Nature with the long nights and short days conveys a sense of gloom. Despite our desires, our preferences for that not to be the case... In spite of our advancements and modern conveniences (Yes, a huge shout out to Thomas Edison and countless others who’ve created lights and found ways to illuminate streets and buildings as the sun sets...) - we can’t change this natural phenomenon. Those inventions have provided ways to deal with it, compensate for it, make it a bit more bearable. But we can’t ever truly defeat it. This darkness.

Nature will, as nature does, take care of this phenomenon itself... just as it does every morning. The sunrise casts the light. The new day vanquishes the gloom. And come June, the Sun will be seen as the victor - reigning a full 15 hours and 5 minutes of daylight on the longest day of the year in the Summer Solstice. But that seems like a distant - far off event as we see street lights turn on at 4:30 in the afternoon!

Which is why it seems like naturally the best time of the year to celebrate Christ’s birth into humanity. There’s no shortage of things to point to that fills us with a sense of fear, anxiety, sadness... people talk about it like a "dark cloud" over them - over all of us. We see violent, horrifying terrorist attacks; we hear angry rhetoric on all sides of the political aisles; we see neighbors pointing at one another as the reason for unrest, instability, division... We experience or have loved ones and friends going through "painful" Christmases- the death of a loved one; illnesses and sicknesses; turmoil from lack of jobs and increased debt... Yes, there is great darkness. Which sadly, nature hasn’t been able to vanquish with each passing day of the lunar calendar.

Which is why we celebrate Jesus’ entrance into humanity. Not just at this time of year, the darkest time of the year. But each and every day... each and every year since that first Holy Night... As St. John proclaims to us in the Gospel today: What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Yes - brothers and sisters, we all experience darkness. Some of us are experiencing incredible pain and suffering; some have real fears that they try to run from throughout the day and keep them up throughout those long nights... and some live in dread that at some point this darkness will catch up with them as well.

But Jesus comes.

Jesus is born into this.

God steps into his cosmos in a unique way to set a different course.

Nature speaks supernatural truths: that we have the real hope of that sunrise; we have that certainty of the longest night becoming the longest day... we have the promise of his eternal light, eternal life radiating and transforming all those corners and remnants of darkness we experience in this world around us.

That is the light that shines.

That is the light the darkness has not - and will not overcome.

We see it in the love that often reveals itself in moments of darkness. We see it in that movement of our hearts and souls to help another - that calls us out of our isolation, out of our selfishness, out of our darkness into light. We see it in those acts of generosity; in movements of sacrifice; in humility; in meekness; in tenderness. When those actions, those movements occur, we find ourselves entering into the Christmas mystery: the smallness of God becoming one of us; the tenderness of the Baby Jesus who makes himself so readily accessible we can’t help but want to encounter the God who comes to seek us, comes to love us.

Pope Benedict XVI a few years ago in one of his Christmas homilies shared this thought: God’s sign is his humility. God’s sign is that he makes himself small; he becomes a child; he lets us touch him and he asks for our love. How we would prefer a different sign, an imposing, irresistible sign of God’s power and greatness! But his sign summons us to faith and love, and thus it gives us hope: this is what God is like. He has power, he is Goodness itself. He invites us to become like him. Yes indeed, we become like God if we allow ourselves to be shaped by this sign; if we ourselves learn humility and hence true greatness; if we renounce violence and use only the weapons of truth and love.

May our annual commemoration of the historic birth of Christ renew ourselves in this great mystery - that Jesus has come, and remains with us... offering us the light to dispel all darkness, today and always. Calling you and I to be that light bringing His Joy, His Peace, His Love to the hearts of all men and women..

Merry Christmas.

"DO IT AGAIN...DO IT AGAIN"

Hi everyone - here’s my homily for the FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT - December 20, 2015. The readings for today’s Mass can be found at: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/122015.cfm. Thanks as always for reading; sharing this on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit; and all your comments and feedback. Always grateful for your support. God Bless! Fr Jim


Quick commercial - This past week, we had a quite unexpected and unwelcome "surprise" - the boiler at the Newman Center went kaput.  Thankfully with mild temperatures and quick response from our plumber, we were able to have a new system installed rather quickly.  Unfortunately that was another $9,000 unexpected expense to an already stretched budget from our "Tree Falling Incident" back in May.  I'm grateful for all those who've already made a gift to NEWMAN CATHOLIC in our Annual Christmas Appeal.  The generosity of alumni, family members of our students and friends of Newman makes a tremendous difference.  To make a contribution, please check out www.MSUNEWMAN.com Many thanks for your kindness and consideration.


HOMILY:
Yesterday it was announced that Mother Teresa would be canonized a saint next year. In most corners of the world, many people probably thought "we already knew that" or "didn’t that happen already" or "what took the Church so long..." What made her a saint was that she made Jesus Christ real in some amazing ways... We still see these graphic images of her working among the poorest of the poor; the sickest of the sick; the ones least cared for and acknowledged. We marvel at her selflessness - admire it - are even made uncomfortable by it, realizing how revolutionary this one single soul was to the entire universe by simply, selflessly "believing what was spoken to [her] by the Lord." Following his invitation to love and serve him in that amazingly particular way.

While we are moved seeing that example, we as human beings can’t help but fall for the comparison game. We see her life, her example as impossible to attain. The bar has been set too high. We marvel at what she did and just consider her life as some divine miracle seldom experienced... maybe once in a generation... perhaps never to be seen again.

Just like this gospel that was proclaimed: Mary and Elizabeth. Two cousins gathering together; two unlikely women– Elizabeth believed barren, the other a hill-country girl - who will give birth to John the Baptist, the last prophet who will make ready the way for his cousin - Jesus, the Messiah. Reflecting on the story, particularly on Mary, we see her as Elizabeth declares her to be – "Blessed are you among all women." Her selflessness, her "yes" to God again we see how revolutionary this one single soul was to the entire universe by simply, selflessly believing "what was spoken to her by the Lord."

Again - a high bar... something we admire from afar and just don’t see attainable.

Yet, Advent comes each year not to pretend we don’t know what happened and re-stage the story where we are waiting for Jesus to be born in Bethlehem. That happened 2,000 + years ago. Jesus was born, He lived, He suffered, He died, He rose, He ascended - He changed the world forever. But as much as that single man, single handedly has transformed the world in that single event; we see in countless ways by people like Mother Terersa that God is never a one-and-done thing. He has given the path... the instructions... the model to follow. He has shown us what can be done. And he wants his Christ born again today...

G.K. Chersterton, the amazing Catholic writer, made this beautiful observation that fleshes that out observing how children play with adults: "Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again"; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again" to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never gotten tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we." 

Advent is God’s invitation to "do it again" to give birth to Christ again. Not as Mary did. Not as soon to be St. Mother Teresa did. But to believe what the Lord is speaking to you and me... to look for opportunities to be selfless, generous and loving. Yesterday I stumbled upon this video of NYPD police officers who had gone to the Ronald McDonald House - a residence for seriously sick children from around the world who are getting treatment at several NYC hospitals and their families (see it here at: https://www.facebook.com/NYPD/videos/942221349187981/?theater) . They had asked the kids what they wanted for Christmas, used funds they contributed and raised themselves, bought them and then played "Santa" to the kids and their families. Just seeing the joy on these kids faces - forgetting how sick they were for a moment and lost in the excitement of these strangers stopping, noticing, caring for them - had an incredible effect. They brought together these people, united them, created a world of prayer, compassion and generosity - in a somewhat ordinary and simple way. 

That’s the call of Advent and Christmas. For us to feel God’s excitement, His desire to "do it again" – to be born again - to see our sinful broken world made new by the eternal, loving Father. For you and I to listen to his invitations on how he wants us to believe in His word looking to conceive His Christ in us. That we will realize the depth of His love for us, his enduring dream of a people transformed in that love and his constant invitation to unconditional reconciliation, forgiveness and Mercy. May we discover how God wants to use us to make that dream real once again.