WORTH THE WAIT


Hi everyone - here's my homily for the SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT - December 10, 2017.  The readings for today can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/121017.cfm.  Thanks as always for stopping by to read this blog; share it on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit; and for your feedback and comments.  Appreciate the thousands of people who stop by week to week to check this blog out.
Quick commercial - Would greatly appreciate it if you would consider supporting the Newman Catholic Center at Montclair State in our Annaual Christmas appeal.  You can read about it at  http://www.msunewman.com/appealMany thanks for your consideration!

HOMILY:
I usually give my mom a phone call around 10:00 every night (It’s 10:00, do you know where your mother is??? something like that) and last Saturday I was taken aback when I called and the voice on the other side didn’t sound like my mother in tone or greeting - a very abrupt "HI JIM"... Ahh.. That’s right, I had forgotten that my 11 year old niece (and Goddaughter) was sleeping over at Grandma’s last week. But she was uncharacteristically bubbly and excited for an almost 12 year old who is getting too cool for everything. I didn’t even get a chance to ask what was it that got her so excited apart from my Mother showering her with undivided attention as she was free of her two younger sisters - as she explained "Mom and Dad bought me an iPhone 7 today."  

This was quite a development in the Chern house. On Thanksgiving when Lizzie asked me to get her this very item for Christmas (explaining how thoughtful she was in asking for the cheaper model rather than the iPhone 8 or X) I responded she had a much better shot talking to Santa than to me. At which point my brother and sister in law chimed in that Santa wasn’t bringing this either and that her old hand me down iPhone 4 would have to suffice for her limited needs.

Well that phone broke (it wouldn’t charge or something) and because she has to walk her two younger sisters to school, my brother and sister in law want her to have a phone and when my sister in law went to Verizon or AT&T or wherever they go - she needed to upgrade her phone and the plan had some sort of thing that makes you think your getting a deal when you’re probably not... and the long and short of it is she got a new iPhone.

So I said I was happy for her; that now she has a newer and better phone than I have; and then I asked "what color did you get" and then her tone changed– the joy and excitement went to frustration as she said"I don’t know." So I’m like - I didn’t think that was a trick question, just look at it... and she said "I don’t have it yet, Mom and Dad got it tonight." Turns our her younger sister Grace had called to share the good news that her beautiful new iPhone 7 was sitting there at home on their kitchen table... Lizzie almost started repeating arguments that had failed earlier in the evening to me: how she wanted her father to drive it over to her (I know my brother, and knew that would never happen) or for Grandma to drive her over to pick it up (I know my Mother, and knew that would never happen). She would just have to wait another 15 hours to get it. My mom eventually was able to get on the phone and said "She’s making me nuts!!" Sure enough Lizzie got herself so excited and riled up, she didn’t sleep well that night, got out of bed uncharacteristically early on Sunday and wanted my Mom to bring her home a lot sooner than usual.

I was laughing thinking about the whole thing. When was the last time you were that excited about something that you had to wait for? Maybe it’s a Christmas memory from childhood... Or maybe it something more currrent - A phone call for a job that you applied for? The letter of acceptance from Montclair State University? I don’t know if I could pinpoint something specific I’ve been excited to be waiting for. Especially as I’ve gotten older, most of the time, it’s waiting on the phone for an hour on hold for customer service; or waiting in traffic... or waiting for that amazon package that I ordered on Tuesday and should have been here on Thursday but for no reason at all is somehow delayed till Friday - oh the tragedy! I guess I’m not so different from my niece after all. We don’t really enjoy waiting: In these everyday experiences... and most likely not in our spiritual lives either... If we’re even attentive to that.

This season of Advent, these four (well actually three this year) weeks of Advent are meant not simply to get in all our crazed pre-Christmas preparations before December 25th... The season of Advent is meant to call us to focus on how God comes into our lives... The promise we have heard that God will come at the end of time; The promise fulfilled in that God has come that first Christmas into human history in a significant way that forever changed human history; and the life of faith you and I are living that God comes to us here and now.

But all of those comings involved waiting. The early Christians expected Jesus ushering in the end of the world to be coming relatively quickly... 2,000 years later we’re still waiting for that final historic moment. Jesus’ first coming, that first Christmas, most of the Old Testament recounts the centuries upon centuries that the Jews were waiting for the Messiah to be born.

Jesus’ coming here and now, well, that is occurring... that is happening here and now as we celebrate this Mass, as we hear his word and receive His Body and Blood... and happens in countless other ways as we leave here and we encounter Jesus in the poor, the sick, the lonely; as we share His love and experience His love...

But, if we’re honest...really honest, we’re also still waiting for Jesus to come, for God to come into different areas of my heart, my soul, my life. I was thinking about that in a particular way with that first reading from Isaiah. How many of us could paraphrase and say Jesus I’m waiting for this valley to be filled in, this mountain and hill to be made low, this rugged land to be made plain. What are the mountains, valleys, hills in your life... What is rugged that you’re looking to be made plain. Maybe it’s something like: Jesus I want this stress this anxiety to be lifted... Jesus I want this pain to be healed.... Jesus I want this anger to be abated... Jesus I want this grief to be relieved. And we wait. And it stinks.... doesn’t it.

But, part of the problem, unlike my niece who the next morning knew eventually what she was waiting for was going to be there waiting for her on the table - how many of us truly believe that Jesus wants to answer those prayers, those cries, those longings that touch the deepest parts of our heats and souls. And even more importantly, what are we doing while we wait for those answers? Are we sitting here idly, simply waiting, expecting Jesus to come in and fix everything? Because if that’s the case, it’s no wonder that doubts will start to emerge, fears will cement and distractions multiply as we start looking for someone, something else to answer those needs.

In the Gospel, we learned how people went to listen to John the Baptist’s preaching. They were waiting the coming of the Messiah - to answer the hopes and dreams of their ancestors, the promises that God had made... but what did they do as they waited? They came to for John’s baptism which was an opportunity to acknowledge their sins and repent of them - to turn away from that old way of life and start anew. Yes they heard that the Messiah was coming and there response was to recognize the areas in their lives that they needed to make changes in order to prepare a way for the Lord to enter.


Our being here means that yes, in some place, in some way, in some part of ourselves, we too recognize our need for the Messiah to come... for Jesus to answer our deepest longings. So John the Baptist’s words are turned to us in this proclamation tonight as he says -"Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths." We start by recognizing what needs cleansing, what needs, restoration, what needs order, what needs forgiveness and then getting to work on it.

What is that for you? - Do you need to go deeper in your prayer? Do you need to do a thorough examination of conscience, look at the messes, the mistakes, the failures, the sins in your life that you’ve wanted to simply forget about, but they have that frustrating way of just popping up over and over again (the devil loves to torment us with our pasts). Do you need to do that and get to confession so that you can hear Jesus words of complete forgiveness? Do you need to encounter Jesus in being loving, being merciful, being generous to someone in need. Most likely we all can answer yes to all of these to some extent and countless more.

Whatever the work it is that we need to engage in, we start to discover Jesus as our companion. He meets me in that prayer... He’s there in that peace I experience after making that long-put off confession; He’s there when I’ve reconciled with that person I had written off... He’s there when I’ve shared with or cared for someone not in any position to reciprocate.

One of the hope filled messages today’s scriptures tells us is that God is about to do new things, extraordinary things... just as he has done since the dawn of time... just as he did in every page of scripture... just as he has done in each of our lives up to this very moment. When we actively pursue him, we find he’s not been that hard to find... and in fact, He has been our active companion and guide. Then the waiting will be forgotten by the real knowledge of His presence among and within us.

CHRISTMAS DECORATING DEBATES

Hi everyone - here's my homily for the FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT - December 3, 2017.  The readings for today can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/120317.cfm.  Thanks as always for stopping by to read this blog; share it on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit; and for your feedback and comments.  Appreciate the thousands of people who stop by week to week to check this blog out.

Quick commercial - Would greatly appreciate it if you would consider supporting the Newman Catholic Center at Montclair State in our Annaual Christmas appeal.  You can read about it at http://www.msunewman.com/appealMany thanks for your consideration!
  
HOMILY 
It’s the most wonderful time of the year - but unfortunately that doesn’t mean there’s no debates or controversies this time of year. Especially when it comes to Christmas decorating. That’s not necessarily a new thing. Growing up I remember the family disagreements: A real tree or a fake one? Star or angel on the top? Multi colored lights or all white? And then there’s one that many Catholic families argue over - when do we put the baby Jesus in the nativity scene - now or wait till Christmas Day?

Very Controversial.

Those who want to wait till Christmas Day will say that this is a way to highlight the importance of Christmas Day and to distinguish it from the season of Advent that we’re in from tonight until Christmas Eve.

Those who put Baby Jesus in the crib already argue that you’ve already decided to decorate for Christmas - and if the Christmas season is about Jesus being born and we want to "Keep Christ in Christmas" then how do you Keep Christ in Christmas if the baby’s not in the crib? You have literally taken Christ out of Christmas.

Actually there are some who argue that we shouldn’t decorate for Christmas at all until Christmas Eve or a day or two around so that we do honor this season of Advent where we talk about preparing to meet the Lord rather than focusing on the Christmas season we celebrate when Jesus was born and God becomes man in that historic birth into humanity.

Very Controversial.

At Newman Catholic I made the executive decision years ago to decorate for Christmas right when we get back from Thanksgiving break. Mostly because you guys are surrounded in a secular environment that seems more hospitable to a made up holidays like "Festivus" (from "Seinfeld") where the only decoration is a metal pole and people can gather together for an airing of grievances about one another. On campus there’s a resistance to Christmas because they try to keep away from anything even remotely religious... MAYBE Santa would be okay... I don’t know if that would be a trigger though for some. Anyway, I digress...

So at Newman, we "deck the Halls" to help as you enter the most stressful part of the semester (you do realize Finals are two weeks away) and because you will be gone after December 19th, so we can celebrate some of the Christmas Season with you all. And, yes, Baby Jesus is already in our crib. For a couple of reasons. First off - it’s not like we don’t know the story - how this is going to go that we would need to put up a sign before walking pass our Nativity scene saying "Spoiler alert" - for the most part, people know that Jesus was born to the Blessed Virgin Mary in a manger on Christmas. So why not proclaim that message? The other thing is if we truly believe that the Bread and wine at Mass becomes Jesus’ Body and Blood in the Eucharist - and that the Eucharist is reserved in that tabernacle in our Chapel - then why do people get so hung up on a statue? We can’t put his 3-d baby picture out until his birthday? I mean, we all know that Jesus is here already... right?

Maybe that’s where the controversy lies.

Maybe that’s at the heart of this debate about statues and cribs and nativity scenes - or even more broadly -

Maybe that is what is at the center of the debate that people have about celebrating Christmas in public at all. People are dealing with a lot of crazy stuff; people are suffering a lot all around the world; people are dealing with doubts and lack of trust, and so people want to ask "Jesus where are you?" Maybe we are some of those people as well - maybe we want to join in and asking or demanding "God show yourself to us!"

Very controversial... actually not really. If you listened carefully to that first reading from Isaiah, who is considered one of the most important prophets to both Jews and Christians, then you might recognize we’re in good company. Because that’s basically what Isaiah is asking. In today’s reading to give a little context the Babylonians had kicked the Jews out of their promised land and kept them in exile for decades and now they are returning home. And they find their hopes and dreams of this return decimated. The economy, the legal systems, the city, and most especially - the Temple was ruined. So Isaiah speaks for his fellow Jews - Where is the God who parted the Red Sea for us? The Father who provided manna (the bread) to fall from the sky to nourish us? The Lord who gave us the commandments and entered into covenant with us? God, you who have done so many wondrous things... where are you??? We need you...

But there’s one major difference between Isaiah and so many of us in contemporary times asking where is God: Isaiah recognizes that as much as his fellow Jews might want to pin the blame on God for their predicament, Isaiah knows better...as he reflects in this back and forth between pleading and reflecting: we are sinful, all of us have become like unclean people, all our good deeds are like polluted rags... we have all withered like leaves, and our guilt carries us away like the wind. But Isaiah’s not without hope. He’s not defeatist. He remembers that God is the potter and we are the clay... God is our father, our redeemer. And so Isaiah’s calling out isn’t in anger, or rage in wanting God to show Himself as if he doubts God’s existence or presence... He calls out with faith, and hope - Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down... with the mountains quaking before you...
These are the first words of scripture as we start this season of Advent - a whole Church season that is meant simply but profoundly to remind us that "God Comes." God comes to us here and now... God comes at the end of time to judge all humanity... and God comes and enters into Human history with the birth of Jesus Christ at Christmas. Those three comings are the heart of the season of Advent. So as Christians, as we hear Isaiah with those hopes and dreams, we realize they have been realized - that those heavens have been rend-ed in Jesus...

And that’s why Jesus in the Gospel responds to that desire for God to show himself with the word WATCH... He’s saying pay attention... Look at the world around you with the eyes of God. Watch for the hand of God - Pay attention to His voice... His love in every joy and sorrow, in every pain and trauma, in every victory and set back before us.

Whether it’s seeing the babe in the crib which reminds us of His first entry into human history, or it’s His voice in these scriptures, or His body and blood given to us to eat and drink - this season of Advent is meant to reawaken the belief  that God’s coming has transformed all human history...  And He has given you and I a place in this history.  We have a role, we have a responsibility to prepare for His coming not just on December 25th  - not just at the end of time - but here and now. 

How are we going to do that in this most wonderful time of the year?  Will we take steps to help the poor, the suffering and find ways to attend to their needs with at least a fraction of the same energy that we put towards our Christmas shopping?  Will we maybe give up 20-30 minutes of our facebook or netflix or instagram wasting of time for some prayer, reflection - (....  ) Will we instead of simply reading up on the latest celebrity/political/famous person’s grotesque transgressions and think how much better we look in comparison, take some time to do a thorough examination of conscience to see how my sins have made me unclean - but not wallowing in that - and instead go to Jesus and make a Good confession this Advent to be made clean.    These are some ways we “Watch” for his coming.  These are some ways that we prepare for Him.  These are some ways we welcome Him into our fears, our doubts so that He can bring the completeness and wholeness, the healing and freedom we long for.  And in that, this season of Advent prepares us to truly experience a Merry Christmas.

A HOMELESS MANS EXAMPLE & CHRIST’S REIGN

Hi everyone - here's my homily for the Solemnity of OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, KING OF THE UNIVERSE - celebrated on Sunday, November 26, 2017.  The readings for today can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/112617.cfm.  Thanks as always for stopping by to read this blog; share it on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit; and for your feedback and comments.  Appreciate the thousands of people who stop by week to week to check this blog out.

Quick commercial - this Tuesday is the National #GIVINGTUESDAY.  Appreciate it if you would consider supporting the Newman Catholic Center at Montclair State.  You can read about our Christmas appeal at http://www.msunewman.com/appealMany thanks for your consideration!
  
HOMILY:

          A few weeks ago, Kate McClure was driving from Philadelphia to her home in New Jersey and ended up misjudging how much was left in her car’s gas tank.  As she pulled off to the side of a dangerous highway, she frantically discovered that she didn’t have any cash on her.  She just decided to get out of her car to get some help or assistance when a homeless man, who had been quietly observing as to what was happening, came over. Initially, Kate was a little apprehensive as the man named Johnny approached her, advising her to get back into her car and lock her doors while he offered to go to a local gas station and get her help.  Soon after, he returned with a can of gas that he had spent the last $20 he had on him to purchase for this stranger he had just met. 

            Kate was overwhelmed by his kindness and generosity, but was unable to pay him back that night.  She promised to somehow repay Johnny’s act of incredible selflessness - which she did several times.  She began by repaying him for gas as well as purchasing a jacket and some gloves.  On another occasion, she returned with a hat and warm socks.  Each time she met him, she was moved by his relentless selflessness and generosity.  Upon giving Johnny a box of cereal bars, he first asked Kate if she wanted one.  When Kate gave some Wawa gift cards to Johnny, he said “I can’t wait to show these to the guys” (being the fellow homeless he knew, who he shared with).   Every time Kate would meet up and talk to Johnny, she would get to know him better – including how he had served as a United States Marine and had also been a paramedic. He explained in these encounters how a series of missteps resulted in a job falling through, paperwork getting lost, eventually causing him to lose his home.  Suddenly a single night of homelessness increased to a week, to eventually over a year.  Kate just felt she needed to do something more.

            So she took to social media.  And in this case, social media proved its value.  She started a go fund me page on November 10 with the hope of raising $10,000 so as to get Johnny back on his feet.  As the story has indeed gone viral; by Friday afternoon, two weeks later when I last checked, the total amount raised had gone up to $323,780.

            As Christians on this day where we celebrate Our Lord Jesus Christ as the King of the Universe - the sad thing is that we are surprised to hear a story like this. That is what makes this so newsworthy - kindness, generosity and benevolence have become rare occurrences.  We imagine what is supposed to happen with each of the characters within this situation, maybe recalling other news stories with far less charitable, heartwarming experiences.  Regardless of those variations that come to mind - the result is the same is that it adds to the cynicism, isolationism and defeatism that have almost reached epidemic proportions in our country. 

            Yet, the fact that there’s a twinge in our hearts when we hear about Kate and Johnny’s story points towards something else- something inherently noble.  That twinge is quite simply the ever so beautiful virtue of  hope.  That Jesus’ glorious vision of His Kingdom laid out for us in today’s Gospel is possible...
even here and now...
even in this cynical, isolated, defeatist environment...
even as we hear the list that Jesus mentions and can think of the numerous failures, disagreements, political fighting and scapegoating that has paralyzed so many of us from taking personal responsibility for doing our part to see that the hungry are fed; the thirsty are quenched; the naked and destitute are clothed; the helpless are extended a helping hand; the ill are cared for; the imprisoned are visited -

            We are reminded that all of this is not just possible, but necessary; it is very much within our reach.  So much so that a homeless person is able to be the hero of a wonderful story; that the person receiving these acts of unexpected kindness and generosity is able to mobilize people around the nation to surpass one tremendously generous goal after another.  (I checked again last night, the new total raised is up another $40,000 )
           
            Today, as Catholic Christians, we mark the end of the “Church year” (the pre-Christmas season of Advent is a “New Liturgical Year” next Sunday) And as we end this year, we think about how over that year, at Sunday Mass we’ve basically read the entire Gospel of Matthew - from Jesus’ nativity to his death on Calvary; from the empty tomb to His Ascension.  We have reflected on His teachings and have been inspired by His unending compassion; amazed at His miracles; challenged by His mercy and forgiveness; and hopefully, transformed by His love.  As we end this year, the Church offers us this last great celebration where we boldly proclaim to the world that Our Lord Jesus Christ is indeed the King of the Universe.  That is a truth that the Church is proud to profess day in and day out. 

            But for each and every one of us – that also poses a challenging question.  Is Jesus Christ indeed my King?  Does He simply fall into some neat boxes of my life that we assign to “Religion” or does His reign influence every aspect, every decision and every relationship of my life?  Does His reign change my vision of humanity that expects us to see in others Christ himself; to serve others because they possess the very life and dignity of Christ? 

            It is up to you and I to make Johnny and Kate’s story the norm - NOT the exception - to embrace this mystery of Christ - who we’ve remembered and celebrated all year long, who calls us to embrace this all-powerful, ever-merciful God, who has loved us enough to become one of us - and who asks only that we generously share the love He has so freely given to us with others. 

I CAN'T

Hi everyone, here's my homily for the 33rd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - NOVEMBER 18, 2017.  The readings for today's Mass can be found at http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/111917.cfm.  Thanks as always for stopping by to read this blog; for sharing it on Facebook, Twitter and other social media; and for you feedback and comments.  I am always grateful to see how many people check this blog out every week and how the Holy Spirit could use me to hopefully speak to you.  My best wishes for a Happy Thanksgiving to you and your families - God Bless, Fr Jim


HOMILY:

"I can’t."

If you’ve ever been around or worked with little kids, it’s a bit stunning when you’ll hear them utter those two little words when they’re invited to do something:

Jump in the water, it’s okay, you’re going to be fine!

Try riding this bicycle, you’ll be okay - it’s got training wheels

Tomorrow you’re going to school for the first time
Hearing "I can’t" from a kid to those things is jarring. Not just because we know that they can do it... but there’s a sadness in hearing this young person has imposed limits on themselves. Maybe it’s from fear or self-doubt. Maybe they have trust issues. Whatever the reason, they’ve somehow limited their potential, limited what is possible, and are not able to see what is right there within their reach as they make their short declaration – I CAN’T. That’s where others - parents, coaches, teachers, other relatives and friends are so important, so essential. Hoping to remove that fear, helping them to see past their self-imposed limits and encourage them to move beyond those two defeatist words with two little words of encouragement – just try.

Jump in the water, it’s okay - you’re going to be fine! I Can’t...Just try, your coach is right there, see all the other kids, they used to not be able to swim either, and he was right there able to help them... Just try

Try riding this bicycle, you’ll be okay – it’s even got training wheels on it I CAN’T Just try - Mommy and Daddy are right here, we promise if you even start to fall, we’ll catch you...

Tomorrow you’re going to school for the first time I CAN"T- I don’t know anyone, Just try! you’ll do great - when I started school, I was scared too, but once you get in there, you’ll see, it’s not bad, it’s okay – Just try....

When we think about it, those types of experiences don’t end in grammar school or on the playground. Throughout life, fears and doubts re-emerge and seem more justifiable as our mind conjures up seemingly more logical reasons that make them seem true. The lack of trust we have in others, the lack of confidence we have in ourselves can hinder us. We might not vocalize the words but say them in our mind – I can’t.

If I told my family, my friends that I was thinking about doing this with my life – I can’t

I want to help him out, but there’s so much going on in my life, I can’t

I should reach out to her - this fight has gone on long enough and it’s stupid, but I can’t...


With added responsibilities and commitments we make through life, with the desire to always be succeeding and not wanting to look like I failed; with the fear of being vulnerable, it’s not as easy to hear the words"just try" as encouragement as we get older. Perhaps that’s why it bothers us so much when we hear little kids being so defeatist. We don’t want them to believe those lies they’re telling themselves that diminish themselves. We know that those demons can crush a person’s spirit... and that people can become too comfortable with saying "I can’t" as they close their hearts and ears from considering a person’s hopeful invitation to "just try".

At the heart of this Gospel, Jesus’ parable is making a similar point. The Master in the parable isn’t just some CEO or disconnected administrator demanding a profit from nameless employees. He knows his "servants" intimately, closely. He knows their strengths and weaknesses. He knows what they’re capable of and what they’re not. That’s why one guy gets more "talents" than the others. (An interesting vocabulary quirk - in the original language refers to a large sum of money - for us we use the word "talent" to mean skills, abilities...) The Master knows what each of his servants is capable of. What’s so frustrating to the Master in the parable – is that the one servant doesn’t even try...

Here he has given these talents not to maximize his own personal fortune (if he had, he would’ve given them all to the first guy). He’s interested in seeing the servants taking what is so precious to him and doing something with it. Making something greater. And this one guy opts out of it completely.

It’s not hard for us to recognize the deeper meaning in the parable. God has entrusted us with Jesus Christ. He gives us His Word; His Body and Blood... It’s great that we are here - that we recognize our need to receive these gracious gifts. But that’s not enough... It’s not enough for us to simply receive them. We’re expected in this time we have on this earth to somehow invest them, to make them increase the already vast expanse of the Kingdom of God right here in our little patch of it.


Pope Francis said something very early after being elected Pope that makes me think he’s a big fan of this Gospel passage. Particularly since he said it in a few different homilies, interviews and in writings: I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security... If something should rightly disturb us and trouble our consciences, it is the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, light and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them, without meaning and a goal in life. (Evangelii Gaudium 49)

What the Pope, and Jesus is trying to say is that too often, we get stuck saying "I can’t" - even as a collective body as "the Church" - but that happens when individuals, you and I, give into that pessimism:

I can’t even tell my family or friends that I go to Mass let alone pray with them or invite them to come with me...

I can’t go on a mission trip, or work at a soup kitchen – it costs too much, I have too much to do...

I can’t go to confession, it’s been too long, I’m afraid the priest is going to yell at me.

I can’t visit that person in the hospital, in that nursing home, I’m too scared

I can’t help that homeless person, what can I do, I’m just one person

I can’t take chastity seriously, my boyfriend won’t want to stay with me/my girlfriend will think I’m not interested in her...

I can’t be bothered with pro-life, pro-family issues – that might lead to a fight or a disagreement and I can’t deal with it...
As brother’s and sisters, we’re meant to support one another in these challenging things. To point out examples of people who said "I can";
To be living examples of people striving to say "I can" –
I can live selflessly.
I can live lovingly.
I can center my life on Christ.
I can reject the glamourous, the false lies and empty promises of this world.
I can live chastely.
I can do all of these things – and countless others – if I can truly believe that God has created us, saved us and sanctified us for Him. That He has given us the capacity, the ability the "talents" to be saints. Not plastic statues on the wall - but real, holy people reflecting his presence in our day and age here and now.

That seems out of reach to us. Our humanity kicks in and all those old bad habits re-emerge making us pause and utter I can’t. Jesus Christ pleads with us though – just try...

"THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS" - DO THEY REALLY MATTER?

Hi everyone - here's my homily for SUNDAY NOVEMBER 12, 2017 - the 32nd Sunday in ordinary time.  The readings for today can be found at: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/111217.cfm.  Thanks as always for stopping by to read this; for sharing it on social media like Facebook, Twitter and Reddit; and for your feedback and comments.  God Bless - Fr. Jim

HOMILY:
Another week, another horrific tragedy. 

Between devastating storms, a massacre at a concert, a terrorist attack in NYC, and now, this past week, a massacre in a Church, which left 26 people dead - ranging in ages from 18 months to 77 years old - the psychological, the emotional, the spiritual toll that all of this is taking on Americans is hard to assess. I worry that we’re becoming numb or even worse, indifferent, as the tragedies pile up. A commentator remarked that the number of tragedies isn’t really different than it has been years ago - the difference is that now we can instantly share them globally like never before. I do not know if that’s true - or if it provides any comfort at all.

One thing that is true in this information age is that people can instantly weigh in on whatever event it is that transpires. So, when the news out of Texas spread last Sunday after noon, there was an impulse (and in some cases, an expectation) that people would say something in 140 characters (or now I suppose 280, after Twitter’s recent update). A common reaction was observed from people through their similar response posted online, which mostly read ‘thoughts and prayers’, to the victims and their families.

It didn’t take too long for the phrase to turn into an issue and initiate a debate. Some criticised the politicians who offered their ‘thoughts and prayers’, accusing them of using it as a cover for not proposing a new legislation that they believed would help prevent such types of tragedies from happening. Politicians and others who offered such a sentiment countered that they were being empathetic to people who were in pain and that it wasn’t appropriate that their intentions were being questioned. Before you knew it, the debate over "thoughts and prayers" became something vehemently argued. I hesitate even bringing this up, because there’s a part of me that’s just disgusted with this "outrage" mentality where - no matter what the issue, what the topic, what the opinion - there seems this default posture of people taking just one side while criticizing the other in a snarky short message bantered around the social media.


However, something hit me the other afternoon, which took me by complete surprise. Maybe the critics do have a point. What does it mean when we say "thoughts and prayers?" Because if it’s just a default response to whatever tragic situation we’re encountering - whether it’s the tragedies that affected large numbers of people in Texas, NYC, Las Vegas; the regions affected by the Hurricanes - or some troubling news we receive on a closer more personal level - My best friend’s husband left her... My father died... my aunt has got cancer... to say "Sad to hear this news... Thoughts and prayers" – then perhaps that’s not enough - (in fact, that still leaves 95 characters , if your twitter hasn’t upgraded and your still confined to only 140 characters).

Part of the reason this came to mind was when I looked at what St. Paul says in today’s second reading (Thessalonians 4: 13-18). As I looked at it, it hit me that St. Paul has a tweet-length sentence that could be similar to "Thoughts and Prayers." He offers this hope-filled sentence "We shall always be with the Lord." He shares those words in this passage where he is writing to a community who also have been dealing with death - and they’re fearful. Christianity was still relatively new. They had been taught that Jesus was going to return and that God’s kingdom would finally be established. And they were expecting it to happen pretty quickly. In fact, the apostles themselves were expecting it to happen in their lifetimes as well. When that didn’t happen and fellow Christians started dying, some from the natural course of life, others from the persecutions being leveled on early Christians, they become more and more anxious.

Paul started out saying in this passage "We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, about those who have fallen asleep, so that you may not grieve like the rest, who have no hope" - and then he explains to them what he believes with his very heart and soul - that those who believe in Jesus and who died before His second coming, will also be brought into God’s presence because we shall always be with the Lord. More than just saying "there, there... don’t worry...." these words spoken by him matter. Paul believes in these words with every fiber of his being.

As the Thessalonians first read those words, they probably had flashbacks to Paul preaching to them. They could imagine him speaking these words from his heart and soul - just as he did when he first shared the faith with them. As you and I hear these words today, we know of his conviction, recalling how St. Paul gave up the comforts he enjoyed, his livelihood, his status, and eventually his own life, all because of his encounter with Jesus Christ, because of his conversion, because of his relationship with Him.


So some people’s visceral reaction to our sharing our "thoughts and prayers" is because they objectively don’t see the point. Maybe they haven’t seen the effect of these prayers in their own lives. Maybe they have fears and doubts that they feel aren’t being given attention. Maybe they can’t reconcile how thoughts and prayers to a good and loving God are doing any good when such evil is experienced and still exists after all these thousands of years later. And even more, maybe they don’t see or hear Christians being Christian. That last point really rang home with this whole thoughts and prayers debate. This one actor whom I’ve always liked in the different roles that he’s portrayed wrote an initially dismissive tweet about thoughts and prayers. Soon afterwards he retracted them - apologizing and stating that in his initial shock and horror at this horrifying story he was too impulsive and didn’t mean to attack people of faith. Three days later, a news commentator, again someone whom I also like (who proudly professes his Catholic Christian faith) used the actor's initial tweet in a diatribe on the "war against prayer", completely ignoring those follow-up tweets that was posted by the actors. This disappointed me a great deal.   If I knew the rest of that story - this reporter most definitely did and opted not to share it.  To me that's just dishonest and more than slightly awkward in a diatribe "defending thoughts and prayers."

For thoughts and prayers to mean something, for them to be more than a mere sentiment or trite saying, they need to truly matter to those offering them. We have to be truthfully offering our thoughts and prayers to the Lord. Which means, we have to be in a relationship with Him. That’s what Jesus is trying to explain in this parable in today’s Gospel. At the core of it, what he’s getting at in all these bridesmaids and lamps and oil is about having an authentic relationship with Him That’s different than simply knowing him, or invoking him in moments of crisis. An authentic relationship with him leads to a belief, a faith like St. Paul had - where our life becomes more like Christ’s. That lamp in the parable represents a living knowledge and friendship with Christ - a dynamic, personal relationship with Him. That lamp’s oil is our good works - when we actually put our faith into action to help those who are suffering, those who are struggling, those who are in need. That lamps oil is exemplified in acts of mercy and justice. That lamps oil is in the difficult acts of forgiveness. That lamps oil is in our authentic acts of love - like when one of the survivors of the terrorist attack on Halloween who lost 5 of their friends, came here to celebrate their 30th anniversary of graduating high school said: We will forever mourn our friends. It was love that brought us here and love will continue to unite us... We want to make a plea: that love conquers hate, that life overcomes death." That lamps oil is exemplified in our faithfulness - like when the Pastor of the Sutherland Springs Church in Texas said, as he mourned his "beautiful and special" 14 year old daughter killed in this unspeakable evil, - I don’t understand, but I know my God does.

When our lamps our filled with that type of oil, when our faith is that fixed on the Lord, than we won’t allow ourselves to be distracted from being attentive, empathetic, caring for those injured, those who died in such an atrocious manner - and for their loved ones who are left behind. And even more, people will know that our thoughts and prayers come from places of authentic friendship with Christ.

"THERE'S NO HEROES ANYMORE"

Hi everyone here’s my homily for NOVEMBER 5, 2017 - 31st SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME. The readings for today can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/110517.cfm Thanks as always for reading; for sharing this on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit; and for you comments and feedback. Appreciate the support - God Bless, Fr Jim

HOMILY:

"There’s no heroes anymore"

That’s exactly how one person described it to another on the line at Dunkin Donuts the other day. I couldn’t help but overhear the two talking about the latest development in what seems to be an ever growing list of revelations of horrible stories emanating from Hollywood. A few weeks ago, several actresses publicly shared stories of how they were sexually harassed, assaulted - and in some instances - raped by a powerful Hollywood producer... which seemed to have opened up a flood gate of actors and actresses who have been sharing similarly heart wrenching stories... including instances when they were children. The scandal, (not sure if that’s the right word… perhaps plague describes this horrifying phenomenon more accurately) - was also revealed to be prevalent in other sectors of media, given that news agencies are apparently having reporters make similar allegations against their superiors on different networks or news rooms.

What makes this even more shocking- beyond the disgusting depravity of so many high-profile individuals - is to see in these world renown centers of creativity like Hollywood or what was thought to be other prestigious institutions like the news media where so many of these instances occurred for years are now only coming to light. Hollywood, which is often thought to be a dreamland of fantasies for so many aspiring actors and actresses, along with the News industry - which is said to be the beacon of light that holds those in power accountable - have suffered deep-rooted self-inflicted wounds the damage which, will be hard to assess.

I understand why my fellow coffee drinkers feel the way they did that they would say "There’s no heroes anymore." Particularly as a Catholic Priest. It’s been more than 15 years since the clergy sex scandal was exposed to the public. The sheer number of cases throughout the country, the grotesqueness of accusations, the cover ups - not only reeked of a horrific scandal; it actually scandalized so many of us when we realized how many people in authority within the Church acted horrendously and with such impunity, made evil choices, with some being calculated and trying to cover things up to others who proved to be grossly incompetent.


It’s hard not to read this Gospel, and for some of these, and I’m sure countless other examples come to mind. We hear Jesus excoriating people who thought of themselves as superior to others; who humiliated others as a way of stroking their sense of superiority...those who are arrogant. The hypocrites who preach but they do not practice... all their works are performed to be seen. There’s no shortage of examples that we can cite from our newsfeeds - and more than likely from our own personal experiences: bosses, professors, administrators and perhaps even those who are closer to us - people in our own families - who could be legitimately held up as examples of people that Jesus would have serious and understandable criticisms for.

Reflecting upon all of these sad examples and this poignant Gospel passage, Jesus does NOT come across as defeatist. And, he doesn’t want us to feel that way either. Yes, he’s putting a spotlight on those who may be in places of honor, authority and leadership... He’s not denying that some are corrupt – and even worse. But far from calling us to simply give up, or radicalizing us to be revolutionaries in taking these people down - He calls us to develop greater maturity of faith:


To be more discerning in whom we place our trust in;
To be more cautious in whom we entrust leadership with;
To have greater expectations of them and ourselves.

As always, that’s where we have to start - ourselves. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus sets out his expectation for those of us who call himself his followers: "set your hearts on his kingdom first and his righteousness and all these other things will be given you as well." When we humble ourselves - which by the way doesn’t mean talking negatively about ourselves in a needless self-deprecating manner or diminishing our gifts and talents - but rather recognizing that those gifts, talents, and our own selves are all gifts that were accorded to us - God’s proper place in our lives is nothing short of secured. It is then that we can see how the seeming random circumstances and opportunities that come up, and the unique abilities we are blessed with are all there on purpose. They open us up to the limitless potential for success where we can transform our lives, the lives around us, and most importantly, build up His Kingdom. Do we want to set our hearts on ourselves, on the opinion of the world or on God’s Kingdom?

The more I chose to live and serve God’s Kingdom – the more I expect that of myself, the more I start to seek it out in others in positions of authority. And more than likely, we find that they will not be the loudest, the most famous as those shown on TV or movies... I think of NYPD Police Officer Ryan Nash, who did what countless men and women in uniform do on a regular basis when a terrorist went on a rampage in New York City on Tuesday, . This was the opposite of common sense – he ran towards the danger rather as opposed to escaping it, thankfully put an end to the madness before the situation exacerbated (and was able to do so without ending the terrorists’ life). I think of this single mom, who, in my first parish assignment, sent her son - this little guy Darryl - on public transportation far away from his neighborhood into our parish school only because she wanted him to have a good Catholic education in a happy, safe environment (that she could afford) - worked extra hours to make ends meet. That was over 15 years ago as well. Having bumped into him recently and seeing him graduating from one of the most prestigious Universities in the world and married - and seeing how he remains a grounded, humble, kind young man (who was attending Mass with his mother) was truly gratifying.

 Stories and examples such as these reinvigorate my hope in goodness and all things that Jesus stood for, exemplified and calls us to emulate. Both examples include people who were selfless, sacrificial and committed - and their service literally changed the world for the better. Both stories remind me about the comforting truth that there still are heroes in this world. It’s just that they are too humble to call themselves that. And, therein is the beauty of it all – their humility, dedication and focus to do things that matter without expecting any sort of credit for their acts.

WHO WANTS TO TALK ABOUT DEATH?

Hi everyone - here's my homily for Thursday, November 2, 2017 - the commemoration of all the faithful departed (ALL SOULS DAY) - The readings for today can be found at: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/110217.cfm.  Thanks for reading this blog; for sharing it on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit; and for your comments and feedback.  God Bless, Fr Jim

HOMILY:

Last night we had our co-sponsorship with LASO talking about some of the similarities with the Mexican celebration Dia De Los Muertos (the day of the dead) and the Catholic commemoration that we mark today, All Souls Day.  It was, as always, a great event.  It was tremendous to have so many people from both organizations come together to talk about something that few of us want to talk about - death.

One of the things that struck me was when the student from LASO was sharing her experience of losing her grandmother a couple of years ago.   She recounted traveling to Mexico to be with her grandmother and family before her grandmother died - and then staying together, having a wake for her grandmother for 9 days and then burying her on that last day.  How the whole family came together to grieve, to be together, and that the whole village would come out as well- come to the home for the wake.  At one point, this student observed that she felt it was awkward how we do it here as Americans because it seems so fast, so short and that people don’t have the same opportunity to be together like she experienced.

She’s right.  Coming from an Italian-American family - when I was growing up, there was a lot of similarities to this student’s experience.  We would have a wake for 2 or 3 full days (in the afternoon and the evening) and then the funeral take place the third or fourth day.  Between the hours of the wakes, we would be together at someone’s home for dinner.  After the evening wake, we would be at someone elses home for coffee and desert.  After the funeral we would be together for a meal.  A month after the person died, we would gather as a family to go to Mass and then have a dinner together.  (Yes I realize there’s a lot of meals and food being discussed... like I said I come from an Italian family so what do you expect?)

In at least the last 15 or 20 years though, there’s been a shift.  Some families have bypassed funerals all together.  Others have abbreviated the services where there will be a wake an hour before the funeral.  Even when my father died unexpectedly 3 years ago, the new norm was to have a wake one day (for one long stretch of 4 hours) with the funeral the next day - which in the shock of his sudden passing seemed to make the most sense to “simplify” and “make it easy for us to get through”.  But the truth is - it didn’t.  At least for me.  The four hours of the wake were a blur because we only had that one shot and so many visitors, we could only speak to people visiting for a brief time.  In one sense it made things simple and perhaps a bit easier in the short term to go through.   But in the long term it sure didn’t. The pain of my dad’s loss even three years later is never far from my heart and mind - nor my family’s. And I’m sure for most of us, we can all think of someone, if not several people who’ve gone before us that it can still be hard to talk about - even saying their name.

Grieving is hard, is painful.  And as Americans are becoming more and more secularized that reality is something that frightens and disturbs.  And because there’s no way around it, we try to avoid it, deny it, minimize it.  I couldn’t help but think of how Tuesday night we had this horrific terrorist attack which killed 8 people in broad daylight.  The impulse is to continue life as usual - so the Halloween parade went off, the World series was played... and I get the need to be resilient and not let the terrorists win by completely changing out way of life.  But in a sense couldn’t we argue that the terrorists do win if we just allow the senseless, horrific death of 8 people to pass by as just a bad story that we clicked on a link about and then moved on?   Those were 8 souls - who’s lives were ended quite unexpectedly... who’s families lives have been forever changed.  We need to stop, to pause, to remember, to grieve... to respect the person who’s no longer with us.

That’s why the Church in her wisdom forces us in a sense to not simplify, make easier or in any way diminish these losses with this commemoration of All Souls Day and the traditional remembrance of our beloved dead through the month of November.  The Church doesn’t do this to re-open wounds, to force us to grieve again nor to make this an annual time of mourning.  That’s not to say some of those feelings won’t arise - but the purpose of this time is remembering those who died... friends, loved ones, perhaps people you weren’t close to but knew (teacher in your school?  A neighbor down the street who you knew but never talked to).   We remember them... we acknowledge their absence.  We recognize how fearful, how painful that reality is and the Church gently points us to remember other things... God’s word... His promises:
The souls of the just are in the hand of God and no torment shall touch them - the Hebrew Scriptures reminded us in the first reading they seemed in the view of the foolish to be dead   and their passing away was thought an affliction  and their going forth from us utter destruction but they are in peace...

Those words often calm me down when I start to get choked up thinking about loved ones who I miss - to know that they are in the hand of God.    Jesus goes even further and is even more explicit, more direct.  Saying that everything that the Father gives me will come to me... and that the will of God the Father is that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life and that Jesus will raise [us] up on the last day.

Those words of comfort, of assurance are important and essential.  But as human beings there’s often a desire to do something - to want more certainty of that reality.  Which is why the Church invites us to remember and to pray for our loved ones.  Not in a fearful way... not like they are suffering torment if they haven’t yet reached heaven and are in purgatory (that’s one of the main reasons we pray for our departed loved ones who might not have reached the fullness of eternal life in God’s heavenly kingdom... but unlike how it’s depicted, purgatory isn’t a torture or a prison - but a final preparation, a cleansing and purification so a person is fully prepared to be in God’s presence for all eternity)

Our praying for our loved ones, is meant to expand our hearts, minds and visions to remember all those who’ve died.  And that these bonds and connections aren’t ended in death.  In many cases that brings joyful memories that might cause us to miss them - but some times they can bring painful memories that are difficult.   People can think of some who have died that there were  resentments, lack of forgiveness or reconciliation on this side of heaven.  In those instances, - our prayers for all the faithful departed are meant to help bring healing and peace on both sides of heaven for the one who might have died and caused those things and for those who remain and are still affected by them.

Difficult stuff to be sure.  But important work for all of us to enter into.  To let God enter into our pain - our pains of loss, of sadness, of mourning... To let God renew our faith and trust in His promises so that we truly believe that our loved ones are in the hand of God and no torment shall touch them.  To pray for those who have died who perhaps aren’t loved ones  - to us or anyone else... that the loving sacrifice Jesus offered for the salvation of the world is theirs and ours.