IF I HAD (400) MILLION DOLLARS

Hi everyone, here's my homily for the EIGHTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - February 26, 2017.  The readings for today can be found at http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/022617.cfm.   Thanks as always for stopping by to read this blog, for sharing it on Facebook, twitter and reddit and for your comments and feedback.   Have a great week!  God Bless, Fr Jim

HOMILY:

So this past Tuesday night I ran out to the store to buy a Powerball Ticket. Actually truth be told, I went to two stores since the first place didn’t sell lotto tickets. That’s not something I do regularly, but with the jackpot hitting $430 million dollars, I kind of felt like I had to take a chance. (Spoiler alert, I didn’t even get one number).

While I don't usually throw away money (which is what gambling is) I do find those jackpots hard to resist and it seems worth a buck or two to at least buy a ticket - just to have that fantasy of what I would be able to do for family, friends, the Church and different charities and causes if I won a jackpot like that. I've said I would like to eliminate the debt of everyone I know - whether it's mortgages, student loans, whatever...  Help my brothers to retire now - my one brother to get a bigger house for his family - take care of my Mom... Build a new Newman Center.  Those are priest dreams.

How about you?  Maybe pay off college loans... Your credit card bills... Would you continue going to school anymore? Hopefully you would! Perhaps you'd just have a very different attitude about things though - especially in terms of finding a job. $400 million dollars would probably give you a lot more flexibility.

For most people the idea of having a great deal of mammon (oops, I mean money...) seems to be a hope or a goal.  And while a $400 million jackpot seems unlikely (the last I saw it the odds were 1 in 258, 890, 850 -which is almost like saying one person in the entire United States) even though those odds are CRAZY we are still curious, desirous, even somewhat hopeful that maybe, just maybe it would happen for us.

A couple of years ago, there was a story that comes to mind when those lotto dreams start to get a bit too appealing. The headline was LOTTO WINNER WISHES HE TORE UP THE TICKET.  It was about a guy by the name of Jack Whittaker who believes that his life was "cursed" since winning a lotto jackpot of $315 million.  Within five years of winning this jackpot (which he did on Christmas morning, no less, in 2002) - his wife left him, his drug-addicted grand daughter died, he’s had a long list of indiscretions (from bar room fights to law suits) that have been documented in the courts and the newspapers.  

You couldn't help but feel bad reading that and thinking to yourself, geez, he really has had a streak of bad luck.  But as you read this lengthy story and interview, this quote stood out:  "I don't have any friends.  Every friend that I've had, practically, has wanted to borrow money or something and of course, once they borrow money from you, you can't be friends anymore."

Why that stood out for me is that in that one sentence it seemed to reveal that the money had become the most important thing in his life. Despite the number of charities he's donated to, despite the two churches he helped build - his financial wealth became something of greater value, even though he had an abundance of it even prior to winning the lotto (oh - I forgot to mention that before he won the $315 million Powerball, he was already worth over 15 million dollars)

What makes me say that the wealth became something more important to him? He’s buying lotto tickets even though he’s already a millionaire... He’s talking about how friends borrowed the money - which means, he expected it back.   Even in talking about his drug-addicted granddaughter dying:  "If it would bring my granddaughter back, I'd give all [the winnings] back.  But I can't get her back, so might as well keep the money, I guess..." Through it all, it sounds like the money had a more exalted status in his mind even through his grief and mourning; he looked to his wealth as some source of comfort.

Right out of the gate in today's Gospel reading Jesus is pretty upfront: No one can serve two masters.  He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and mammon (mammon is basically goods, or possessions that money can buy). He says that before he goes off in a beautiful, if somewhat idealistic, sermon telling us "not to worry."

Not to worry about our life - what we will eat, drink, wear.  If we focus simply on the "don't worry section" - as beautiful as it is, though, it just seems simplistic - if not impossible for us.

Which is why that first part is so essential.  In laying it down right out of the gate that no - we cannot have it all - we cannot put the goal, the emphasis, the desire of our life in the pursuit of possessions, of things, of wealth alongside our desire to be a child of God.   If we choose the pursuit of worldly things, then the list of worries that Jesus mentions is likely, just ask Jack Whittaker, the man who wished he never bought the lotto ticket.

Choosing to serve God doesn't insulate us from those material concerns, nor does it guarantee a stress free, worry free life.   Sure the grass of the field doesn’t have to worry about how it dresses, but we'd have problems getting a job if we didn’t put a little time, effort and thought into that ourselves.  And as another great preacher pointed out, the beloved parable that Jesus tells of the Good Samaritan– well that Good Samaritan would have little more than pity to offer the victim he finds left in the ditch by robbers if he had no money.

So this isn't about a radical renunciation of all things of this world.
It's about not being possessed by them.  
It's about not being obsessed by them.  

It's about not allowing ourselves to relentlessly go after them and somehow fall into the belief that with just a little more wealth, with just a little more "security," with just a few more possessions... then our worries would be vanquished.

It's about setting our hearts, our souls, our minds, our lives with God at the center.  Letting Him into those fears.  Letting Him direct our pursuits.  Letting Him challenge our desires and purify them to put them at His service and for His glory rather than allowing ourselves to become slaves to our own needs.
               
The Barenaked Ladies in 1991 (Gosh I'm old) had that catchy song "If I had a million dollars" which goes through a whole list of things that they would do if they had a million dollars.  [My favorite line: "If I had a million dollars - I'd buy you a fur coat... (but not a real fur coat, that's cruel) - love that they're politically correct as they go through their lists]   At the end of the song they simply conclude "If I had a million dollars - I'd be rich".  

And they'd be right.  

And that would be it.  

That money is rendered useless in the face of death, in the restlessness of our hearts yearning for love, in the desire of our souls, in our search for meaning.               

Jesus, in inviting us to choose Him, to follow Him, to pursue Him, promises us a fulfillment of our desires by offering us friendship with Him.  Through His words, His miracles, His example - and most of all, through His passion, death and resurrection - Jesus has proved time and time again he is a friend worthy of trust, a friend who, once we possess him, challenges us not to let our bank accounts grow but to let our hearts grow, become more expansive, giving and loving.  A friend who, when the things of the world, when the troubles of our lives weigh us down, stress us out - is there for us.  Is enough for us.  Is all we ever needed, in the first place.

LOVING YOUR ENEMY? IS THAT POSSIBLE?

Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the SEVENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - February 19, 2017 - the readings for today can be found at: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/021917.cfm Thanks as always for reading this blog; for sharing it on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit; and for your feedback and comments. Have a great week & God Bless - Fr Jim



HOMILY:

Back in 2005, a man named Jameel McGee was living in Benton Harbor Michigan. According to him, he was simply minding his business when Police Officer Andrew Collins accused him – and arrested him for dealing drugs. McGee who claimed, as many accused men do, that "it was all made up" eventually was sentenced to prison losing everything that mattered in life to him as he was incarcerated for over four years. Throughout that time, he was fixated on getting out one day and getting some revenge on the cop who locked him up: "My only goal was to seek him when I got home and to hurt him", McGee said. It turns out, Officer Collins was a crooked cop. After an internal investigation, the department discovered that he had indeed falsified reports, even planted evidence in some cases, including McGee’s. Collins lost his job and eventually was sent to jail for a year and a half.

A horrible story. In this day and age where so many good police officers have been tainted by the actions of a few - where there’s so much division and tension among different groups of people and races - this seems perfectly suited to throw another Duraflame log on an already raging fire of anger, distrust, hatred even.

When we think of injustices that we see in the world...

When we think of wrongs that we’ve experienced in our own lives... this Gospel seems completely unreasonable to us. We might want to go so far as to say Jesus, we like the whole turning water into wine thing... Really neat trick... Or those healing stories - awesome - great - those we can all get on board with – but this? Let someone who strikes me on the right cheek smack me again... Give someone who’s taking my tunic my cloak as well? Love our enemies? Come on Man It seems so unreasonable - so unfair. At a very minimum we demand justice – All of a sudden we become fans of the Old Testament - what was wrong with an eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth? Or "loving our neighbors and hating our enemies?"

But Jesus is pretty definitive about this. He’s not so interested in the fact that we as humans can become attached to things that can be broken as easily as stolen (and replaced). He knows that as His Father’s most prized possession - you and I are God’s most prized, precious creation – how bruised and wounded we are through the evil done by others and that our anger, our thirst not simply for justice but retribution can easily turn a loving heart into something quite different. That’s what it means when it is said that - Jesus has come to save us -

he’s come to save us from Sin and Death...

He’s come to save us from the evil that is done to us.

He’s come to save us from the evil that we can become as well.

Because the reality is that potential is all too real for each and everyone of us. The hurts and pains we’ve endured at the hands of others... The anger over the lack of justice whether it’s on some global scale or things happening right in our own lives that could all be legitimate things to be angry about - all of that can change us. And by giving into those feelings, we become what we hate... we allow the thing that has hurt us and inflicted pain on us to be the thing we go to as a source of justice. The Devil is clever, isn’t he?


It’s important to realize though, that Jesus isn’t simply spouting off trite sayings for us to follow when we are faced with trials and struggles. He’s giving us a preview of how He himself will deal with it. How he will endure beatings, how his clothes will be stripped of him and gambled away, how as he lays dying on the cross he will pray "Father forgive them..." In this, Jesus showed that there was nothing, nothing that the darkest, evilest of hearts could perpetrate on him that he would not endure. Knowing that by withholding even the slightest of remarks, resisting staging the meekest of defenses in an arena of such cruelty and injustice would thousands and thousands of years later still confound his followers.

We still marvel at that strength displayed in such seeming weakness.

We are at a loss to comprehend the most bloodless response ever mounted to such an attack.

We cannot deny how it unveiled the greatest victory that has ever taken place in human history in Jesus rising from the dead, destroying death forever.

That doesn’t mean we’re to be punching bags to the abuse of others. Allowing an abusive husband to continue unabated as we "turn the other cheek" - pointing out to a robber ransacking our homes "don’t forget the laptop in my office" all of that would simply enable our disturbed brothers and sisters who are doing these terrible things to continue unchecked, unapologetic - and further endangering their souls. Protecting ourselves, our loved ones - and loving the other to call light to the ways of darkness they’ve embraced isn’t violating what Jesus is saying here. At the core though, Jesus is sensitive to the fact that our longing for "justice" can easily blind us into rage and anger which makes these bad situations worse.

Which brings that horrible story of the innocent man sent to jail by a crooked cop back to mind. It would be hard for us not to argue that McGee the guy who lost 4 years of his life deserves, at the very least, to have a few minutes alone with Collins, the man who set him up. It was something that McGee had wanted during those 4 years of hell - to simply have an opportunity to "get home and hurt him." Even reading the story -my initial reaction was - wait, the innocent guy served 4 years for something he didn’t do and the crooked cop only got a year and a half? Doesn’t he deserve at least the same length of time as the guy he set up?

By sheer coincidence, the two men found themselves face to face - or rather, working, side by side at a coffee house blocks away from where their lives first intersected. They had both gotten employed by the "Mosaic Coffee House" and as CBS news reported, in these close quarters, they had no choice but to "have it out." Collins just went to McGee and said "Honestly, I have no explanation, all I can do is say ‘I’m Sorry.’" McGee said "That was pretty much what I needed to hear." The story goes on to say that today they're not only cordial, they're friends. Such close friends, not long ago McGee actually told Collins he loved him. To which Collins said "... I just started weeping because he doesn't owe me that. I don't deserve that."

Jesus knows all too well how hard this is for us to consider possible. And we have to remember that for McGee and Collins, this was an evolution of over 11 years. McGee shared that it was his Christian faith that made this possible. Adding that he didn’t forgive, or love Collins for his own sake, or Collins sake - but for our sake - for all of mankind. What Jameel McGee illustrates is that all of this is possible - for you and me. It is possible to stop returning hate for hate... It is possible not to let feelings of hurt and anger to continue a slow burn within. It is possible to experience reconciliation with that loved one, that co worker, that neighbor, that friend who we’ve written off. It is possible not to continue facebook or twitter wars over whatever political or social debate is trending today. All of this is possible if we’re in relationship with Jesus Christ. If we know, feel, experience that loving embrace of Christ then we can recognize how he is the only thing that ultimately matters. Then we won’t have room in our hearts for anger because we’ve allowed Jesus to abide there. And with that intimacy, we will authentically and sincerely find true peace, lasting joy; the ability to forgive and yes, even love our enemies.

FR JIM'S VALENTINE'S ADVICE:

Hi everyone, here's my homily for the 6th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - FEBRUARY 12, 2017.  The readings for today's Mass can be found at: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/021217.cfm.  Thanks as always for reading this blog; sharing it on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit - and for all your feedback and comments.  Have a great week - God Bless, Fr Jim


HOMILY:

So this Tuesday is Valentine’s Day. It’s been hard not to notice. The day after Christmas, the CVS drug-store - definitely the place you think of when you think Romance – had already cleared out the Christmas decorations and had boxes and boxes of cards, candy, Stuffed Animals (including my personal favorite, Snoopy) with ‘I love you’ stitched on it. A whole variety of gifts for people to take a moment to express their love for one another. While it’s not just a romantic thing – it’s common to see little kids share "valentine’s" with each other, children with their parents and grandparents to take a moment to say ‘I love you,’ – the greatest amount of stress surrounding this holiday seems to be among guys and girls dating. And call me biased, it seems 100 times worse on the guy side. Women seem instinctually to be more thoughtful, caring and creative.

Ladies, you can call guys boobs, insensitive, whatever - the fact is most guys don’t know how to find the best gift for Valentine’s Day! It can be hard to find the "right" way to express our love. Fortunately for my Mom, a nice card and some flowers suffices... The last Valentine’s Day of major consequence for me was in college. My girlfriend at the time was a classmate of mine who we had been dating for about 3 months (but we had been friends for about a year and a half) Anyway, I knew that she always loved the music from the musical Jesus Christ Superstar and that she had never been to a live theatre production- so when I saw that there was a Broadway production of it touring in Philadelphia (which was about an hour away from where we went to school) and that it was going to be there on Valentines Day, I thought that would be perfect!

$50 a ticket mind you - it’s a lot now, yeah, well back in 1993 and being a poor college student myself - it was a heck of a lot more! I share that not to complain, but as a preface to this next part that, in the light of the 24 years since I might understand a little better why the night didn’t go as well as I had imagined. After $100 on tickets, and knowing the parking, gas, etc was going to be another 30-40 bucks, well I was more than financially tapped out and I just hadn’t planned every detail correctly. So as we’re driving around 5:30/6:00 that evening to the theatre, I realized something important: I was kind of hungry... so I asked my Valentine "Are you hungry?" She said that she was, so being the gentleman I was, I asked her if she had a preference to stop at Burger King or McDonalds. Despite my friends who mocked me later about this, I did not purchase her a "Happy Meal." She had a Big Mac value meal (which I told the woman behind the counter to ‘super-size’ – since it was on me – I know how to treat a lady... I was even willing to splurge on an apple pie, which she had turned down)

Anyway, the show was great, very well done... and I thought that she enjoyed it all, but it wasn’t long after that we broke up. In fact it was less than a week. And in the interest of full disclosure, she broke up with me... citing this night as one reason "this isn’t going to work." Which, ladies, just an F.Y.I. - when you’re breaking up with a guy, telling him he just wasted about $150 on a date night isn’t the most sensitive thing to do... I remember her saying " I did enjoy the evening, but I’m sorry if I don’t find McDonalds for dinner followed by watching Jesus get crucified set to rock music the most romantic thing I would’ve imagined." The next fall I entered the seminary. (Kidding, it was 2 years later...)

It can be hard to find the "right" way to express our love. Not just between boyfriends and girlfriends, husbands and wives, or any of our other human relationships... How do we show our love for God? Is there a Valentine’s Day gift or card that would somehow be able to articulate I Love you Lord?’

If we look at what Jesus is saying in this entire passage from the Gospel of St. Matthew, we find that Jesus is telling us how to love our Heavenly Father. We know that God hates sin... Jesus hates sin. So Jesus tells us how we can demonstrate our love: If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away...if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off... No, there aren’t knives and saws in the back of the Church for us to make this a Valentine’s Day that God (or any of us) would never forget. Fortunately, even the thickest headed of men who loved Jesus – the apostles – realized that Jesus wasn’t looking for them to severely maim themselves.

But Jesus’ is using that to get our attention to something important God had given His people a covenant. He had said to them You will be my people... and I will be your God - and the expectations on God’s part was articulated in the Ten Commandments. By following those ten laws, the Lord had said - His people would demonstrate their faithfulness, their love for Him. But people being people; humans being human we always are looking for shortcuts and loopholes... to do the least that we had to do.

Which is why this Gospel is so real – it almost sounds like Jesus is fired up or being sarcastic: like he’s about to say ‘you think you’re being faithful? You think you’re loving my Father by doing what you’re doing? COME ON. Jesus being fully God and fully human is able to speak even more directly to us: Pointing out the inconsistencies, the loopholes we’ve created. How we fool ourselves into thinking that if we were on trial we could say to God - Well Lord, technically we were following your commands... Technically we never took a gun or a knife and "killed" someone – conveniently forgetting the butcher job we did talking about people... Lord, when did I ever commit adultery – me and the people I fooled around with were never married... And so on.

When we think about it - flowers die, candy is digested, cards - stuffed animals - gifts will fade and be discarded, even a night at the theatre will one day simply be a memory. In light of the fullness of life Jesus wants us to have right here, right now... Remembering the promises Jesus is offering us of the eternal life that is to come, what greater gift can we give to those in our lives that we care about not just on Valentines Day, but every day of our lives than to fall deeper in love with Jesus Christ?

Jesus is trying to help us in that pursuit.  Moving out of living a relationship that is shallow into a loving relationship. Which is why he uses ridiculous extreme examples like cutting off limbs that could cause us to sin to point out how ridiculous we can be. How we can fall into the trap of simply trying to fulfill an obligation rather than truly express our love. Because in the end, the body part that matters the most to Jesus is our hearts – our giving them completely to him, and He truly possessing them...living in them.

IT'S NOT ALL ON YOU - LISTEN AGAIN....

Hi everyone - here's my homily for the FIFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - February 5, 2017.   The readings for today can be found at: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/020517.cfm.  Thanks as always for reading, sharing this blog on Twitter, Facebook and Reddit - and for your feedback and comments.  Appreciate your interest!  Have a great week - Fr Jim


HOMILY:
This past June, a graduate student from London by the name of Sumeja Tulic shared how she had been having difficulty adjusting to life in the United States and in New York City in a story in the NY Times. She described how she was on the one hand enjoying the beautiful weather and the excitement of city life in that late Spring/early Summer (a nice memory in these wintery days of February). Yet now that she was here as a journalism student, she was tuned into the fever pitch of what was one of the most contentious political campaigns we’ve witnessed in our lifetimes (that seems, sadly to have continued almost 3 months after election day) as well as having to study a series of different terrorist attacks globally and here in the US. After a particularly grueling, on a Friday afternoon, she was depressed and discouraged as she made her way to the subway and thought to herself "Please, God, just something nice — I want to see something nice, Enough of this craziness..."


Moments later, after hearing the announcement that the next train was en route and was only two stations away, she noticed this 6-foot tall guy who had been leaning against the pillar waiting for the train, very suddenly collapsing forward onto the train tracks. He had some type of medical episode that caused him to pass out cold and now he was somewhat jammed on the tracks. Suddenly, these different New Yorkers, all of who were pretty oblivious to one another (staring at their phones, lost in their thoughts as we are all prone to do, lest we actually engage a stranger in eye contact or conversation ) heard the dramatic "thump" ran over to see what had happened, and as Tulic describes it, almost instantaneously they were on the tracks.... Trying, futilely to wake him up... another running to try to get help, another trying to run to the end of the platform to try to warn the train conductor of the oncoming train... in the meantime three men were finally able to prop the unconscious man into a seated position, were able to hoist him up and roll him on the platform onto safety. There he was surrounded by his rescuers who held his hand, and kept assuring the man who was slowly regaining consciousness saying "buddy you’re going to be fine." Tulic had recorded the entire event on her phone, which was seen by more than 2 million people, which is what got the attention of the NY Times. As they looked into the story, they learned that one of the men who went onto the tracks, had visited with the stricken man, who had no recollection of being in the subway or of the group of strangers who had gathered to save him.

The student who had prayed looking to see something "nice" reflected on that saying "That is the greatest thing... The infrastructure in this city of millions is the people themselves providing, being there for others. Without even knowing the person, who he is, no matter what denomination he subscribes to. It was beautiful to see." (The full story:  "In a Race to Save a Man on the tracks, a reminder of what's good in the world: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/15/nyregion/in-a-race-to-save-a-man-on-the-tracks-a-reminder-of-whats-good-in-the-world.html?_r=0  )


In quite a dramatic fashion, these nameless individuals not only saved this man’s life, but also demonstrate the importance of being "salt" being "light." If you’re like me, a lot of times when I’ve heard this Gospel passage, I kind of imagine it as a call to Sainthood, a call to Holiness, a call to Greatness that seems out of reach, a pipe dream, a fantasy to me as a mere mortals... The part of us that knows we are supposed to want to be like Mother Teresa, supposed to be selfless, loving, bold - to show the world the beauty, the power, the love that the Gospels call us to in a way that captivates and transforms the world. But then our sinfulness, our listening to the voice of the evil one who wishes to diminish and discourage us (by reminding us of our sinfulness, our limitations) kind of makes that seem if not impossible at least seemingly really, really out of reach.

Part of the problem with that mentality isn't just that we dismiss outright the possibility of our being holy - but also that we kind of take too much on ourselves.  As if to say, we have to change the world, we have to save the world ourselves - forgetting Jesus has already done that! 

If we look at it a bit closer, Jesus isn’t directing these words to people as individuals. This isn’t an individual call. He addressed these words to his disciples - to all of them... to all of us. The call to be salt of the earth, the call to be light for the world is what we are to do together as His disciples. That’s what we as Christians collectively are meant to do. Transform the world - being salt to the blandness of the world, bringing light to the darkness we see. That’s why we see the Church being so vocal about the right to life for every human being from conception to natural death. That’s why you hear the Bishops speaking out in support of refugees and the need for our government to not allow fear to blind us to the needs of those most vulnerable. That’s why in both of those examples you don’t just hear talk on those issues, but you see the Church involved in creating homes for mothers who have no one to care for them and were contemplating abortion – as well as setting up homes for refugees here in our own state and communities all the way to the Vatican itself.


Jesus is charging us collectively to work together to transform the world. That’s why that story of the poor man collapsing on the tracks came to mind. There was a lot of individual heroic acts - but it was a collective effort that saved that one man, and inspired and moved countless millions who have heard that story. The same is true of the Church. From Jesus’ first instructions to his disciples about caring for the poor, the sick, the prisoner, the dying - that caused a major shift in the entire world. Up until then, they would isolate those individuals who fell into those categories as somehow being divinely punished and needing to be kept away from (lest we somehow become unclean by being in contact with them). Jesus turns it around completely and tells us that we would encounter Him, we would find His face in these very individuals. That we as a Church, have a responsibility to care for them. We as members of the Church have to see them and love them as beloved brothers and sisters.

May each of us as members of His Church do our part - flavoring, brightening this world of ours - into the kingdom Christ envisions us to create.

BLESSED ARE THEY...? SERIOUSLY???

Hi everyone, here’s my homily for January 29, 2017 - Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time. The readings for today can be found at: 

As always, thanks for reading, sharing this blog on Facebook, twitter and reddit; and for your feedback and comments. Have a great week! God Bless - Fr. Jim


HOMILY:

Some years ago, as chaplain of the West Orange Fire Department, a couple of guys on the department called one day to tell me that there was a fireman from New York who was going to be at Kessler Rehabilitation Center and asked me to go up to meet him.

Little did I know who it was. His name is Eugene Stolowski. And he was one of the men who were responding to a fire in Jan 2005 which became infamously known as Black Sunday and had been in the local news a great deal. They were in a burning Bronx building, became trapped, had no safety ropes to lower them down 50 feet to the cold, icy ground below and were forced to decide whether to stay in the inferno or make an attempt to jump out the windows of the building. Realizing their best shot at survival was to jump, that’s what they did. Tragically, two of the men would die from the fall, and the other three would have very serious injuries. But none of them as bad as Gene.

Gene, fell that 50 feet at 40 MPH - His skull had become detached form his spine. The doctors told his wife, who had a 2 year old at home and was pregnant with twins there was only a 5 percent chance of survival.

Gene would endure 12 surgeries, 20 doctors, removal of his gall bladder, would be on a ventilator for weeks, and then stay at a rehabilitation center, which was pretty far from his wife, and his babies (who were born premature 3 months early while he was recovering) for over 6 months.

One of the many remarkable things about Gene though was that he had this positive attitude. Honestly, I wondered many days when I left was I ministering to him or was he ministering to me? Because whenever we would talk and sometimes get into the "tough questions" like "how are you doing, really?" "Are you angry with God" and all the things that you might think he had every right to feel - well, he always remained so positive.

I remember him kind of getting choked up telling me one day how he knew he was lucky to be alive, lucky to be with these incredible doctors, lucky to have so many people around him who cared and loved him, lucky to have his family... The more I think back on all my meetings with Gene, I realize that He wasn’t Lucky -He was blessed...

Today’s Gospel is probably one of those Gospel passages that is instantly recognizable - as soon as we heard the first line "Blessed are the poor in spirit" - there’s like a bell that goes off in our heads like we’re on a game show and we want to shout out"What are ‘The Beatitudes’," (I’ll take Bible passages for $400 Alex). We know and we’ve heard the Beatitudes so many times, there’s almost instant recognition.

But if we really paid attention to that litany that Jesus says, it might surprise us. Think about it: The poor in spirit are blessed? Those who are mourning are blessed? The Meek, the hungry, the persecuted they are blessed? All of the people in those situations probably don’t exactly feel blessed.

Then you have - the peacemakers, the clean of heart, the merciful; people who basically have to work so hard against the systems around them, against the temptations and sinfulness of the world we live in - all of them are called Blessed too? Again, they probably don’t feel that way.

And you have to wonder if all of the people who climbed this mountain to hear Jesus say these words thousands of years ago if they were, oh I don’t know maybe a bit underwhelmed.

This is the Messiah? This is the Son of God? It’s kind of like - we’re sick of going through all of these things- we were kind of hoping that now that you were on the scene the meek, hungry and persecuted wouldn’t be going through that stuff anymore.

But what Jesus’ is trying to tell all of us is that He knows that we’re all going to go through misfortunes, and terrible struggles, and awful things are going to happen in our lives. Maybe it will be a financial disaster - someone loses their job, loses their home; Who hasn’t had someone they loved who has died? Who hasn’t witnessed and suffered along with someone who was seriously ill?

To say that we’re "blessed" though, isn’t burying our head in the sand or some cruel spin on a terrible situation. Jesus isn’t saying "how lucky" you are... but instead - Yes,

Blessed are you when even in the midst of all that is going on in your life, all the trials and tribulations you suffer and endure Blessed are you when you realize God hasn’t abandoned you.

Blessed are you when you realize this isn’t some divine punishment for some mistake, some sin, some thing weighing you down from the past

Blessed are you when you see my presence in the midst of it all.
That’s why someone like Gene could remain so positive. He knew that what happened was a tragic thing. He knew that there were people responsible for his misfortune - and If he had the time machine to go back and could change something from that horrible event, there’s no doubt that he would.

But instead of focusing on all of that - which would lead to bitterness, and depression - What Jesus offered to Gene and is offering for each of us is a radical new way to look at the world and the trials we face. Jesus is revealing to us that we have a God so intimately connected to us, so present and aware to all of the ups and downs of our lives, we have a God who is a Father to us and that in turning to Him through all we face, all of those things we endure do not have power over us unless we give into them.

We find that if we can resist that temptation then Jesus’ last words of His sermon aren’t a command, but rather a statement of Hope that we share – that one day, we will Rejoice and be glad!

GARDENING - WHO'S GOT TIME FOR THAT?

Here's my homily for our "CIA- CATHOLIC INTERCOLLEGIATE ADORATION" a monthly gathering of the campus ministries from the Archdiocese of Newark for Mass and Adoration.  This month, we're hosting it here at the Newman Center at MSU - on the day of the MARCH FOR LIFE.  The readings for today can be found at: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/012717.cfm

Thanks for reading, sharing and your feedback! Fr Jim

HOMILY:

Not too long ago, there was an attempt by a group of Christians to kind of update the New Testament - using modern day language or more contemporary images in a somewhat understandable even noble pursuit to try to make the scriptures more relatable to modern day audiences and contemporary readers.  There’s multitudes of reasons why this well intentioned pursuit was (and remains) doomed to fail.  But I can’t help but appreciate the reasons why these authors, writers and preachers tried in the first place.

For example, reading tonight’s Gospel, my initial reaction was “great - seeds - farming again...”  For most of us here in New Jersey -  I doubt the imagery really speak to us, to our experiences.  For most of us if we have any experience with “gardening” it’s that we have a few plants around our homes.   I would suspect a great majority do what I do: go to Home Depot, purchase already growing plants, follow the nice little 3 or 4 step guide on the side “DIG HOLE, DROP PLANT IN HOLE, PUT DIRT AROUND, WATER...”  And somehow boast at how beautifully our house or garden looks... proudly share tomatoes “from MY Garden”.

We’re far too busy, far too impatient to actually do the frustratingly long, involved, slow process of trying of growing something from seeds.  And perhaps that’s one of the reasons that Gospel passages like today kind of fall on deaf ears or we zone out thinking about something else.  And so the temptation to try to come up with something relatable comes to mind  “the Kingdom of God is like snap-chat... “ (No... No it’s not... #NeverSnapChat)  That demonstrates us trying to make Jesus fit into our world our lives - rather than the other way around.  Letting our lives be shaped by Jesus; transforming the world into the Kingdom of God. And the more you think about how messed up our world is, how distracting our lives can be – why would we even want to do that in the first place?

Thinking about this Gospel again, and coming from an Italian family, I started to think about how  my great grandmother and my grandparents and their siblings (who lived in Nutley and Lodi when I was growing up) used to have huge gardens - zucchini, tomato, basil, grapes (yes, homemade wine) - as well as flowers.

To this day, I can remember in the fall having to plant bulbs out in the backyard and covering them with branches and stuff so grandma’s tulips would come up in the Spring.     Or even better, I can remember some of my older relatives teaching me how to take a dead marigold flower, break open the flower and get the seeds from it, put it out in the sun for a day to dry the seeds out, and then planting them....  As a little kid, I remember planting them and two days later going back to look to see if anything came up.

There was a sense of pride and excitement about that...  And it’s sad for me to realize that I doubt I would have the patience to do that today.  Just thinking about it, truth be told, I don’t have to doubt that I would have the patience... I know I don’t have the patience...   And I know if I did push myself to do this, I’d probably be frustrated driving past Home Depot and seeing how much nicer, fuller, and so much easier it would be to simply pick up one of their pre-planting plants and drop it into the ground (or even better, pay the landscaper to do it, and run to the supermarket on those rare days I want to have fruit or vegetables.  Heck, you can go to the store and even buy fruit and vegetables cleaned, cut up and ready to eat)

The thing that strikes me with all of this is that it’s not about plants or seeds or gardens.  Because don’t we in the sense think the same thing about our faith lives?  About our relationship with Jesus.  All of us being here together on a Friday night for Mass and Adoration - it’s a beautiful thing.  But isn’t there at least some part of ourselves that kind of looks at it like going to the gas station, expecting to fill up on Jesus, get some grace and then just kind of pull out of here and hope that somehow that protects us, keeps us going as we simply go about our “real” lives?  Rather than truly letting Christ take root in our lives, letting that change us as we go about changing that “real” world?

What Jesus is telling us in these images these parables is that being faithful people is hard work.  It requires patience, perseverance.  It’s not neatly packed or easily maintained.  And it’s a daunting task.

Our personal faith lives, for most of us, began before we even knew how to talk, walk, sit up.  Our families made the decision to share the seed of Christ and we’re told it was up to them to keep that growing within us, till we were ready to take over...  We probably are tempted to think that some did it better than others, but you know what, that’s unhelpful.  We’re here.  We’re here now.  So the different gardeners that helped along the way simply deserve our thanks, our love - and our prayers of appreciation.  And now we’ve been charged to continue that hard work of lovingly caring for that faith life.  To notice the weeds and extricate them (i.e Confession) - to make sure we’re nurturing that faith life through prayer - and through continuing to grow - by how we let this faith life of ours continue to spread to others.

Not to simply go out and expect that I’m going to bring a friend to Mass this Sunday and they’re going to want to be Christian.  That’s the Home Depot-garden approach to Christianity.  The harder, more challenging task of continuing to nurture my own faith life and at the same time, to be loving to others.... to be a witness to others... to be an example, even in my failures, of someone who is simply here by God’s grace and sustained by it as well.  That takes time, that takes effort.  It takes persistence and perseverance.

And in our day and age, it takes courage.  Looking at the hundreds of thousands of people who descended on Washington DC today in the March for Life to witness to the sacredness of life - when others wish to ignore that as simply a “hot button issue” that is too divisive to discuss... Who have marched for decades as others try to ignore them, minimize them and hope to outshout them... Who day in and day out try to create a culture for life with homes for crisis pregnancies, adoption agencies, health care services when others advocate and fund abortion mills under the most deceptive of names, corrupting the word Parenthood with something that is far from it...

It’s hard to be pro life.
It’s hard to be Christian.  It is much easier to be discouraged and give up.  But when we look at the examples of faithful people... we see how they haven’t given up  we see their efforts and are inspired by their stories.  We see how Jesus works with and through the persistence and perseverance of his faithful people in trying to eradicate a moral evil that has plagued our nation for as long as I’ve been alive.

As Catholic Christians, we know that is just one example, one evil that plagues us.  There’s countless others that we can all think of... Personally... locally... globally.  There are threats as there has been since the day Adam and Eve first listened to Satan’s voice instead of the voice of God their loving Creator.  And humanity continues to fall for the same temptation, continues to struggle.  The Good News is that Jesus has saved us and redeemed us.  He calls us to be his faithful gardeners in His Kingdom.  May you and I not grow weary, discouraged, disillusioned in that long, hard, challenging but life-giving, both now and for all eternity, work that Jesus has entrusted us with...

2016 A ROUGH YEAR FOR CELEBRITIES?

Hi everyone! Here’s my homily for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time - January 22, 2017. The readings for today can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/012217.cfm. Thanks as always for reading, sharing it on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit and your feedback and comments. Grateful for your interest and support! Fr Jim



HOMILY:

As 2016 was coming to a close, there was a great number of people who seemed to believe that there had been a greater than normal number of celebrity’s who passed away during the year. The UK newspaper "The Telegraph" did a whole article on the topic asking on behalf of many, "was 2016 cursed" for celebrities. They went through a whole slew of theories explaining why it seemed that way: Maybe the bar for celebrity has been dropped so low that there were more people considered celebs than before; perhaps with social media it has just amplified these losses when they occur more loudly; or 
maybe celebrities were simply cursed this past year 

One of the reasons I think people felt that 2016 was a bad year for celebrities was there were so many shocking and dramatic losses - from Carrie Fischer dying and then her mother Debbie Reynolds passing away the next day; we had musical icons Prince dying at the age of 57 back in April to 53 year old George Michael dying right on Christmas Day.

While there was a lot of contributing factors and medical reasons for many of these individuals deaths - what surprised me with so much of the coverage was how matter-of-factly there would be reports or interviews how this person had struggled with "demons" - in some cases how drug and alcohol abuse was known... In a celebrity obsessed culture, we’re kind of numbed to these sad stories and the tabloids and tabloid TV show seems to feed off these tragic deaths of celebrities.  In the last few weeks, they started going over George Michael’s toxicology reports and details of his personal life were made public and picked apart and hearing stories how friends had "warned him;" how co-workeres had been "concerned about him" and now there’s been speculation that he died of some drug overdose rather than a heart attack as had initially been reported.

This isn’t about bashing the media - or celebrities. It’s about people who walk in darkness. Because what makes some of these celebrity deaths even sadder is the lack of shock from so many people who knew them. People knew something was wrong. People could tell they were on a bad path. People saw they were walking in darkness.


Do we care? We should. And I’m not saying to go run to your favorite celebrities home tonight and hold an intervention for them. Probably not a good idea with those armed guards and all. But who do we know that is walking in darkness? Don’t we know friends, roommates, classmates, family members who are on paths of destruction? Who isn’t acting right? Who is it that is making some awful choices and stupid decisions that will have a lasting impact on the rest of their lives, that we don’t say anything about because we’re being "polite." Telling ourselves, well it’s their decision, it’s their choice, who am I to say and all the other excuses we have?

There are some people that God has placed into our lives right now - they are people that you and I are thinking of right now that are waiting for something- that need Jesus - that need His Light -.. And we pray for them, and we wonder what’s going to happen and we hope things will work out for them - and.   .   . that’s not enough.

In the Gospel today, Jesus enters Galilee - and St. Matthew quotes the first reading from Isaiah tonight with all those funky town names to show it was Galilee where Jesus starts his Mission. Jesus goes to this land that had been overwhelmed by darkness. This region had been raped, pillaged and plundered by these people the Assyrians, and Isaiah says to them in the first reading- you - people who walked in darkness- have seen a great light - upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom - a light has shone...

And Matthew quotes that passage to point out to them that Isaiah was talking about JESUS.

Jesus is that light that calls people out of darkness. We nod our heads and say, "Yes, Jesus is the Light of the World" we’ve heard this before -

Jesus is calling people out of Darkness we’ve heard that before too and

Jesus is the way out of the darkness -yep, all of this was covered in CCD or Catholic School...

BUT How?
Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel: "Come after me and I will make YOU fishers of men."

That’s not just a story about 4 fishermen over 2,000 years ago. Jesus is saying to you and to me - to each of us "Come after me and I will make YOU fishers of men"

Because

- it’s not enough for us just to recognize Jesus as the Light

- It’s not enough for us to receive that Light as we hear his word and receive his body and blood - Jesus gives us the Light and wants us to bring it to those who’ve yet to experience it - those who are in darkness.

When we look at what happened with the guys in the Gospel: Jesus comes on the scene, Peter and Andrew leave their nets (leave their livelihood) and follow him... James and John they’re father’s probably sitting in the boat thinking - Uh, Guys, where you going? The point is - in this encounter they had with Jesus; in the invitation he gives to them – they were able to recognize that there was something special in this --  in Him -- that would change their lives forever. And so they spend the rest of their lives living and spreading the Light of Jesus.

Do we? Do we really believe that? Because if we do then we have to do two things - 1 - we have to actually Live like people of the Light. That means when we’re hit with darkness in our own lives - whether it’s something bad I’ve done that is hanging over me - or - some circumstance I’m struggling with or even something that someone else has done to me and I’m holding onto the hurt, the anger and the resentment...  for those of us already here - we’ve gotta do something about this darkness in our own lives. Maybe I’ve got to get to confession - Maybe I need to deal with the pain or fear that I’m struggling with – Maybe I’ve got to pray for a way to forgive that person that hurt me... Maybe all of the above. For us who’ve already experienced the light of Christ; when that light seems diminished, it’s up to us to start to turn away from the darkness in my own life, or ask for help in doing that - to experience the healing, the peace and the Love that comes from turning towards the light.

The second thing is - I have to spread that Light of Jesus. I can’t wait for someone else to do it. There were probably people we passed on our way here tonight that we could have invited to be with us - not all of them would have come, but someone would have - someone was waiting for an invitation. Someone is still waiting for our invitation. There are probably people we’re going to be around later tonight who are just going to ask "what’d you do tonight?" are we going to answer "nothing" because we’re embarrassed to tell them that coming to Mass is important to us or are we going to say I came to Mass - and maybe that will open their hearts and minds to the Light. We don’t have to be overly dramatic and creepy about it getting into people’s faces and awkwardly and uncomfortably talking about Jesus. Rather, As we reveal ourselves and extend ourselves to others in simple, gentle, loving - but authentic ways - we can simply offer Christ’s friendship through our friendship... offer Christ’s care and concern through our care and concern... offer Christ’s Love through our Love.

So many different celebrity’s death story’s are sadder because it seems no one was able to truly show him the Light while they knew they were wallowing and being swallowed up in darkness. We don’t know how God wants to use us to spread his Light, and that’s not even something what we need to focus on or worry about. Jesus doesn’t say "Try to figure it all out on your own how to make my name known," he says "Follow Me, I will make you fishers of men." He’ll figure out how best to utilize our willingness to follow Him and serve Him - if we are willing too let Him.