BRINGING OUT THE GOOD - 2nd Sunday of Advent

Hi everyone... Here's my homily for the SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT - December 4, 2016.  The readings for today can be found at:  http://usccb.org/bible/readings/120416.cfm.  Thanks as always for stopping by to read this blog, for your comments and feedback - and for sharing it on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and wherever else on the social media world... I'm shocked looking at some of the stats each week, and deeply grateful.  Have a great week!  Fr Jim

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HOMILY:

At the height of last month’s bitter campaign and election, after a deluge of awful advertisements from both campaigns that just made people more fearful, angry, politically charged and left people feeling more divided than perhaps any other campaign has done before, there was one TV commercial that was quite different. First off it was a three minute advertisement. In a media world where we’re used to 140 character tweets, and 30 second commercials at the max, that’s already outside of the norm. That it came from Pedigree - a dog food company also seemed odd - as they are hardly used to big budget marketing campaigns like Budweiser or Ford or some national company like that. It opened with pictures of both campaign rallies showing signs saying "Hillary for Prison" "Dump Trump" and so on. The commercial then introduces this "social experiment" that they wanted to try out. They had a young woman go to both Clinton and Trump rallies with what she describes as a lost golden retriever. At each event she goes to, she is wearing the opposing candidates shirt.

Even though it was a commercial - so you had to guess how it would work out, I mean, would they spend all this money on a commercial if it went horribly wrong? -but, as any good film-maker or story teller is able to do, you kind of got sucked into this short story very quickly not really knowing what would happen. You see this woman with this dog wearing a Hillary Shirt at a Trump rally and vice versa. She quickly starts engaging people asking "does anyone know someone here who’s lost a dog." The first time I saw it, I felt the knot in my stomach thinking "oh no... please... no... please don’t have people say or do something stupid or mean."

After initially some chilly receptions, people were kind of drawn to trying to help this woman find the dog’s owner. The care and the concern turns to the "poor lost dog" with the attendees at the rallies and this "enemy" supporting the opponent, all petting and talking about the dog. Political differences were cast aside as both Hillary and Trump supporters bond with the woman over their love of dogs. That three minute ad, entitled "Vote for Good" which was shot over the last two weeks of the campaign and shown on the day before and the day of the election may become the most memorable ad as it went viral and was viewed millions of more times online. "I love that apparently when it comes to dogs, there's no political party," says one Clinton supporter "We do agree that we love dogs, and dogs love us," says a man dressed in a Trump shirt. The ad closes with: "This election has brought out the worst in us, We sought to remind people what brings out the good."  (You can watch the video here:)



What brings out the good. That’s something that comes to mind when we look at these scriptures we’ve just heard. Today’s readings from Isaiah and the Gospel of St. Matthew, probably to our ears sounded a bit too unrealistic, too off putting. In the first reading we’re hearing about a wolf being a guest of a lamb, leopards lying with kids, calves and lions browsing together with a child guiding them - cows and bears being neighbors and baby’s playing in a cobra’s den... that’s right - A Cobra’s den. You could be forgiven for thinking "what was Isaiah on that day?" We don’t see how any of that is real how any of that is possible - so our impulse is to dismiss it.

Similarly in the Gospel reading - we hear about John the Baptist - this guy wearing camel’s hair, eating locusts and honey living out in the wilderness. He calls the religious authorities of the day "vipers" and calls the rest of the listeners to "Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Again, it’s not shocking that some might be initially dismissive of this rather eccentric guy and wonder - "Uhhhh... what?"

But both Isaiah and John are prophets. Prophets are messengers sent by God to put forward a message from the Lord to His people that God will intervene dramatically to transform the world in some way... to give people Hope, to give them time to prepare, to give them time to respond. 


Isaiah’s prophecy of this ideal, peace-filled vision probably seemed as far-fetched to his first hearers as it does to us. But part of the reason that’s the case is that we rarely see the goodness of the world that God created - the goodness of one another. We are hurt, angry, frustrated by things, people, events - which often results in us responding in equally hurtful, angry, frustrating ways.    It’s why some 3 minute commercial isn’t so silly. In those three minutes, we got to see real people dropping some real animosity and tension over a lovable animal. In that moment, albeit brief, we can maybe begin to have Isaiah’s even more expansive and glorious vision of a peace-filled earth that the Messiah will usher in.

But in order for that to happen, we have to want that vision to be our vision. And we have to make our vision, our mission. Which is where John the Baptist picks up. We hear these kind of stark words from the prophet "Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees...every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire..." not exactly sounding like he’s in the Christmas spirit (someone get John a candy cane). But he’s trying to get us on the right path to the true meaning of Christmas. Not our pretending like Jesus is going to be born again in Bethlehem to Mary. That happened 2,000 years ago. But rather our bringing Christ to birth here and now.  We do that when we start to repent of our pettiness, our grudges. We do that when we reach out to those we’ve been estranged from.   When we become prophets ourselves and engage in the hard work of bringing some peace, some compassion, some mercy into this world around us. To play the roles of John the Baptist and Isaiah in our homes, workplaces, campus.  May we hear the challenge of the season of Advent that calls us to celebrate, to uphold, to seek out and call attention to all that is good in God’s creation... recognizing how Jesus has reconciled all creation and revealed God as our Loving and Eternal Father.  Then we will remind others - and maybe even remind ourselves - of the good there is inside us.

WE'RE ALL GOING TO DIE - FA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA

Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT - November 27, 2016. The readings can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/112716.cfm . Thanks as always for reading, your feedback and sharing it on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit. Grateful for your support! Have a great week - God Bless, Fr Jim.

HOMILY:

Here we are, Thanksgiving weekend. Hopefully we’ve had a nice gathering with our families and friends over a large (more than likely too large) dinner. Maybe you followed up the tryptophane - induced slumbers with Black Friday shopping or continued in semi-coma’s watching Football or binge watching something over the weekend. Over the weekend, people seemed to be moving into "the Holiday Season Mode" decorating inside and outside of their houses. Tuning into Christmas specials popping up on television more frequently then they had been since Columbus Day. One reporter on Friday speculated that people were so glad that such a divisive political campaign and election this year was over they were embracing the Christmas Season even more than usual as an escape from such negativity.

With all that in mind, this is one of these times where people might look at the Church as being unable to connect or reflect with the moods of many people. You definitely don’t get a Christmas vibe here... in fact, the one Christmas song we sing almost every Sunday, the "Glory to God in the Highest" we’ve ditched until we celebrate Christmas in a few weeks... The color scheme here isn’t Christmas green or red (or gold or white) but this dark purple - which is meant to be a reminder that Advent calls us to simplicity, to some fasting and penance... to soberly prepare for Christ’s coming. Not simply Christ’s first coming that first Christmas. But how Christ comes to us here and now, and even more urgently, for his Final coming when he will come for us at the end of time - either our personal end time at our deaths or the end of the world, whichever comes first.

Fa la la la la la la la la....

I know how often I’ve felt this tension myself between wanting to throw myself into the "Christmas season," and then being at Mass and hearing these dire warnings like we did in the Gospel. The basic message "STAY AWAKE, YO U DO NOT KNOW ON WHICH DAY YOUR LORD WILL COME." That seemsmore appropriate around Halloween with a Vampire like voice. It’s too depressing to think about.


But if we’re honest isn’t that the problem? We don’t like to hear or think or even dare to talk about the end of our lives. And there’s never a good time to talk about it. Whenever we do bring the subject up, there’s a knee jerk reaction of "why are you bringing that up." Then when death does hit close to home for us with the loss of a loved one or friend, many of us, even the most faithful of us, can feel completely unprepared.

The reality is that there were more than a few Thanksgiving tables where people were mourning and grieving (either outwardly or deep inside) the fact that loved ones who were there in the past weren’t there this year. And whether we like to think about it or not, we have to acknowledge that death is the one consistent among every human being - no matter how rich or poor, what race, religion, gender you are... everyone of us will die. And it’s unpredictable, as Jesus observes in today’s Gospel: Two men will be out in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken, and one will be left. He’s not just something referring to the end of the world. Jesus is pointing out the seeming randomness of death. My brother on Thanksgiving morning was pretty shaken talking about how a custodian at the school he works at, who was his age, with three little kids – died the night before from an Asthma attack. I’m sure we’ve all heard and know similar stories.

But rather than letting this depress us, it’s meant to remind us of what’s most important. Which isn’t the cars, chiseled abs, Nike, clear skin, newest clothes (on sale for 50% off this Black Friday weekend) or any of the other stuff we’re bombarded with in terms of advertisements.

The important stuff is our selves, our souls, how we hear God’s word in our lives and try to respond to it - the joy that comes from that; the love we experienced as a result of that; the dignity and strength we discover after being tested and challenged throughout our lives. That’s why Jesus is sharing these stark words: stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come. It’s something that becomes more and more obvious as we get older, the realization of how much time we wasted on the most petty of stuff. Most of you returning tonight for these final weeks of the semester are starting to angst about finals, papers, projects... Here’s a truth for you - the day after my graduation from college - not one person ever asked me what my GPA was. Not that I should’ve blown off my studies and not worked hard - but I shouldn’t have been so anxious and obsessed about trying to get great grades (which most times I failed to achieve anyway) Same is true with many other endeavors and pursuits - people who work an abundance of hours not to make ends meet but simply for more wealth. Or those who invest an unhealthy amount of time and energy in sports, or TV programs; or games... Not that any one of those things are intrinsically bad - most of them aren’t. But often we can allow those things to become more important as away to numb us, distract us from these more eternal realities. The things that will become crystal clear with our eyes wide open for us on our death beds.

A Jesuit priest friend of mine, Fr. William O’Malley put it like this-

"[When I ] I own these truths, I never wake up grumpy.
"Oh, God. Another day!"
Nope. It's, "Oh God! Another day!"
Many people worthier than I didn't wake up this morning; I did. The number of our days is finite, so each one is incredibly precious. We don't value dirt because we have so much. But the gold supply’s limited. Imagine squandering months of boredom, self-pity, hurt feelings – then dying? Imagine one day next week is your last. Some day will be.


May this message not depress us, but be a gift for you and I to truly make this pre-Christmas season of Advent truly a time of recognizing that this lifetime of ours is precious and limited. Life is a gift that God gives us in order that we might come to know and love Him deeper, fuller, here and now in this world he Has given us: in the fellow creatures He has blessed us to share this time and space with - only as a glimpse of the eternity to come. May we use this season of Advent to truly behold God’s presence in all that is loving, in all that is beautiful, in all that is life giving and nurturing... so that we prepare to meet Jesus Christ, today, tomorrow and for all eternity.

SAVE YOURSELF?

Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the SOLEMNITY of OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, KING OF THE UNIVERSE - November 20, 2016. The readings for today can be found at: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/112016.cfm . Thanks as always for reading this blog, for your feedback and comments and for sharing this blog on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit. Thanks again and a Happy and Healthy Thanksgiving to you and your families - Fr Jim

HOMILY:

This Gospel unsettled me each time I read it. Which is a good thing - we should be unsettled when we hear part of the story of Jesus’ Crucifixion. But something stood out in a way that I hadn’t noticed before. In this short, 8 verse passage we heard these three quotes:

Let him save himself...


If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself

Are you not the Christ? Save yourself...
Three times Jesus is mocked, ridiculed with pretty much the same words... a cold and detached sentiment – "save yourself." For me it showed a level of hatred I hadn’t noticed before.

We know that Jesus has been nailed to the cross, dying, not as a punishment for being a criminal that on some level you could argue "the guy is getting what he deserved" (not that anyone deserves that type of cruel punishment) With this repeating of the phrase "Save yourself", we see the depths of evil. Because if Jesus isn’t God, as so many of them argued He wasn’t – then he was just some crazy guy, a blasphemer who was starting trouble. If that was the case, then the leaders, the guards, the passers-by wouldn’t need to stand there, witness this spectacle (they didn’t do that for other "criminals")

Yet they make a point to be there, to witness it all. So if Jesus was just a crazy trouble maker, who they taunt over and over with a heartless "save yourself" to this poor man who was powerless and clearly dying... that seems beyond cruel.

The other possibility is even more frightening. That maybe they did recognize Jesus was who He said he was. That’s why it wasn’t enough just to have him sentenced to death... they wanted to be there. If that’s the case, at best, they’re putting God to the test – well Jesus supposedly you did all those miracles and stuff, let’s see you get out of this one Jesus.

At it’s worst, well, they decided to kill God.

Both sound so shocking that can’t be it, right? Which is why I think it bothered me so much. But let’s think about it. And we don’t have to look back at this scene as just some historic event; Good Friday of 2,000 years ago. Because isn’t this scene played over and over? Don’t we continue to put God, put Jesus to the test?

God if I get that promotion,
Lord if I ace that test,
Jesus if you cure me of this. . . then. . . then

Then what? Then God is God? Then Jesus deserves my praise, my worship? Then I’ll know He loves me? And if not, if those things don’t happen - then... well, the alternative means what? That this has all been some colossal hoax, a 2,000 year conspiracy?. . . That Jesus is not really who he said he was? . . . That there’s no hope, nothing to believe in? Sitting in Church on a Sunday hearing those two extremes laid out like that, we can realize how unreasonable those two options are.

Yet when we didn’t get that promotion, ace that test, get that miracle cure, those lies told by the father of Lies enters into our hearts. The doubts and fears take root... We start to think that God doesn’t care. That Jesus doesn’t love us because he’s not operating the way we think he should be. We start to believe that there’s nothing left to do but to "save myself." We start to go it alone, becoming stuck in a world of isolation. Thinking that because God hasn’t responded in the way I thought He should, I’m not interested in what Jesus has to say, how He wants to speak to my wounds, my pain, my fears... I’ve shut him out. I’ve convinced myself that I have to save myself. If that’s our reality, it’s easy to hear people look at Jesus on the cross and say, yeah Jesus you can go save yourself...


The other possibility - still plays out too.. That some desire to kill God and replace Him with a new one that seems more fashionable (the height of ego - we’d rather choose something that we ourselves have made). When that happens, Science goes from something that helps us unlock and explore the secrets to this complex and beautiful creation of His to trying to disprove His existence. Philosophy and Politics goes from reflecting on what it means to be a community, how to create a just society and how we should see and treat each other as made in His own divine image – to the state becoming a god itself and our value is determined by what we do for the government. At least with the first lie that "because God didn’t answer my prayers the way I wanted them - then he doesn’t love me" - we can say people fell for that because they are upset over some pain, some hurt, some disappointment in their lives. This second lie seems far worse because it’s so arrogant. We tell ourselves that we are masters of our own destinies. We have convinced ourselves that we can save ourselves.... For those who approach life from these vantage points, they can look at Jesus on the cross and want him dead, want God gone because they see him as a threat to even more scientific advances or being able to have more power and control over each other (as some ideologies have done throughout history). They arrogantly conclude Yes we can save ourselves... Jesus you should do the same.

Our King calls humanity to His throne – the wooden, blood soaked cross of His. The reality is that He could save himself - He could end the insults. Take out his enemies. And quickly get things under control once and for all. Make us subject to him demanding our loyal obedience.

But he doesn’t.

He listens to the taunts being uttered at Him. Questioning His motives, Doubting He is who He says he is, as humanity sits as judge, jury and executioner. Instead of dealing with us on our own terms, he submits to the torturous death. He allows the madness of the crowds embracing of sin, and for the Father of lies to believe for this moment that they’re victorious as the chorus repeats over and over in its demeaning, condescending way "Save yourself."

Jesus Christ our King, remains resolute. Looking past all of this madness, He remains committed to all of us, His brothers and sisters, His Father’s beloved, but sometimes misguided children - looking at us with His eyes of Mercy. And reigning from that cross Jesus Christ reveals the depth, the sincerity and ultimately the victorious authority of his Kingdom which is ruled by His Law of Love as he responds to all of humanity, I’d rather save you.

ITS THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT

Hi everyone... hope this finds you well!  Thanks for stopping by this blog and reading; sharing it on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit; and your feedback and comments.  The readings for today can be found at: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/111316.cfm.  Thanks again - have a great week & God Bless - Fr. Jim

HOMILY:
So - really cheery readings tonight, huh?

That they fall this Sunday does seem a bit of a weird coincidence. Just looking at the news this past week, I know that at least half of the country feels "it’s the end of the world". After the election results started coming in Tuesday night, it was reported that the Canadian Immigration website crashed from people looking to leave the country. I thought that was a bit of an exaggeration, till I read this headline "CHER TO LEAVE THE PLANET". The 70 year old singer - actress was so distraught over the election that she’s said to be moving to Jupiter. 

As if the widespread feelings of armageddon that many are experiencing wasn’t troubling enough - I had my own demise to deal with this past week. As I was working on my homily, I got a message from a friend of mine on Facebook - Fr. Jim, you ok? - yeah I'm okay -you're coming up as a "memorialized account"?? - hahaha - really?  yes: and then he shared what was posted on the top of the facebook page:
Remembering Jim Chern
We hope people who love Jim will find comfort in the things others share to remember and celebrate his life.
(Even in death Facebook won’t call me Father Jim - jerks)


We’re living in some peculiar times. The anxiety levels seem off the charts. The division that the nation went throughout this torturous 18 month slug fest of a Presidential campaign - it was probably naïve to think would magically go away Wednesday morning - no matter who won. I tend to see that this is just one very big and dramatic example of this feeling that many people have like ‘it’s the end of the world.’ We’ve seen terror attacks on our television screens -- today it marks one year since those horrific attacks took place in Paris; and since then there were attacks in Belgium, in California, in Florida - things that don't get as much notice as they have become almost a part of our lives. There’s been all kinds of earthquakes and natural disasters around the world that many in the US haven’t noticed as we’ve been focused on the election. Polls (if we can believe them anymore...) show vast numbers of people seem to agree on only negative things: Our nation is on the wrong track; the next generation will not do better than ours. Real cheery stuff.

Not sure if it’s comforting to know we’re not the first people to live in uncertain times. To feel similar feelings. For the Jewish people in Jesus’ time, they too found themselves dealing with tremendous loss and worry about the future. They had already lost control of their homeland. They were occupied by the Romans, who they hated for this oppression. They were divided and fractured as a people - you had various factions that believed different things - (Red state Jews and Blue State Jews?) so while they might have all been Jews, they weren’t united.

The one thing they had... the one thing that remained... the one thing they could focus on in terms of their worldly identity, their presence was their temple. Yes the temple had suffered attacks in the past, but it had been rebuilt, and it was a sight to see. For the Jews it was a connection to generations that preceded them. It was a sign of hope for their future. And it was beautiful. It was magnificent. It was something they always assumed would be there. In fact they looked at that as a sign of hope for the day when the Messiah would come, bring the tribes of Israel back together again and establish God’s kingdom here on earth.

So now with that in mind - look at today’s Gospel. Despite all the terrible things in their lives, the people are able to look and marvel at the temple. Noting the beauty of what was an important symbol of their faith. Jesus, who many had come to believe was the Messiah (which he was) says "All that you see here –this temple – it’s going to be gone..."

They’re shocked - When??? When will that happen? What will the signs be? (Maybe we can stop it from happening if we know the attack is coming) What does all that mean? They were used to their existence as it was, thinking: Yes - we’re occupied people, we’re mistreated, we’re not living the freedom that God’s chosen people should be experiencing, but look at the temple... They were looking at a building, a place a thing as a source for their security.

But the temple, as beautiful, as historic, as important as it was became something more than it should’ve been. Because they were fixated on something tangible of this earth that they had built, the people became closed minded, closed hearted to hearing and seeing how God was active in the present moment. How God was moving them into being truly His people. That His Kingdom would not be held bound to things, places of this world. That God’s Kingdom would be far greater than any single place on this world could contain.

For that to happen, they would have to see past these places, not put faith in earthly things. Jesus is pretty much saying – don’t look for stability in the things of this earth... they will all pass away. And yeah, it’s unsettling, it’s downright scary at times. It’s going to be pretty earthshattering to see the temple go away. It’s going to be devastating to see Jesus himself crucified... Its going to be jarring to suffer persecutions just because they follow Jesus. Jesus realizes how hard it is for them to trust in supernatural things when they see institutions, things of the world we live in collapsing. How can they believe in eternal things, a God who loves us through all eternity?

We might feel similarly. We see how divided we are as a nation - where one half is furious
with the election results and hopefully more than just the other half is furious with lawless riots that have sprung up in the days sense. Outside of that - We’ve been scandalized by the failures we’ve seen, in the world, or experienced in our own lives...

There’s things that scare us, big time - from the wars waged overseas to the wars in our families...the persecutions we see one person do to another, that we do ourselves...

We are just one more generation that has wondered as our ancestors in the past has "is this going to be it?""Is this the end of the world as we know it?" And in one sense - yes... it is. This world will not be the same tomorrow, or a month from now, or a year from now. And even more – There will come a day when even this great nation of the United States that we love so much, fight passionately over as we have in this past campaign - may pass away as did the great empires that Jesus’ contemporaries lived in.

Yet in spite of all that doom and gloom, something still calls us together. Something still in spite of all that, in spite of how temporary everything around us seems to be... Something, someone still has a hold on our heart. Still has a hold on our souls... We realize we’re connected to something, and someone greater than anything we can find in this ever changing, upside down world of ours: That someone is Jesus and that something is His Catholic Church We look at how our Catholic Church has continued its unbroken history for over 2,000 years and realize how we are a part of something bigger led by someone greater than anything else on this earth. He’s inviting us into His eternal kingdom, into an eternal life that will not pass away - and wants us to share that good news to a world desperate for it.

So when fear & doubts creep in, when people believe that "it’s the end of the world as we know it" we are to remember Jesus promise, stay connected to Him, knowing He’s here for us. So much so that His promise remains: Not a hair on our heads will be destroyed...By our perseverance, we will secure our lives...

YELPing ourselves the center of the universe

Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the 32nd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - November 6, 2016. The readings for today can be found at: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/110616.cfm. Thanks as always for reading, sharing this blog on facebook, twitter and reddit - and for all your comments and feedback. Have a great week. God Bless- Fr Jim


HOMILY

Last week I got one of the most random emails I’ve received in some time. It was from Yelp! - the app on our smart phones that lets people rate and review everything from restaurants to fitness clubs to even funeral homes. The email went:

Hey Jim (didn’t know that we were close personal friends that all of a sudden I’m not Father Jim - I guess Yelp is following Facebook in deciding to not to call me "Father" - but anyway)

Long time no see! (Kind of creepy -)

We miss you. We know you’ve been busy (really creepy... I mean I know this thing is on my phone but HOW does it know how busy I am????)

We think you deserve a break (ok, can’t argue with that)

We’ve got a few suggestions: (Okay)

Folks in Montclair have been wetting their whistles at Upstairs Restaurant (What? I don’t think I even know what that means) and dining out at Kim’s sushi (shows how much you know me Yelp, I hate sushi) That’s not all! Your neighbors on Yelp think that Crazy Mocha is the hottest new spot in town... have you checked it out yet? (No) Let us know what you think! See you on Yelp.

Obviously Yelp doesn’t miss me (cue the violins) They just want me to use their app and start reviewing things again - which I haven’t done in a long time. They’re not the only ones that do this sort of thing. You order a book off of Amazon almost a week after you’re asked to rate it and write a review (I thought I was done with having to write book reports) Or you download a song on iTunes, and they want you to rate that song on a 5 star scale.

While reading these reviews and stuff may be helpful for people when making a purchase for something or looking for a new place to eat, one of the by-products of all of this reviewing, opining, rating places, things (even people) is that it has helped create this atmosphere, this belief where we start to believe we’re a professional critic on almost every topic -even if we have no idea what we’re talking about. That we deserve to be catered to. That our opinions are of great importance that if we’re not attended to the way we think we should, we’re going to help bring those who brought that cold soup or made us wait for our tables for 15 minutes — down. I know I’ve done it. You can find my reviews... A couple places I reviewed really ticked me off, for a variety of reasons and one way to get my frustration out or getting even was a scathing review.

In some ways, doing this, we buy into the lie that we are the center of the universe.


We’re not the only people, the only generation to fall for that temptation. Which is what we see in today’s Gospel. Over the last few weeks in the Gospels we’ve been hearing this back and forth between Jesus and the Pharisees.... The Pharisees, were a group of Jewish scholars. Tonight we hear about a different group of Jewish people, who were rivals of theirs: The Saducees. The Pharisees economically would’ve been more your middle-income people. The Saducees were the power brokers - they were the Chief Priests of Judaism, they were wealthy. What also separated them apart from economics was different religious beliefs. The Pharisees believed in eternal life, the Saducees didn’t. So even though they were both groups of Jewish people, the Pharisees and the Saducees couldn’t stand each other. They had debated, argued between each other. Think Republicans versus Democrats.

Yet, they were able to unite together on one thing... their hatred of Jesus. They didn’t want to be called out by Him. Sure they disagreed with each other, but they’re thinking who’s this guy telling us we’re wrong. They didn’t want to even entertain for one second that their vision of the world might be a little bit off. Rather everything (and everyone) needed to conform to their idea of what the universe was - including God.

That is what’s at play in this scene in today’s Gospel. The Saducees are proposing this bizarre hypothetical question to Jesus... (just an aside, had I been there, I might have asked - after the third brother died, didn’t number 4 or 5 or 6 or 7 think twice before marrying this widow - this brother killer?) Anyway, they’re not asking because they were really interested in what eternal life would be like, the eternal life Jesus was inviting them, the Pharisees and each one of us to experience. They’re simply too busy trying to discredit Jesus. They’ll ask another question, they’ll look for some other stumbling block, they’ll try to find another bone of contention rather than even care to hear about this invitation Jesus is offering.

The Saducees and Pharisees unite in their closed-mindedness. They unite in their sinfulness... being able to turn their gripes with each other aside to unite in hatred for Jesus mostly because they didn’t want Him to change the balance of power they were already fighting over.

And that united hatred blinds them to recognizing Jesus as their only hope of truly knowing that God is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to Him all are alive.

For you and I, we have to be careful not to fall into the same trap, where get wrapped up in ourselves, our worlds, our concepts of what things should be. Thinking that we’re the center of the universe and that even God needs to fit into what our opinion or our vision of how things should be. When we do that, we start to look to Him only for some kind of divine endorsement or affirmation to agree with our ideas of things.

When we make Jesus the center of our life - as difficult as that is on a daily basis:

- we recognize we have to be the agents of reconciliation and forgiveness; when we’d rather God strike down our enemies.

- we respond to the call to be merciful in taking care of those less fortunate, those struggling, those in pain; rather than thinking God will send someone else to take care of those people.

- we expand our visions, our imaginations, our hearts to sharing the Gospel with others because we have recognized what this good news is and how important it is to share; instead of remaining closed off with our closed circle, closed community of people that we’re comfortable with

May we be humble enough to hear Jesus calling us to be open to truly recognizing our Lord - Father Son and Holy Spirit. He who loves us enough that He choose to create us, to give us this precious gift of life; rates us worthy to have come to earth, and to offer us the even more precious gift of eternal life through Jesus’ death and resurrection. Not because of anything we did or demanded - if anything, He offers us this in spite of some of the things we say and do. But simply because - he loves us so much that we, each and everyone of us, that he looks at us as the center of His universe.
 

WHAT POSSESSES YOU? ALL SAINTS DAY

Hi everyone - happy Feast of All Saints!  Today's readings can be found at:  http://usccb.org/bible/readings/110116.cfm.  Thanks as always for reading, sharing this blog on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit - and for your comments and feedback.  Always appreciate hearing from you!  Have a great day - Fr Jim

HOMILY:

About a month ago, our Newman Catholic Center here at Montclair State University sponsored our annual lecture series where we invited Fr. Vincent Lampert from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis to speak with us.  He’s not exactly a world famous name, but just like 6 years ago the first time we had invited him to speak on our campus, over 500 people came to hear him speak.  Why?  Because he is an official exorcist of the Church and one of the few that is willing to publicly speak about his experiences confronting evil in the rare and extreme cases of demonic possession.

While we’re always happy to have a big crowd attending an event that we’re holding, that this remains our most attended event in the 10 years I’ve been here is a bit strange.  On one level, it shouldn’t surprise me since we’re hearing about something that’s a rare and unique thing from someone who is in the thick of dealing with them.  But I can’t help but feel at least a little bit sad that, the reality is, today we have a few less people with us for All Saints Day.

Because one of the observations that our retreat directors gave us over the past weekend was that demonic possession is kind of the devils way of mocking what we celebrate today - Saints.  Exorcists deal with trying to heal a person who is possessed by demons, by evil.  And that’s a frightening thing.  But if it really frightened us, we wouldn’t be drawn to that (or shouldn’t).  Rather we should focus on the fact that the thing that makes a saint a saint is that they become utterly and completely possessed by Jesus Christ.

    We honor today the countless numbers of men and women who’ve done that for centuries - who there isn’t a canonization of them (like Mother Teresa had two months ago), there’s not a feast day for them (like St. Francis of Assisi or any of your favorite or patron saints).  The Church recognizes that there are countless numbers of people who may be unknown to us, but they aren’t unknown to the Lord.  They might be that devout grandparent who loved Jesus, lived Jesus in such a way that their sanctity could be felt while they were with us, and we sense their prayers for us to this day are still assisting us.  They are the nameless, anonymous people who have been killed for being a follower of Jesus Christ; martyred for the faith throughout the ages (including over 200 who were killed this past weekend by ISIS that we’re not hearing about as we continue to hear about Hillary and Donald and who’s going to win)

The thing about Saints is that they weren’t born this way like in some Saint bubble.  They struggled with the same sins, the same temptations that you and I do.   But they kept striving, kept wanting to align their will to Christ’s.  They kept wanting to defeat the devil, avoid evil, and make their lives a witness to the joy, the love, the mercy of God that we hear about in The Beattitudes in today’s Gospel.  They are those who despite being poor in spirit, mourning, meek, hungering and thirsting for righteousness - never forgot that Jesus was with them in the midst of their struggles  - and so they were Blessed.    Or those who the Lord saw as blessed because these sons and daughters of his, brought mercy, brought peace, were clean of heart, suffered persecution for being His son and daughter.

May all of these our brothers and sisters who having been found worthy are in Heaven, and are cheering us on, praying for us - may they encourage and inspire us to recognize the beauty of the words of St. John in that Second reading - Beloved, see what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called Children of God.  That’s who God created us to be - his beloved Children.  May we turn away from evil, strive for the holiness that we were made for so that the words of the psalm may be ours: Lord this is the people who longs to see your face.

HOPE FOR THE HOPELESS

Hi everyone, here's my homily for the 31st SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - October 30, 2016.  The readings for today can be found at: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/103016.cfm.  Thanks as always for stopping by and reading this blog, for sharing it on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit and for all your comments and feedback.  I always appreciate hearing from you!  Have a great week & God Bless - Fr Jim

HOMILY:

A journalism professor by the name of William Drummond was used to teaching the basics of covering the news to some of the highest of achievers at UC-Berkeley. But recently he came up with a unique assignment for a very unique group of students. He was volunteering teaching a class at San Quenitin Prison and was introducing a class of inmates to the basics of news writing. While the writing of obituaries is probably the least desired task of newspaper reporters, Drummond thought that asking the inmates to write fictitious death notices would be a good starting point to introducing them to the basics. But there was a spin: instead of writing about a pop-star or politician’s imaginary death by an overdose or an accident, he asked the men to write about a different death - their own. They had complete creative freedom, where they could choose how they died, and sum up their lives however they wanted.

Professor Drummond admitted he wanted to do more than introduce them to journalism. He said "I did it as a way to find out how these guys had reconciled their crimes, Were they able to take a critical look at what got them in trouble?" The inmates, were initially uncomfortable. These were people who were best known for their worst decisions — stabbing a man to death, gunning down a bystander, robbing banks. Now they were being asked to be reflective and answer the question: "What is your real value?" The collection of obituaries that the Los Angeles Times printed were thoughtful, introspective, creative, sometimes inspirational... One inmate pictured his death trying to protect Professor Drummond from an imaginary prison riot taking place saying that he wanted a noble end to his less than noble life.

One story that stood out in particular to me though was written by 57 year old Juan Haines. He didn’t dodge what brought him to San Quentin - being sentenced to prison for 55 years to life for bank robberies he had committed. He didn’t get overly dramatic in imaging his death, writing that he simply couldn’t be woken up one morning in prison and it was later determined that he died of natural causes. The bulk of his obituary though focused on his childhood in San Diego, including a wrestling match victory and a stint as junior class president. Juan seemed incredibly nostalgic of that time in his life, including a quote from a classmate saying "He built the treasury from just a couple of dollars, to several thousand. His biggest accomplishment was at Homecoming, our float was the biggest one, and our Junior Class Ball was held at a big fancy hotel. The seniors were somewhat jealous."


When Juan was asked about why he spent the bulk of his obituary on that part of his life from over 35 years ago, he said "That was when I was actually doing what I wanted, I was on track. Once I got derailed, that was it." While all of these stories were sad in their own way, this one was particularly so. Juan believes that his life is over. He has no family members or loved ones to speak of. And because of these bad choices and mistakes he’s made, he kind of lives with this idea that there’s no hope for him.

Hopelessness - when someone gets to that place where they have no expectation that anything good is possible... that any success can be achieved; when one starts to despair; whether we are observing these things happening to others; or perhaps going through it ourselves - there’s probably few things worse for a man or woman to experience.

Zacchaeus, is a man who believed and experienced similar things about himself. He had no Hope. He was the ultimate outcast. As the chief tax collector he’s the epitome of a traitor: He’s working with the enemy - the Romans who’ve occupied his fellow Jews, collecting taxes from them - then charging them extra for himself. So to put it mildly, Zacchaeus' fellow Jews would not be fans of his. The Romans, while they’re happy to use the guy - he’s getting the job done - - - but he’s not one of them - he’s not a Roman - so it’s not like he’s getting invited to any of their dinner parties. Even St. Luke our Gospel writer who’s sharing the story doesn’t sound like he’s a big fan. He could’ve just set the story up that Zacchaeus wasn’t able to see Jesus so he runs ahead and climbs a tree. Adding that "he was short in stature" - seems kind of harsh... kind of unnecessary.

In any event, Zacchaeus probably had resigned himself that for his life, that was it - he was going to be known as an outcast... a reprobate. Sure, he was wealthy. But the fact that he’s out there that day, trying to catch a glimpse of Jesus shows that he’s not satisfied with his wealth.  The fact that he’s out there in the midst of crowds who know him and aren’t happy to see him - so much so that they won’t let the little guy in or up close to see Jesus (perhaps were shooting him some nasty looks) - shows that he is looking for someone, something to restore his Hope. Maybe wondering Is there even a chance for someone like me? He’s got nothing to lose at this point -climbing this tree - thinking perhaps he will hear or see something that will do something for him.

Jesus looked up.... What does Jesus see? He sees the loneliness, the brokenness of the man in the tree. He sees the lengths Zacchaeus went through just to see Him. He sees Zacchaeus in all humility looking for hope.... looking for Jesus. Jesus says Zacchaeus, come down quickly for today I must stay at your house.  


With Jesus inviting himself over to dinner...
With Jesus saying I desire to be with you...
I want to enter into your loneliness, your brokenness...
I want to go to your home for things to change, 
Zacchaeus is being offered a radical new life.  
He wasn't being seen as just some short guy or a wealthy man... 

He wasn't being seen through the lens of others in the crowd: a traitor, or some puppet of Rome... 
 Jesus looked at him right there, right as he was in the midst of his mess with love.  And that look of Love from Jesus made all the difference. It restores his Hope. Zacchaeus who had given up everything in the pursuit of riches, and power does this 180 degree turn - now promising to give all of that up just because of this encounter with Jesus. The lengths Zacchaeus went through just to see Jesus that one day would be incredibly insignificant in comparison to the lengths he’s going to go through from that moment forward.

When we look around our world, it’s not hard to see a lot of hopelessness. A few times a year our University student center has this activity called "Post a secret" where students can anonymously write a post it note and share anything they want. And sadly, every time I glance and read these anonymous cries for help; people, students, brothers and sisters of ours who are experiencing hopelessness saying things like: "I wish my mother loved me" "When a relationship requires depth and work, I’m out" " I’ve used alcohol to self-medicate anxiety" "I’m afraid because since I don’t know how to love myself, no one else will". Sometimes, we suppress those types of thoughts and feelings ourselves: When we struggle at work, when there’s difficulties at home, when illness and death hit our loved ones - and we feel like no one knows, no one understands, no one is listening...

The beauty of this story – the beauty of the Gospel - is that our stories are never finished. We don't have to give into the lies that others say about us, or that we tell ourselves. That were not good enough, holy enough, worthy enough to be in Jesus presence. The reality is Jesus is searching for us, wanting to gaze on us with His eyes of Love. Despite how trapped we might think we are by the poor decisions we’ve made, despite the prisons we find ourselves confined to because of whatever mistakes we keep letting define us and weigh us down, Jesus offers us true freedom when we lift our downcast eyes to look to Jesus- when we stop listening to the devil’s insistence that our past is our present and future and hear Jesus offering us His Love, His Mercy and calling us to change our lives here and now by becoming loving and merciful ourselves. When we allow him to, we discover the truth of what Pope Francis recently said: "Even in the darkest moments: in the times of sin, in the times of fragility, in the times of failure, I looked to Jesus and I trusted Him and He did not abandon me. He is a faithful companion."

May Zacchaeus prompt in us: the boldness to not let anything prevent us from seeing Jesus; the humility in letting Him look at us as we are; the courage to let His look of Love transform our lives - so that when the final story of our life is written, it will testify to the world of the Hope that is found in being loved by Jesus.