GAVIN ROSSDALE, GWEN STEFANI & A LESSON ON JEALOUSY

Hi everyone - here’s my homily for the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time - SEPTEMBER 21, 2014 - given at Newman Catholic at Montclair State University (www.MSUNEWMAN.com) The readings for today’s Mass can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/092114.cfm.  I’m really grateful for all those who visit this blog each week; for your comments and feedback and sharing it on Facebook, twitter, reddit, etc.  It’s so cool to see on the stat counter a “virtual illustartion” of the New Evangelization.  Have a great week - God Bless!  Fr. Jim

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO LISTEN TO AN MP3 OF THE ENTIRE MASS: HOMILY:

Last week I was in my car and flipping the channels on the radio looking for something to listen to. I happened to stumble on one of my favorite songs (from my college days), “Glycerine” by the rock band Bush – or what I thought was the song.  It turned out they were just playing a clip of it during an interview with Bush front-man/song writer Gavin Rossdale. To be honest, I rarely listen to celebrity interviews. They seem to be so scripted either to promote and spin something for me to buy, see, get worked up over - or they tend to get talking about some silly personal things in which I usually lose interest pretty quickly. But when someone like Gavin Rossdale starts to talk about the genesis for his music; the meanings or inspirations of the lyrics to the songs -- those types of interviews I find fascinating. Which is what caused me to stick with this one.  A few minutes in, Gavin shared how his hit song “Machinehead” — (the one that starts out with the loud guitar riffs and the words “Breath in, Breath out...”) – was really a song about losing one’s ego – I never realized that's what the song was about.  So the interview was interesting to me.

A few minutes later though it turned more gossipy.  I normally disconnect with this kind of information, but I had no idea that Gavin was married to Gwen Stefani (of the band No doubt) - that they’ve been married for about 12 years... and they have three children.  I was just getting ready to change the channel when Gavin started to share a really personal story.  He was asked how he deals with all the tabloid/papparazzi stuff.  He said that just a few weeks ago he was on vacation in Italy with his wife and children and on this one particular evening they were at this beautiful place.  There was an outdoor fire going which was cooking their delicious nighttime dinner.   He said he looked around at the table at his wife and kids and it was a moment he felt was almost complete perfection.  Foolishly he saw an email come in on his phone and checked it and someone had forwarded him a copy of OK magazine that had a picture of him and his wife on the cover with the headline ''Split!''  Gavin noted that this happened to be released on a day when a plane got shot down and couldn’t believe that this story - which was untrue – would even get traction.

What got me was hearing how painful this whole episode was to him, and to his wife.  He said not only
wasn’t it true but it infuriated him just seeing how people were almost wanting or wishing for him and his wife’s marriage to fail.  I had to admit that I really felt badly for them. Here they are - two highly successful music people (who were successful independently).  Somehow despite the fame and the crazy temptations that celebrities face, they find each other, marry and have a family.  Probably not without numerous challenges and difficulties.  And a moment where they are simply enjoying those blessings is disrupted by people who seem to want to tear them down.  Why?  Quite simply - jealousy.  That seems to be what drives a lot of the TMZ/Entertainment Weekly/celebrity based “media.”   Sadly there has to be a tremendous amount of public consumption for it otherwise people wouldn’t report it (if people aren’t tuning in or buying these magazines, they would disappear).  In fact there’s so much public consumption that even “legitimate” news organizations will delve into speculative, salacious reporting.   Celebrities and other public figures are held up as people who seem highly successful - excelled in some area, have financial wealth or security, have power or influence – and that drive, that desire among many of us to be like that - to be “Famous” - rich, popular... when we don’t achieve that same level of success, it turns to anger.

Just look at the reality competition shows like “American Idol” or “The Voice” - there’s this widespread belief that we’re owed, we deserve success. And because we’ve bought into that lie and fail to recognize how uniquely talented some of these singers, songwriters, actors truly are - because we think “anyone can do it” followed by “why am I not enjoying that level of fame or success” - these “media-reports” feed on our jealousy of that success. The anger is demonstrated in picking people apart - rooting for their failure. They are being bullied for their success.

This isn’t a new phenomenon by any stretch of the imagination. Look at the effect of Jealousy in today’s Gospel.  This parable is probably people’s  least  favorite parable - at least in my unscientific study or rather experience.  No matter how many times or ways I’ve preached on it, people will inevitably come out after Mass and say “You know Father, I still don’t think it’s right...it’s not fair...”

What’s not right? That this landowner hires people at dawn, at nine in the morning, at noon, at three in the afternoon and even at five o’clock - and eventually pays them all the same amount - they get a full days pay.   There’s almost this internal trigger that’s set off in people’s minds saying “that’s just not right” (as if the landowner was taking an opinion poll)  The people who work all day gripe, they complain - they become jealous of these late comers.  Probably there was more criticisms being offered - those people must’ve been lazy not to even worry about finding a job till late in the day - and now look they just waltz in here and here I’ve been working all day.  Somehow, they believe they’ve been wronged, diminished, or slighted by these late comers being the beneficiaries of an extremely generous landowner.

What makes this even more unpopular for people is when they recognize that Jesus is using this parable to illustrate His generosity, His lavish love for humanity.  That someone could come to know, come to follow Jesus much later in life - and still experience the same eternal kingdom that we have been longing for.  They get to enjoy the same blessings of this heavenly eternal reward that we’ve been denying ourselves and not conforming to the things of this world for some time in marking ourselves as citizens of that kingdom already.

The good news that is so often missed as we debate this Gospel is how Jesus looks at each of us as individuals.  He knows when we’re struggling and trying.  He knows when we think we’re getting one by him - or found a loop hole.  He sees when we’re making a genuine, sincere effort... just as clearly as when we’re acting like two year olds, stomping our feet at the perception that they’ve been slighted because someone else got a sip more milk in their cup than we did...

And in all those highs or lows - Jesus isn’t looking at you and comparing you to someone else.  He’s not bringing an account ledger out like some Santa Claus with a “Naughtcy vs Nice list” (that’s a whole other story. “You better watch out....”). Jesus is loving you as his brother and sister.  He’s loving you, knowing all the ups, downs, the failures, the successes, the fears, the dreams, the doubts, the triumphs that are there...  He’s seeing past those times where you’ve rejected him - longing for that moment where you turn to Him-  and recognize Him and His Father and the Holy Spirit’s amazing action in your life that is the source of the gifts, the talents, the opportunities, the very breath of life that we breath.  And glorify Him with all that we have - in all that we do.
This is just one side of the Newman Center at University of
Illinois, Champaign... Can't get the whole thing in one pic!

A few years ago I was able to go and visit the University of Illinois in Champagin, Illinois Newman Center. To put it simply, it’s referred to as the Catholic Disney land – and for good reason.  It has a 600 bed dorm, a full chapel that seats over 600, a campus ministry center with recreation center, a cafeteria - full staff... It is freaking amazing!!  Coming back here, there was a moment (a moment that sometimes re-emerges) where I’m tempted to wallow and say “they’re so lucky” and “geez, we just have this one old house...(now it would be these two old houses)”  I become the green-eyed monster.  And you know what - It’s easy to be jealous.   And there are times I want to go for that easy option.  To be jealous of what God is doing in someone's life and ignoring what he’s doing in mine.

In doing that - I miss the opportunities that are before me. I am blinded by the jealousy that perhaps He’s wanting to use me and other people to do something new, something different, something that will glorify Him in a whole new way that I can’t conceive of.

We tend to obsess at things that we believe we’re missing out on, that we somehow believe we’re owed, even thinking that God has somehow skimped on us... and when we play that game, we miss how these could be challenges He wants us to overcome. That there are struggles we need to endure that will make us stronger.

In the end - what does someone's Newman Center; or Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rossdale’s marriage have to do with me and my life.  You and I - each of us workers in the Lord’s vineyard - we have an incredibly unique opportunity; a gift - to work for a generous, loving landowner. Instead of focusing and comparing how God is blessing another, count your blessings and be aware that there is a purpose specifically for you with all that God gives you. Don't let the green-eyed monster keep you from experiencing the fullness of God's plan. His grace, mercy and love for you, and every one else, are boundless. The kingdom is big enough for all and there is nothing better.

SYMBOLS & MEANINGS

Hi everyone - here's my homily for the FEAST OF THE EXALTATION OF THE HOLY CROSS - Sunday, September 14, 2014.  The readings for today's Mass can be found at  .  I'm always grateful for you stopping by and reading this - and for sharing this blog on Facebook, twitter, reddit -- for your feedback and comments.  God Bless ! Have a great week - Fr Jim

HOMILY:
September 11... 911 …. Most everyone knows what it means. Here it is, 13 years later, and we are still living a post 911 life. As I was thinking about that, I realized that for many of you college students were between 4 and 10 years old. That means for many of you your memories of a pre-9/11 world are far more limited.  You might not remember a time where you didn’t have to get to the airport 3 hours before it’s departure; or when you could walk into Yankee Stadium without emptying your pockets, bags and practically getting frisked - all things that changed immediately after 9/11. And you might not even really recall the Twin Towers as being a part of that NY skyline that we can see right here from campus.


As the remembrances, commemorations, documentaries started popping up over the past week, it’s amazing how quickly memories flood back to that horrific day - particularly for us who live only about 15 miles from where the Twin Towers stood.  9/11 has become one of those historic, life-changing memories that practically everyone can recall "where they were" or "what they were doing" when they first heard the horrific news of the evil that was unleashed.

Those towers, as iconic and historic as they’ve in a sense become, really weren’t that old. They were built in the early 70's and opened in 1973 (the year I was born... see, they aren’t that old!) When they opened they were the tallest buildings in the entire world.  It was practically it’s own city - 50,000 people worked there and over 200,000 people would go in and out of there every day. It was so vast that it even had it’s own zip code. On a clear day visitors could see them from a 50 mile radius... you could make them out from Mahwah, Morristown or Sandy Hook... They became a symbol too - Newsweek magazine said:   Skyscrapers are an American invention, and the World Trade Center was among the last to reflect something of the visionary ideals of progress and technology that so defined the last century. How high can we build? How high can we fly? Can we reach the moon? We as a nation were dreaming big. The towers were a symbol of grandness.


Yet, in the course of two hours, those twin towers became symbolic of something extremely different: death, destruction, terrorism. Grandness was replaced by fear which changed security measures in our country. Not too soon after the towers were destroyed, people began to openly discuss and debate what to do on the site of the World Trade Center. And it was pretty quickly decided that yes they would re-build  - but no they would not rebuild the Twin Towers.  The argument being that they had come to represent such tragedy that a majority of people wouldn’t want to visit let alone work there. It’s amazing how quickly that symbol’s meaning changed in people’s hearts and minds.


Today - September 14th, the Catholic Church commemorates the finding of a sacred artifact-- and what was a tragic and heart-wrenching symbol.  The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Back in the 4th Century, the Emperor of the Roman Empire, Constantine, becomes a Jesus Freak. He's converted. This is huge! At that time, Christianity went from being a religion of people persecuted –  where thousands upon thousands of our earliest ancestors were martyred – to becoming the official religion of the Roman Empire. St. Helena, who was Constantine’s mother went to Jerusalem in search of the holy places of Christ’s life. Upon excavations there, workers discovered three crosses. Legend has it that the one on which Jesus died was identified when its touch healed a dying woman. On this day, they dedicated a Church on the place where Jesus died and for the centuries since, we’ve marked this feast day.

But more than that history lesson, it’s really a feast that calls us to focus on the Cross.  We see it as a universal symbol of our religion, but for the earliest Christians, that wasn’t the case.  The early Christian artwork (which I was blessed to see on my recent trip to Rome and to the Catacombs) would portray the Good Shepherd (after the parable of Jesus rescuing the lost sheep) as a way to represent Christ and Christians.  The Cross would’ve been too horrific for the Early Christians to look at.  Early Christians going to attend Mass (in secret) would likely have walked past crosses with decaying bodies hanging on them as a threat and a warning to anyone who dared to defy Roman authority and refused to sacrifice to the pagan gods of Rome.  The reality of the horror that Jesus endured would have been all too familiar as they witnessed their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ suffering the same cruel death.





But it’s interesting to see how that symbol’s meaning changed in people’s hearts and minds. While the horror of the cross and crucifixions - the cruel, inhumane, grossness of it was abhorrent, the reality that Jesus willingly suffered that for us, for our sins is difficult to take in. Eventually Christians began to see that this instrument of torture which spelled the end for thousands of people in the Roman Empire and seemingly did for Jesus as well for a couple days before His Resurrection in a new light. Those words from today’s Gospel took on deeper meaning:   just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.   Christians began to recognize Jesus being "lifted up" on the Cross - his suffering, his victory over the Cross as the path to eternal life.


That’s not to whitewash the cross. Which is why in every Catholic Church we don’t see an empty cross but one with the Crucified Christ on it. We don’t lose sight that Jesus suffered and in that, we’re able to relate to him in a very human way.  That is one of the great equalizers among all humanity - that we suffer. That we struggle. That we are all carrying a cross.

Are you carrying a cross right now?  Is it an illness of someone you love? The death of someone you love? Turmoil in your family? Maybe it’s just being here at Montclair State University - being in a new place far from home - and not feeling like you’re fitting in? Maybe it’s the fears of what will happen after college? There are so many heavy burdens that all of us are carrying, that can weigh us down that represents a cross in our life. Think about the origin of your cross. Is it evil initiated by another or self-inflicted? Either way, it is an attack. And if we were to see those things illustrated as a cross - we’d probably have a complex mix of emotions in response to it. Maybe we’d want to throw it or smash it... Maybe we’d try to ignore it, pretend it wasn’t there. Maybe we’d simply break down and cry.


The cross you are carrying can be exalted in your life and take on new meaning. All that needs to happen is for us to focus on Jesus’ cross. We have to experience and relive that demonstration of pure selflessness, humility.   "The Cross of Christ invites us to allow ourselves to be smitten by his love...Only in Christ crucified and risen can we find salvation and redemption. With Him, evil, suffering, and death do not have the last word, because He gives us hope and life: He has transformed the Cross from being an instrument of hate, defeat, and death to being a sign of love, victory, triumph and life. There is no cross in our life, big or small, which the Lord does not share with us.(Pope Francis) God turns our struggles and challenges into freedom and victory. He makes our crosses beautiful symbols in our lives.

When moving furniture, one person always has to carry the heavy end (except for pianos, all ends are heavy). God desires to take the heavy end of the cross, but will we let Him? We think we can take care of it, it's our cross and our responsibility … we have everything we need to "fix" it. That's our choice … will we continue to carry, drag or be completely stopped by our cross as we try to use our limited power, or will we allow God to take over? Jesus' cross is the symbol of victory and that's why it is exalted.

Our cross is not the answer...

But His is.

September 11 - A reflection 13 years later

What got me choked up this morning was the kid--  who looked to be barely a teenager.  I had tuned into the September 11th Memorial on television and there he was up on the dais in Lower Manhattan reading the names of the victims - including his father - savagely killed by terrorists today 13 years ago.  As the names flashed by that I felt connected to - cousins Brett Bailey and Bobby Coll - who's grandparents were parishioners of mine - I remembered being at their memorial Masses.  (We couldn't have a funeral at the time since their remains hadn't been recovered)  While a flood of memories and questions about both of their families ran through my mind, the image of Bobby's baby son in his mother's arms at that Mass is what really came back to me.  He's a teenager by now.  Probably around the same age as that other young man reading names up there.
And that's when I started to cry.  

People like to say on September 11th "We will never forget" - but for some reason I find myself grappling with the reality that I can not ever forget.  As much as we as nation have adapted to what is a "new normal" in a post-9/11 world, which I suppose as human beings we do in every age after every tragedy to some extent -- there will never be a day when September 11th will be somehow "normal" again.

It will forever be a day when I think of the brave men and women of the FDNY, NYPD & PAPD and their selflessness and sacrificial acts to serve their fellow citizens; I will think of my brother priest Fr. Mychal Judge, the Catholic priest, the Franciscan Friar and FDNY chaplain who was killed that day ministering to people at that tragic site who is listed as the first official victim of the 9/11 attacks in NYC; I will think of the victims -- that seemingly endless litany of names that take over 3 hours to read each year who's lives were robbed from them from evil people; and I will think of the families -- and kids, like that teenager - who never got to know their mom or dad because of that day.


As I was looking on my hard drive for something, a homily I had to deliver a week after 9/11 (which I thought had been lost) I discovered... thought I would re-post it here.  That evening with over 1,000 people packing our Church and the silence of those 1,000 people gathered together are another vivid memory.

Eucharistic Holy Hour for Strength and Courage in Time of Sorrow and Trial 
OUR LADY OF LOURDES CHURCH, West Orange, NJ 07052
18 September 2001 
Fr. Jim Chern

HOMILY: A priest of the Archdiocese of Newark lost 66 of his former co-workers and 9 parishioners...  The rectory phone kept ringing yesterday giving us this list of 15 individuals from the thousands who are missing asking for prayers for this evening... The stories go on, and on and on...  They frighten us, depress us, enrage us.  This isn’t some terrible event that took place in an unknown country to people we have never met that we read as we thumb through the newspaper to which we could sit comfortably removed from.  This isn’t some horror movie that someone has come up with.  This is real.  This really happened, less than 30 miles from here, to people we know and love and care for and miss.  And so we are frightened, and so we are depressed, and so we are enraged.  And we have good reason to.
Because we are rational, logical, loving people.  We have a Faith that is rooted in Reason.  And what occurred a week ago today defies all those categories.  There was no rational, logical or loving thought that wreaked this havoc on us.
There is only one way to describe it: Evil.   What happened last week was evil.  The people who committed those atrocities embraced evil as a philosophy, evil as a theology, evil as a way of life.  As American’s, evil is something we rarely talk about.  Perhaps out of our concern of being judgmental, or wanting to give the benefit of the doubt.  And as such, we as a culture, as a church even tread lightly when the topic of evil comes up.  It’s true, myself included, that rarely is a homily given on Hell or evil.  Usually because as priests, our aim is to preach about things that are part of our normal experience.  And in the process, we have allowed ourselves to become numb to the presence of Evil.  Of the many ways we have changed since September 11th, the melting of that numbness is one.  We know evil exists.  We have seen it all too well.
There are voices inside each of us right now.  Voices that long for vengeance – Kill them.  Voices that want isolation – Get rid of them.  And as much as they are understandable, as much as they are shared by many people all at once, being here tonight, we know that we are rational, logical and loving people.  And so we cannot allow those voices to take hold of us.  We come here to remember the victims, we come here to offer our prayerful support the families and neighbors who have lost so much, we give thanks for the extraordinary efforts of men and women, our heroes, many from our own town, many who are here tonight who were part of that massive rescue effort, and we pray for our nation’s leaders as they plan th in the days ahead.
And because we have these competing emotions, competing voices, we realize that Love is the stronger voice.  It is Love that causes us to have this collective grief and mourning, because if we didn’t love, than the destruction of lives wouldn’t hurt us.  It is Love that makes us think of others as we pray for so many people that we don’t even know.  It is Love that is the stronger voice, it is Love that is the stronger emotion, it is Love that will conquer the evil that has invaded our society, it is Love that conquers even death itself.
For that is what it means essentially to be a Christian.  That crucifix, that visualization of Jesus suffering and dying on the cross is there to remind us of the atrociousness of what evil can do.  It can attack the most innocent of all.  But because God has the final say, because God wouldn’t allow death to mock him or his son, God raised his Son from the dead, and That Body of Christ, alive in our midst, exposed on that altar, proves to us what Love can do.
As American’s, we are being called to rally around the Flag, to unite as a nation.  Which is a good and necessary thing to do.  Christ calls us tonight to rally around his Cross, to unite as a people of God, and recognize our profound need for that Cross to expel evil not only from our midst, but in each of our lives, to quash the voices of vengeance and destruction in each one of us.

BUT JESUS IT'S EASIER TO REMAIN TICKED OFF...

Hi everyone - here's my homily for the 23rd SUNDAY OF THE ORDINARY TIME - SEPT 7, 2014. The readings for today can be found at:   http://usccb.org/bible/readings/090714.cfm Thanks as always for reading, sharing it on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, etc.  and your feedback.  God Bless - Fr. Jim

HOMILY:

For those of you who are Freshmen and living on campus, I was trying to put myself back in your shoes... Trying to remember what it was like back in August of 1991 when I left my home in Clark NJ - which is the southern part of North Jersey (Just to clarify since for some on campus there’s confusion - there’s no Central Jersey) driving out to Allentown College of St. Francis De Sales (which is now called DeSales University).   Of all the nerve-wracking, challenging things I faced moving away from home and leaving the safety of my loving parents - was meeting my roommate.    Mind you - this was before Facebook (even before Myspace... even before Email)   So the only information I had about the guy was getting a card in the mail that had his name, address and phone number and then having a few phone conversations over the summer.


He sounded like a decent guy on the phone. We joked about different sports teams...that's what real men do, you know. He was from an Italian family too, so it seemed like we would get along.  But it still made me a nervous wreck ... arriving on campus, getting to the dorm, finding the room, walking in and meeting the guy for the first time who you were going to be rooming with for the next year.  There were so many fears. What if we didn't get along? What if he was weird? I was always told that you never really know someone until you live with them. I wasn't sure at that point if I really wanted to know him. But I felt we both tried in fact those first days we were working over-time to be understanding of one another:  "You want that bed? Sure... that’s fine..." "We’re only allowed one refrigerator in the room - let’s buy one and split the cost."  We tried to work around each other’s sleep schedules, shower schedules. Things seemed to be going okay. It wasn’t perfect, and I knew that was part of the whole thing about living away was dealing with those "imperfections." I was relieved he wasn't a mass murderer on the run. So anything else was doable.

For example Chris liked to go to bed early. By early I mean 10 PM lights out.  It was true, we both had early morning classes - we had the typical, terrible Freshmen schedule – meaning all the upper classmen had filled up the late morning/afternoon classes so we were stuck with 8 AM classes 5 days a week.  But there was no way I was ready to go to bed that early - even if it was good for me.  I wanted to hang out with friends - go to the Diner at midnight and eat cheese-fries and gravy (as a 40 year old I shudder to think about attempting to do that now... nor do I want to talk about the 30lbs I gained that year) Anyway, it was a bit of a challenge that basically I would have to leave my room by 9:45 pm every night and hang out somewhere else till I was ready to go to bed; then fumble my way around the room whenever I would get back in darkness; try to get in and out of the bathroom (which was near his bed) without making any noise.

A few weeks into the semester, I came in around 12:30. I was tiptoeing, using the sink (which was in our rooms) in the dark and all of a sudden I hear Chris just start cussing at me as he turned over in his bed. (Which obviously I can’t repeat what he said here)  I think I said "excuse me?" (Something like that) and he mumbled a few more choice words as he turned again and then seemingly went back to sleep. I was ticked.  I mean really perturbed.  I was so angry that I stormed out of the room (slamming the door of course) and went down to one of the Television lounges and stewed for awhile.  Barely got any sleep that night.

Next day, I got up, and took off for breakfast without Chris, thinking "that'll show him that he can't treat me that way." I huddled with what I considered "real friends" and unleashed to them about what happened to me.  "The guy’s a lunatic - he thinks we’re in West Point and that it’s got to be 10 pm lights out … no exceptions."  To justify my anger and play the total victim role even more I added   "Then I’ve been trying to be respectful of the guy and all and what does he do? He cusses me out for brushing my teeth?  Is he for real?"  Of course my friends - being the good friends that they were – totally supported me. They  probably threw a few more "dura-flame logs" onto a blazing fire - reminding me of other things that annoyed me about Chris - that I got more and more ticked off.  So for the next couple of days I kept my distance.  I knew what his class schedule was so I was able to avoid him, dodge him and blew him off a few times for at least three days.

By Thursday afternoon, we both happened to be in the room at the same time and he said to me "Jim are you angry about something... did I do something?"  I was almost stunned by his arrogance even asking the question "Do something! Are you for real? Yeah you can say that... you rip into me because I happened to wake you up Sunday night, you cursed me out... and you wonder why I’m ticked?"  And he looks at me with this complete look of genuine confusion followed by complete understanding. "Oh... I guess I forgot to tell you that sometimes I talk in my sleep."  He had zero recollection of this whole incident. Didn’t even hear me when I stormed out that night.Yeah. As I look back on that day, I know exactly how Homer Simpson feels when he slaps his forehead and grunts "Doh!" I felt like the biggest idiot in the world.  Not because I didn’t know something that he forgot to tell me about.  Not because this was my first time in 17 years of life that I had encountered someone who talked in their sleep (the worst I had dealt with was sharing a room with one of my brothers who would snore) I felt like an idiot because I had treated the guy like crap all week and really bashed him to anyone who would listen. I was hurt and needed to be built back up by my friends. I also wanted revenge for my mistreatment. Even retelling the story now some 23 years later I feel ashamed. And you know what, even though we both laughed it off that night, there was still carnage on our friendship to the point that by the end of the semester, we switched roommates.

"If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone..." I had heard that so many times before... This advice Jesus offers in tonight’s Gospel is so seemingly simple, it’s common sense logic to listen to when we are sitting here as mere listeners to his words being proclaimed.  Being so simple, maybe I figured it wasn't important when living on my own for the first time. But when any of us think back to our roommate, our relative, our friend – or depending upon how bad the misunderstanding, or dispute has gotten, our "former friend" – it’s hard not to succumb to being outraged, angry and give into the drama.  Especially in this facebook age.  I can’t tell you how many statuses I see flash by really berating someone – sometimes they’re named, but often times they’re not as it’s just posted "really sick of some people who all they do is take people for granted" - followed by a slew of "likes" and comments agreeing how such people stink... People are always ready to jump on the bandwagon against someone. I’d venture to guess that a lot of those people think it’s just easier to get it off their chest in this way rather than possibly have to confront them and possibly end up in a fight.

Why is Jesus making an issue of this?  Aren’t their bigger things to worry about?  Quite simply, He is telling us that if good is going to conquer evil; if love is going to conquer hatred in our day, in our age, in our lives - it has to start on the most basic level. It has to start in our own hearts.  Sure we can look at all kinds of horrific things that are going on around the world - there’s no shortage of tragedies that we can point to as being terrible. Vicious, horrific evil - people being beheaded and that being shared on Youtube? – that so turns my stomach that I can’t even talk about it... But I think what Jesus is trying to get to is that each and everyone of us has to deal with the horrific things going on in our own worlds: the angers, the resentments, the hatreds that are there inside of our hearts and minds.

We need to take those thoughts captive (2 Corinthians 10:5) and allow the Holy Spirit to direct us.  More than likely – if you can think of someone right now you’ve labeled your enemy - it wasn’t just one day they did one thing that just set you off.  More than likely there were a lot of little things that preceded it, that maybe went unchallenged, undiscussed.  You keep them filed in your mind (dates, times, occurrences). Those things started to build up to the point that ultimately something happened … a button was pushed and the file drawer flew open and all the evidence of that person's wrongs against you come to the forefront of your mind. You are prepared for battle like a lawyer. You are going to completely trash this person and dismiss them.

Jesus’ point is that if we can come to that place of hatred and dismissal of one another on such a personal, "local" level - than how much easier is it for that to happen on a greater level?  Racial tensions; religious divisions; wars; intolerance - we can see on much grander scales what happens when collective anger festers and is shared. The opposite is true as well. If we can take those first steps to heal whatever rifts and angers we’ve experienced now and in the manner Christ has said; if we experience that reconciliation and share the joy that comes from that healing on a collective level then we begin to live the Gospel and not merely listen to it being proclaimed. 

Basically, we are setting ourselves free from the prison of bitterness. A prison we put ourselves in by building walls and bars of anger. Breaking free with the power of reconciliation and forgiveness is possible. If we take those steps of faith, then we are truly being a Church because then we genuinely gather in Jesus name and experience his presence in the midst of us.

MOMS (one and only) SUNDAY DINNER FAIL

Hi everyone here's my homily for August 31, 2014 - the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time.  The readings can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/083114.cfm.  Many thanks as always for reading, for your comments and feedback - and for sharing the blog on facebook, twitter, & redditt.  God Bless!  Fr. Jim

--> PS - With Labor Day being tomorrow, we're ending our Summer Appeal for the Newman Center - this year with the funds helping us as the Archdiocese just purchased a second house for our use! We're so grateful for everyone's support.  If you'd like to make a donation and read more about it - check out www.MSUNEWMAN.com.  Thanks again!

HOMILY:

     Growing up Italian, I learned one of the most sacred of traditions … Sunday dinner. My Mother has continued to make the most valiant attempts to gather us all together as family for this utmost important event, but sadly, it slipped away for us and many other Italian-Americans here in the US. We still gather together as a family for a Sunday dinner, but maybe only once a month ... usually to celebrate someone’s birthday or a holiday.

     But I gotta give my Mom credit - she still tries really hard to get all of us to break away from our crazy, non-stop schedules of work, chores, and other commitments that we try to slip in on the weekends, and get us to come together more regularly. She’ll put out feelers to see if she can find a day we’re all available, then mix in some Italian guilt in here and there, and even bribe us with making one of our favorite meals. 

     One Sunday, about 13 years ago, was quite a memorable Sunday dinner. I was a parish priest at the time, and between the four different Masses, I had run up to my room for a few minutes and saw that my answering machine light was blinking. It was my Mom saying "Hi Honey - I just wanted to see if you had nothing going on this afternoon. I'm making lasagna." My ears perked up...Lasagna - really? Wow - I mean, even though I don’t know how to cook, I do know that’s like a really, really big deal. There’s so many intricate steps. My mom making a pot of Gravy (aka Tomato Sauce and meatballs) is always pretty special - you know it’s something that takes time and is delicious. But Lasagna - it’s so much more work - you have to boil the noodles, then you lay them out on these big trays as you try to pour the layers of cheese and meat and keep stacking them – which is a real pain to do since the noodles are wet and soft and slippery. I was really surprised that late on a Sunday morning that this was been the first I heard of this. 


     So I called her back and said "You’re making lasagna, really?" She said "Yes, I just had a taste for it, so I decided to make it." I asked her if my brothers were coming and she said - "No, it’s just your father and I - can you make it?" Quickly I looked at my appointment book: "Well I have a baptism after Mass, and I have a wake to attend, but I can go to the wake tonight instead of this afternoon, so I probably can swing it." She said "Good! I’ll see you then." The rest of the morning, I was eagerly anticipating Mom’s homemade lasagna... even tasting it as I drove home. As we sat down, Mom was already pushing meatballs and bread on me - which I was kind of dodging as I didn’t want to get full even before she took this tray of lasagna out of the oven.

     Again, I expressed my surprise that she had made it just for the three of us (and I wasn’t even a guarantee to attend till that morning) and Mom just dismissed it saying "Well, you can take a plate home and I can freeze and save some for your brothers..."As she brought the tray out, took the aluminum foil off the top - I just blurted out - "What’s that?" Somewhat defensive (which I guess after blurting out a question like that, she very simply responded) "Lasagna" - "But - What happened to it?" (At which point my Father is trying to stop himself from laughing and is shaking at the end of the table) My mother, with a knife in her hand just said "Nothing..." "Why does it look like that?" It kind of looked like someone had deflated a regular lasagna – like it was a flat tire... Angrily slicing it and serving it, she said "Just shut up and eat it...it’s good - just try it" - "Come on Mom... how could it be good, when it looks like... well, I don’t know what it looks like, but it doesn’t look like your lasagna - what happened?" Still denying anything was wrong with it, I got up and went to the garbage - which she tried to block me from doing... As I opened it, I found an empty box of what was labeled "No boil lasagna" - "AH HA - I KNEW IT" - "Just try it" she argued... which I did. I said "Mom - if I were making this, that would be one thing. That would be a massive feat for me to put these things together and make this thing... but there’s no way this is anywhere near as good what you normally make." To this day - she will not admit I was right. But a few weeks after this terrible incident, she made the real lasagna. When I said "See, I mean, come on, I know it’s a pain to make, but tell me you don’t see the difference" she simply told me to "just shut up and eat it." But she knows the truth- 13 years later she’s never made the no-boil lasagna again.As much as I probably sounded like a brat (which is what my mother called me that day)


     The reason we could have that honest of a conversation and be that brutally honest is because of the depth of love. My mother is a phenomenal cook... and my parents are incredibly generous to me – to all of us. My mom knows how much I love her that even my rudeness (and accuracy) could be quickly forgiven.

     The reality is that none of us likes to hear "You can do better..." If it’s just some random person who offers that unsolicited estimation we might be more dismissive "Who asked you, Jerk???" But if it comes from a parent, a teacher, a coach, or perhaps a really good friend – that’s quite a different thing, isn't it. In those instances, we realize it’s coming from someone who cares about us, who knows us, and probably knows - we’re capable of much more than whatever it is we’ve offered. 

     When we hear Jesus basically calling St. Peter "Satan" in today’s Gospel, that sounds like a pretty awful put down. There’s literally nothing worse someone could call someone else. Even the most diabolic of figures in history are often compared to him or assumed to be heading to or residing in Satan’s abode - Hell. And it seems even more shocking coming after what we heard just a week ago when Peter is declared to be Jesus’ right hand man. The sentences right before this Gospel passage was the conversation where Peter responds to Jesus question "Who do you say I am?" with "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God." In that moment of testimony, Jesus exclaims "Blessed are you Simon Peter! For flesh and blood have not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father! You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church" (Matthew 5: 18) Here we are, just mere momets later – and this"blessed" rock is being called "Satan." 

     Ouch! And I thought putting down Mom’s lasagna was bad! 


     The thing that struck me though is that Jesus had to have loved Peter and Peter had to have loved Jesus in order for Jesus to be that brutally truthful...laying down some "tough love"calling him to greater holiness, sharing with him his greater expectations, even in a way trying to foreshadow for Peter that not only will Jesus himself suffer and die a terrible death - so would Peter.


     Jesus is making it abundantly clear that being the rock, the "foundation" Jesus was building his Church upon wasn’t going to be a position of honor or prestige, but one of selfless, sacrificial service. In throwing out "get behind me Satan" Jesus is purposely being dramatic to illustrate just how crucially important it is that Peter – who he thinks so highly of, who he has such great hopes for and sees such great potential for -that he truly understand the implications in being this rock, being this foundation, being the first Pope. Scripture doesn’t capture for us Peter’s initial reaction - was he stunned? was he hurt? Was he confused? Was he disappointed in himself? We can only speculate. But obviously this encounter was memorable for it to have been recorded. And knowing the rest of the story, that Peter would still falter, and struggle throughout his ministry tells us that these types of correction while humbling (embarrassing even) didn’t destroy him. Peter wanted to be all that Jesus imagined him to be. Peter doesn’t lose sight of the love Jesus has for him with this fraternal correction.

     How about us? We know all too well how difficult, how challenging it is to follow Jesus Christ, follow his teachings ourselves. We struggle, we’re tempted, we fail and fall. Sometimes multiple times a day (an hour?) But hopefully what makes it possible for us to dare to come before the Lord here each Sunday for Mass is that in spite of those struggles and failures, we have experienced, we’ve come to know and believe in the immense love and mercy of God for us. We can’t forget that we’re one confession away from being washed completely clean of all our sins. As Pope Francis has said repeatedly "God never tires of forgiving us, it is we who get tired of asking for forgiveness." Jesus casting his light into our darkness isn’t meant to hurt or embarrass us. It’s the complete opposite. 


     Jesus is telling us we’re worth the time, worth the concern... He knows us, knows how capable we are - the potential we hold. And will not give up on us in pursuing us and calling us into deeper relationship with him. Are you experiencing that deep relationship with Jesus where you know he has the best for you in mind? If you aren't, I challenge you to seek that kind of closeness with him. He will always give you his best, and he wants your best for him. May we never lose sight that these corrections we experience are being offered in love. May we never forget that essential point in offering "Gospel corrections" to those we meet.

A POLL--ARIZED WORLD

Hi everyone!  Here's my homily for AUGUST 24, 2014 - the 21st SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (given at Holy Family Church, Nutley,NJ)  The readings for today's Mass comes from http://usccb.org/bible/readings/082414.cfm.  Thanks as always for your feedback and sharing this homily.  God Bless.

One quick commercial... our Newman Catholic Center had some phenomenal news recently... the Archdiocese of Newark purchased the house next door for our use!  Any help you can offer for our Summer Appeal, which is in it's last days are GREATLY APPRECIATED!  - Read all about it at www.MSUNEWMAN.com 


HOMILY:

      I have come to realize that social media has effectively evolved into mainstream.  That was underscored for me when my 70-something great aunt friended me on Facebook. Social media’s not just college students anymore!  Seemingly all of society is invited into this “family-like” culture of being on-line and sharing life.   It’s interesting to see how this internet-interconnectedness has changed our culture, how we relate or interact with one another,  even how it shapes opinions in both positive and negative ways:


- From the moment you log on to your computer, images and messages are flashed in front of you that invite you to “vote” or give your approval to something by clicking a “like button.”

- You no longer have to sit and write or type a letter to the editor with the hopes of getting published (and read).   Nowadays,   anyone can share their thoughts and feelings on any topic;   have friends, co-workers, family members or anyone else read them, “like” them, and share them with their friends with two quick clicks (even on something as convenient as a person's phone now!)   and Viola! … very quickly you can become an opinion writer with your own set of fans.


With all of these realities, major media outlets have tried to utilize this new world of social-connectedness for their own purposes too. Whether it’s television shows, news programs, or print media, they ask viewers and readers to “like” and share their stories, post feedback on their pages or tweet a response to a story.

One by-product of this is that we seem to have become a somewhat poll-centered culture … you might say polarized literally and sadly figuratively as well.  That’s because we’re not just being asked our opinion on what type of topping you like on your pizza or who should be the winner to a singing competition.  People are being asked to give somewhat instantaneous responses or reactions to serious, complex issues.   Just this past week, you could have found polls following pretty provocative headlines and graphic images that would ask readers, viewers to vote on everything from:

- whether you think the officer involved in the shooting of the young black man in Missouri should be indicted;
-  has the United States done enough to stop the Muslim Extremist group ISIS;
-  what should be done at the US-Mexico border?  or
-  whether you thought officials shared too much or not enough details regarding Robin Williams suicide.

Those and countless other examples share something in common. For the most part, we only know part of the story, and depending upon what combination of facts, personal experiences or biases we hold --  those stories can raise very different emotions and opinions from people.   It’s somewhat unfair that we’re given a startling picture; some selective reporting and even a little bit of marketing involved followed by asking each of us (the viewers and readers) to react instantly to questions such as, “What do you think?” Major media companies have been using this to try to get people engaged (and driving up ratings).

      But this poll-centered tactic not only gets people engaged, it can at times make them enraged; which is why our society, so interconnected seems so polarized as well.   Because the reality is we’re reacting, sometimes quite assertively and increasingly aggressively, to these controversial and emotional topics based on a limited number of facts.   That’s not saying that any one of us aren’t entitled to our opinions, to have emotional reactions to stories that touch us in different ways based on our life experience, and our personal perspectives. But I wonder if the overwhelming numbers of requests for our opinions has made us less humble, less open-minded to listen, to hear, to consider other people's perspective.   It kind of numbs us from being more civil and thoughtful and instead fuels some of the anger and violence we’re seeing in more and more dramatic and frightening ways as a society.  

While we seem to be experiencing this phenomenon of polls and polarization in real-time, with greater frequency and attention than ever before, in some ways it’s just expanding on something that isn’t such a new phenomenon:  In today’s Gospel, we can see how Jesus himself is quite a polarizing figure – and just like today, people have a whole variety of opinions about Him.

“Who do you say I am?” he asks his apostles. What’s the buzz, the chatter, the opinion of me on the street?  Being some of his closest friends, they probably omitted some of the less charitable responses that were being said of Him. But even the ones they state are pretty diverse themselves - some say John the Baptist - others Elijah - still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.

You don’t have to be a biblical scholar to realize that each one of those names brings up extremely different expectations, perspectives. People were responding these ways based on some facts, some aspects of truth that they were able to piece together along with their own personal opinions.  So maybe someone had experienced a conversion by meeting John the Baptist; then after John’s gruesome, horrific death they had felt his absence and couldn’t help but see some comparisons in how people were having similar conversions upon meeting Jesus.  Perhaps that’s what made them think “he must be back from the dead.” Others, being devout Jews had learned of Elijah the prophet from their youth, a prophet who was incredibly bold in his preaching, who at the end of his life didn’t die, but was taken up to heaven by God in chariots and horses of fire into heaven.  Perhaps hearing Jesus’ boldness, they had convinced themselves this had to be Elijah returning from heaven...The point is that all   these different “votes,”    these characterizations,   these reactions   while understandable, don’t get to the fullness of the truth.

Only Simon Peter’s reply. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” represents the totality of who Jesus is.

What is striking to me though is how Jesus responds to Simon Peter though. “Blessed are you Simon ... flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.”   That’s so critically important because  facts, opinions, experiences, biases all have a piece of this mysterious puzzle of coming to know who Jesus is, but an essential piece of coming to know, coming to understand, coming to love Jesus is a matter of faith.   Simon Peter had to have had those beliefs stirring in his heart for some time.  He heard him preach, he saw some miracles, he had his own one-on-one personal interactions with him.   More than likely Peter’s friends, his family had heard and seen Jesus and had shared their opinions. And maybe they were divided into those different camps - John the Baptist - Elijah - Jeremiah - as well.

The realization “You are the Son of the living God” comes from the eyes of faith, and the depths of the heart.

The eyes of faith, and the depths of heart are able to siphon out the wildly different polarizing opinions that people were (and continue to) offer and fight about.  

The eyes of faith, the depths of heart gives him the courage to make that declaration - probably while the head was still confused and would still wrestle with doubts and fears.

Which is why as Jesus raises Peter as our first Pope, the rock on which he will build the Church on, Peter remains an important figure for us.  Peter will go through his different moments of great success and great failures as He follows Jesus.  When the crowds and public opinion turns quite dramatically against Jesus, labeling him crazy, a radical, an enemy to the state, a blasphemer, all leading Jesus to the Cross, Peter will deny he even knows this Son of God.  Yet, when Jesus rises from the dead, and Peter is overwhelmed in guilt and shame, Jesus meets him in that place and is able to heal that failure, restoring his leadership as the head of His Church.

The eyes of faith, the depths of his heart would constantly allow Peter to encounter the Son of the living God no matter the twists and turns of life and public opinion would offer ... eventually to the point where Peter no longer was swayed by them. That truth he uttered this one day would become the single most important truth in his life  that Peter himself would eventually lay down his life in testimony to: Jesus is the Son of the living God.

Perhaps as you and I leave this place and find ourselves bombarded with requests or opportunities to like, comment, vote, express our opinions on everything from the superiority of the NY Yankees to the NY Mets to National Security, we’ll pause for a second before we click and see it as an opportunity for some self-reflection. Is the energy and reaction I’m putting into whatever topic it might be really deserving of this response?  Particularly when we recognize there are more important things for us to our energy and thought to:
Like if Jesus was posing that question to me (Who do I say He is?), what would be my response?

That we might identify a gap between our experience, our beliefs, our faith right now and what we want it to be, to genuinely and sincerely call him and believe him to be the Son of the living God is fine. But the reality is to be able to make that claim, to get to a place where we testify that is what we believe and demonstrate by our very lives isn’t something that will be verified by a tweet, vote or simple click of a ‘like’ button.

CALL ME THOMAS

Left, the "new" house... Right, the original Newman center


I hate to admit it, but I didn't think this would ever happen.  That the Newman Center would purchase the house and property adjacent to our existing center - it sounded like a great, logical thing for us.  The growth that the Newman Center has experienced has made our present facility -- as homey and comfy as it is -- way too inadequate.  I don't know how many dinners were shared in the middle of the hallway or on the stair case in the center.   The kitchen that we added a few years ago was a huge help, but for our serious chefs and bakers, there barely was room for one person in there.  And with our campus continuing to grow (presently appx 20,000 with a Catholic population of greater than 60%) The need for more room was obvious.

But there seemed countless reasons why things wouldn't come together or work out.  We've been investigating ways to expand Newman for a few years.  About 2 years ago after a considerable amount of time, energy, resources and studies - I sat at a meeting that lasted only 40 minutes and saw all that work go up in smoke.  That experience was difficult to take.  Although truth be told, I handled it better than I imagined at the time.  I truly felt in my heart The Lord saying "not now."

And, again - truth be told - when I reflect on this whole thing, it has been The Lord who has directed things.  Different individuals, from around the country, with various expertise, gifts, talents have generously assisted in ways that I could never have foreseen, predicted or put together:  From a family who paid for that initial feasibility study to professionals who because of that study became intrigued by our hopes and dreams that they started volunteering their time -- to countless donations from all across the country.

Despite how beautifully God has been slowly moving things forward - when I first received a phone call from our neighbor saying "Father, you had mentioned that if I was ever interested in selling my house, to let you know - well, I'm ready" - almost immediately I was plagued with doubts.

"Oh, that project-- I doubt will be able to come together again."
"Where will we get the funding to purchase the house now?"
or even more cynically "What's going to come along to mess this up?"

Yup, I guess you can call me "Thomas..." (The apostle unfairly dubbed "doubting, but I digress)

And yet, as this past year went along, this whole acquiring of the house was one of the most uneventful processes ever.  Housing appraisals were done, discussed.  Negotiations were professional and respectful.  The Archdiocese was enthusiastic in it's support and fulfilled every promise they made.  

And praise God - yesterday, August 5th, we closed on the house.

I'm beyond excited for the Newman Catholic Campus Ministry at Montclair State.  
I'm profoundly grateful by the support and generosity of so many who have made this possible - most especially Archbishop Myers, and the people of the Archdiocese of Newark who funded the purchase of the house.
And I'm sincerely humbled at how The Lord continues to surprise me and challenge me to deeper trust and belief in how he ultimately is leading and guiding us...  When we are attentive and obedient to Him.

I ask your continued prayers as we embark on this new chapter in Newmans history.  And for those who would like to contribute to assist us in our immediate needs as we "move in" check out our website www.MSUNEWMAN.com for a link to paypal to donate online.

Unless the LORD build the house,
they labor in vain who build.
Psalm 127:1