FERRIS BUELLER - CATHOLIC EDITION

FHi everyone, here's my homily for SUNDAY OCT 19, 2014 - the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time.  The readings for today's Mass can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/101914.cfm.  Thanks as always for reading, sharing and commenting on this blog.  God Bless - Fr. Jim

HOMILY:

The closest I ever was to skipping school or intentionally late was under the great assistance of my two older brothers. I had to have been in 7th Grade, My brother Craig was in 9th grade and oldest brother Chris was a senior in High School. It was a February morning... it was the day after a snow storm had kept us home all day and it was a Wednesday.


I remembered that because it wasn’t just any Wednesday - it was Ash Wednesday. My mother had looked at the Church Bulletin and noticed that there was a 8:00 Mass in the morning. She raced us out the door at 7:45 so that we could get to St. Agnes in time for the 8:00 Mass (the Church wasn’t even a 5 minute car ride from our home) And she gave us each a note for being late (Since Home Room was 8:20, we were going to be a few minutes late - maybe miss a few minutes of first period since she told us to leave Mass after communion - something I DO NOT ENCOURAGE)

It’s amazing how quickly with my oldest brother driving, and the three of us not in any hurry to get to school, that other options came to mind. It's like Ferris Bueller's Day off, Catholic Version...

Truth be told, and not to make my brothers look badly, but they weren’t exactly interested in going to Mass at all. So when my brother decided to take the long route to St. Agnes ("OOPS did I just miss the turn onto Madison Hill Road???? Oh well, I guess I’ll have to go down Westfield Avenue! So now a 1 mile trip added another 3.5 miles, in morning rush hour, with streets in bad condition. Sadly we were already late for 8:00 Mass. It probably was 8:25 by that point. That’s when I, very helpfully, offered that there was also a 9:00 Mass that we could attend. In fact that was the school Mass, with Music and everything - so my brother kept driving the same 3 mile loop. We got into church just in time for the 9 am Mass. It went to around 9:45... By the time we had our post-communion meditation, lit a candle at one of the shrines (at which point an older parishioner came over and said "don’t you guys think you better be heading to school?") it was 10 am. We easily missed the first two periods of the day (I was hoping to miss part of the third period which was Math) We told ourselves that we were good Catholics - had to get to Mass for Ash Wednesday right? And we completely got away with it. Ashened headed with notes from Mom there was no questions asked when I got to school (I skipped going along with my brothers who decided they had to go to the Diner after Mass... even though Chris made a compelling argument that breakfast is the most important meal of the day...forgetting of course that since it was Ash Wednesday we were supposed to fast, but...)

In the grand scheme of things, I know it’s not the most earth-shattering act of disobedience that one could commit. Sadly, I can give countless examples that were even worse that my brothers and I did. But there’s something about this one that always bothered me - still bothers me to this day. Sure I regret our being dishonest to my parents, teachers and all. But the thing that really makes this stand out is the fact that we used God, and for such a silly reason - just so we could be late for school.

The idea of "using God" isn’t something that the Chern boy’s invented. Not by a long shot. In fact that’s one of the things that is at play in this Gospel. The pivotal question in this encounter "is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?" was simply designed to stir up opposition against Jesus. The Pharisses thought they finally got him - see- If Jesus said not to pay the tax to Caesar then the Roman officials could take Jesus out labeling him a radical revolutionary who threatened civil disobedience, who was challenging their authority. If Jesus said they should pay the tax, then the Jews of that day would have people arguing that he was siding with the Romans, the very people that had taken over their land.

Even more, if Jesus gave some support to the idea of taxes, state, Roman authority – for many, that was seen as violating the commandment to love, to serve, to obey God alone. Not quite a popular view to most Jews. So Jesus’ opponents are trying to be clever. They try to use God and their covenant with Him - not just to get out of paying taxes but even worse as a means of trying to eliminate Jesus, the Son of God simply so they could continue what they wanted - to maintain their positions of power and influence.

Interestingly though, if you look at the entire episode, we see Jesus isn’t simply delivering a clever dig at his opponents (he is) But in the process Jesus tries to move them from asking about loopholes, responsibilities, obligations and says – well since you asked – since you brought the question of God up, What do we owe God? How does being a member of the Kingdom of God affect all aspects of our lives?

Because the thing is, by their asking the question about whether to pay the tax to Caesar or not the opponents of Jesus revealed something more about themselves. You see, by their choosing to have the coins with Caesar on it, they had chosen to be a part of the empire. They were utilizing the form of currency of their oppressors. So even though they complained about being "occupied"; Even though they hated the Romans - looked to be freed from them - by that very act they had already compromised their identity as God’s people by buying into the Roman economy. Obviously they didn’t hate Rome as much as they thought they did. It wasn’t great, but they had gotten somewhat comfortable and made the best of the situation.

Both the Old and New testaments talk about the need for us to be detached from the things, the structures, the institutions of this world, recognizing where our true citizenship lies. That we are to live as members of the Kingdom of God. Jesus points out in His clever response to their questioning that if we chose to engage the things of this world - we’re free to do so - but then we have obligations and responsibilities to them. We can’t then try to turn it around and claim that with God the Father as our true King, that we don’t have to fulfill these earthly obligations that we’ve entered into. And that doesn’t exclude us from our ultimate responsibilities to God. The Ten Commandments don’t come second to The Constitution. The call to "tithe" our time, talent and treasure to God doesn’t disappear because our expenses (or our desires for things) cost more. My obligation to worship God on Sunday isn’t mitigated because I want to be in a club or because I put off my homework all week or because the Giants are on Sunday Night (and I slept too late to make Mass in the morning, or Saturday night) and then say "I just can’t make it this week"

True, our loving Father is merciful, loving, forgiving. But the Gospel underscores the reality that we’re only fooling ourselves when we get into these types of debates. God must always come first in our lives. In Jesus telling us to "Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God" - is a nicer way of saying we need to stop trying to use God as an out when it’s convenient and recognize that to love Him is to serve Him - whether its convenient or not.

THE FUNERAL HOMILY I COULDN'T DELIVER

I couldn’t preach my Dad’s funeral mass.

I have to admit, that wasn’t much up for debate.  My parents and I were just together - not 5 days earlier - with one of my brothers, Chris; my sister in law Mairead; and my beautiful nieces Lizzie, Gracie and Molly - to celebrate one of my best friends, Fr. Bill Sheridan’s anniversary marking his 25th Ordination to the Priesthood.  That was Sunday, October 5.  To preside at his funeral Friday October 10th didn’t make sense in my head.  And I am so glad that my good friend Msgr. Ronald Rozniak could offer such a beautiful, hopefilled homily that was of comfort to my family and I last week.  If I had been able to speak from the heart at his funeral, I probably would’ve gone back to that last Sunday -

Dad was so happy.  The sight of his granddaughters running up to him in the lobby of the Church with their usual “Pop Pop!” after such a joyful celebration just filled him with such happiness.  He bumped into some old friends he hadn’t seen in awhile.  Everyone told him how good he looked - and he was good.  Even that afternoon talking to my brother Craig on the phone about the afternoon, I summarized saying "Dad's been doing so great the last few months..."

He’d had so many health crises over the years - times where we feared the worst - but came through it.  Not without his share of ongoing pain, struggles and difficulties - but he came through it.  Mom worked over and above what any of us ever really knew in caring for him, keeping tabs on his diet, fighting with him to keep doctors appointments, even pushing him not to give into his illnesses.

And that’s the jarring thing - the last 6 months he seemed to have finally found his rhythm.  The diabetes with its debilitating effects physically and emotionally on it's victims seemed to be under control.  Dad had been able to take some weight off and was beginning to get around more and more.  He was more like his old self than he had been in years - and consistently.

My time this summer down the shore with my parents was so good... no one was ill, we had really great conversations.  When I had gotten back from a pilgrimage to Rome, Orvietto and Assisi, I came down the shore for a couple of days.  I had a terrible cold, it rained that whole weekend I got there - but it was such a beautiful few days.  We weren't running to the beach or out somewhere.  We just sat together.  I was showing Mom and Dad - pictures on my iPad from the trip.  My Dad, the architect - and proud Italian - just kept looking at the pictures, asking all kinds of questions about each shot and was so happy that I got to go there.  We talked about whether he and my Mom could handle a pilgrimage themselves this coming Spring.  I knew how torn he was - his heart so desired to be there - but he was worried that some of those old health issues might pop up again and wondered whether he could handle all that walking.  Which is one reason he had started taken up walking around the block again.  He was doing so well - my only question a couple of weeks ago was whether he would be up for the trip or not — not whether he would be here or not...

I wish I could recall my exact conversation with Dad from last Sunday.  But to be honest, it’s really not important.  My exact memory was that he was happy.  I gave him a kiss when I finally got to the reception.  My 2 year old niece was trying to knock me over... we were having random conversations with everyone.  It was a great afternoon.  As the afternoon went on... and everyone was mingling with one another, we waited on line together to congratulate Fr. Bill on his 25th Anniversary.  My brother and sister in law had to leave as the youngest of the nieces was ready for a nap.  The crowd started to thin out and I looking at the clock started thinking about my responsibilities back at Montclair State.

As I said goodbye to my parents my mother said “George, just stay here, I’ll go get the car” (since they had to park at a bit of a distance from the auditorium) I gave them both a kiss.  The last image I have is seeing my dad sitting near the door with a smile on his face waiting for Mom to pick him up.  I was about to go over and sit and wait with him when a couple of parishioners came up to me and started to talk about something. The next time I looked he was gone - for what I had assumed at the time was just for the rest of the afternoon.  Mom had emailed me that night “It was a lovely celebration today for Bill....so glad we were all a part of it and are part of his life” Mom would tell me later how driving home he said how blessed they were “we have three great sons, a beautiful daughter in law, three wonderful granddaughters...”

I’m in tears typing all of this right now.  But I am profoundly grateful.  Because I know Dad died happy.

Two years ago before his open-heart surgery, I remember sitting with him and offering him the Anointing of the Sick.  It was the first time I ever remember my Dad crying.  And I remember sitting with him trying to console him - the first time I ever remember doing that either.  He was scared.  He didn’t think he would survive the surgery.  He didn’t think he could go through all of that  - again- but, with the birth of his 3rd granddaughter, he really wanted to.  And in my heart of hearts, I remember saying, and believing “Dad, you’re going to be okay...”  The doctor was optimistic.  And for whatever reason, in my heart of hearts, I never seriously considered he wasn’t going to be okay- even though he didn’t think so.

That he should just slip away so quickly and suddenly has left me simply shocked.  Like I’ve said to the students here at MSU - I don’t know how I’m feeling right now... I don’t know what I need, or what people can do for me (although I’m touched and grateful for the offers and especially for all the prayers)

All I know is it hurts.
A lot.
It hurts thinking back to sights, sounds, and experiences the day he died.  It hurts seeing the hurt of my mother - married 49 years and knowing my father since she was 15 years old so heart-broken, knowing that despite all of my brothers and I desire to heal that, there’s no cure or remedy we can offer for that.

I’m sharing all this just to give everyone a sense of where we’re at right now.  I wasn’t quite ready to discover news of my Father’s death had traveled on Facebook before my brothers and I had an opportunity to reach out to all of our family.  That as jarring as well.  But I know that there’s many students and friends and family and alumni that I’m only able to really stay connected with here online, that I thought that perhaps I should share all of this.

In this facebook/social-media world we live in - we’re accustomed to moving along with whatever’s “trending” either on a global level (Ebola) or even locally (Montclair State Homecoming).  As anyone who has gone through a tremendous loss knows - in so many ways, your world just stops.  You know you have to go on, and you will go on - but you don’t know how and you know it will never quite the same.  I’ve found myself trying to jump back into things and then crashing - driving home - trying to anticipate upcoming events, etc.  And it’s chaotic in my mind.

So quite simply I want to thank all of those who have been there for my Mom, my brothers, my sister-in Law and niece’s - my great Aunt and I during this tremendously sad time for all of us.  Just looking at the pile of Mass cards and expressions of sympathy is comforting and overwhelming at the same time.

I ask that you continue to keep us in your prayers.  My Mom, Dad and I shared a devotion to St. Joseph.  And one of his titles is “Patron of a Happy Death” (owing to the tradition that he would’ve died in the company of Jesus and Mary) I have no doubt that Dad definitely benefitted from his intercession.  And I’m grateful to the Lord for that gift.  Right now, I ask St. Joseph who was also protector of the Holy Family to intercede to the Lord to bless my Mom and all of us with His strength and consolation to endure our pain and to renew our confidence in His promises of eternal life which my Dad now enjoys and which we all hope to be reunited with him some day.

With Much Love - Fr. Jim

THE GIVING TREE; THE SELFISH BOY?

Greetings everyone... as those of you who follow me on twitter and facebook probably know by now, a week ago tomorrow, my Father, quite suddenly and shockingly passed away. I can't find the words right now to explain my feelings. People, very thoughtfully, keep asking 'how are you' and quite honestly all I can say is "I don't know." But I appreciate all of the prayers and special words of consolation. This is my homily for Sunday October 12 (the readings can be found here: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/101214.cfm) . I had completed working on the homily about 2 hours before I got the awful news. I'm praying I'll be able to deliver it tonight at Mass here on campus.


HOMILY:

With the birth of my Godsons, Goddaughter and nieces over the years, the remembrance of different stories and books that Mom would read to me before bed came to mind. It strikes me as odd that books that I might have read a year or two ago kind of fade from memory very quickly - but I can immediately recall and tell you all about “The Monster at the end of the book” (which, spoiler alert was Grover from Sesame Street); “Me too Iguana” (possibly targeted to me as the youngest who always wanted to do what my brothers were doing) or “The Giant Jam Sandwich” - one of my favorites about a unique way a town dealt with their wasp problem (something tells me PETA wouldn’t like that one). Maybe those images and stories being told at such an early age were apart of the earliest memories that they are hard to forget.

One that has always stayed with me has been“The Giving Tree.” Have any of you read that one?


 It’s the story of a boy and a tree who are able to talk to each other. It starts out the boy is a little kid - who would play in the tree, eat her apples, fall asleep in her shade. The boy loved the tree and that made the tree happy. But as the boy became older, things changed. The tree still wanted the boy to play and enjoy the tree as he used to - but the boy explained I’m too big to climb, I want to have things - I want money. The tree explained that she didn’t have money but offered her apples which could be sold and could get him money. So the boy did just that - he climbed, took the apples, sold them and left. Then he’s gone for awhile - some years in fact - and then the boy needs a home for his family, so he returned to the tree, and the tree is happy to see him, but says she doesn’t really have a home to offer him. So she offers her branches to be cut and used to build a home - and so he does just that. He cuts them down, uses them and leaves the tree alone again for years again. Then the boy (now a middle aged man) wants a boat to as he puts it “take me far away from here” (not quite sure what happened with the wife and kids that all of a sudden this guy needed to get out of town, but I digress) - The tree offers her trunk leaving only a stump left. Years later when the boy came back - the tree said “I’m sorry boy, I have no apples left for you to eat,... my branches are gone... you can’t swing on them... My trunk is gone... you can’t climb on it.” After the boy basically explains he can’t eat apples, he’s too old to swing from branches, he’s too frail to climb - he explains he’s simply tired. And the tree offers her stump for a place to rest, which the “boy” does and the book ends “And the tree was happy.”


There was something that was always beautiful and incredibly sad to me about that book. Obviously
as a young kid being read the book, I didn’t know that there was any controversy attached to it, especially since it was published back in 1964. Just two years ago the School Library Journal (you know it’s credible when the word “Journal” is in the name of the publication) called it the “most divisive book in children’s literature.” Some saw it as a beautiful story illustrating selfless love. Others were more negative saying the boy and the tree had a sado-masochistic relationship (!!!!) And many people espouse different interpretations: The tree represents God or Jesus and the boy represents humankind. The tree represents Mother Nature and the boy represents humankind. The tree and the boy are friends (i.e., "the message of the tale is seen as a relation between adults"). The tree and the boy have a parent-child relationship. Like a parable, the message of the book was misunderstood by many. The parables Jesus told were not always understood either.
 
 
If you didn’t know the story before or hadn’t thought about it much before, I’ve probably destroyed it for you by now. But I can remember even at a young age always feeling weird about it - to the point of one day saying to my mother “Why doesn’t the boy ever say ‘thank you?’” Most of us are taught to say thank you at a very early age. It is a natural response. Whether the tree represented my parents or grandparents - or God or Jesus - I got the idea of unconditional, selfless love. But the lack of gratitude on the boy’s part - that he simply came to the tree - used her, took her apples, branches, even her trunk - leaving just her stump - and then just using that - while it was beautiful to see that the tree found joy in giving herself so selflessly - I really kind of felt the boy was a jerk. The boy never saying thank you to a tree that could talk to him and gave him everything she had … really?
 
 
Which is what came to mind reading this somewhat bizarre parable that Jesus offers us today. The Gospels over the last few Sundays have contained parables that seem to be getting more direct, containing pretty obvious warnings to the listeners. If you went back and re-read them you almost can hear drumbeats getting louder and the natives are becoming more restless - as Jesus seems to be moving toward Jerusalem - where he will be betrayed, set up, unjustly condemned to a horrible, torturous death. All of which Jesus sees in his future and he is committed to the Father to go there. Yet his great love for all humanity - to come to realize his selfless, his unconditional love being offered compels him to still reach out to them to recognize the gift he is offering of intimate friendship with Him - as they ignore the warnings and continue to scheme, and plot his end. 
 
To understand tonight’s parable, we need a little historical context. Especially that last part... This poor schmo who comes to the Wedding Feast, doesn’t have a tux and then is thrown outside. In Jesus time, a wedding would have been announced with day, time, location to be determined later. So a guest would be invited with the expectation that when the preparations were completed for this 7-10 day celebration, you would also be prepared to go and attend it. The “wedding garment” the guy shows up without - he would’ve already had been offered that from the hosts of the wedding. So the guest must’ve refused it. He wanted to go using his own resources, being the clothes. He really didn't see any need for “their” clothes. He felt his presence was enough.
 
Basically what we’re seeing in this entire episode is the ugliness of ingratitude. There are those who are disinterested, and reject the invitation outright. There are others who decide to come on their own terms. At the last minute... nothing better came up, so sure we’ll check it out for a bit... Unfortunately it seems that in our world where friendship is defined as clicking an “accept” button on Facebook and perhaps liking a few things here or there and being very uncommitted - for many people those types of behaviors or responses might seem acceptable or understandable, perhaps even safe.
 
Yet, Jesus seems to be making a very clear point about what friendship means with Him. Yes He is willing to go to Hell and back for us - literally. But there needs to be a response on our part. It’s not enough to think about it for a moment and think “that’s nice... when I have some time I should think about that some more.” It’s not enough for us to show up when we’re ready for it on our own terms and somehow think God should be glad we squeezed some time in for Him. We have to recognize that God isn’t demanding us be slaves and that he isn't a task master. In Jesus Christ, He is revealed to us as a Loving, Merciful Father. And in the gift of himself offered on the Cross for you, for me, we become God’s sons and daughters. That gift demands at minimum a thank you.
  
txt-09eucharist-uscca-The way we express our gratitude is by what we’re doing right now - worship. Did you know that the word Eucharist actually means Thanksgiving. So it’s not just that we receive Jesus’ Body and Blood in the Holy Eucharist - and that we receive His word in these scriptures we’ve heard proclaimed - this whole event of Mass is meant to be our worship, our thanksgiving to God for all He’s done for us. It is a spiritual feast that He has invited us to join Him and other believers. Everything is ready. In that we receive the selfless, unconditional love of God - and we begin to express our gratitude as humbly and meekly as we can. With the hopes that as we go forth when we’re dismissed we’re going to use our gift of freedom and look for opportunities to look for God’s opportunities put before us … to show our gratitude to Him:

· To be selfless.
· To be loving
· To be forgiving.
· To care for those who are in need.
· To invite others to the feast that we’re privileged to be invited to.



These are all things that God has done for us. He is blessing us to be a blessing.

 So In doing that, the giving tree the Cross, an instrument of death where Christ gave away everything for us, doesn’t become an object of something we take from - but a life-giving tree that continues to grow, continues to nourish us and bring life. In that life, we can continue Jesus' efforts of reaching out to a world that hurts, but doesn't know the Healer. We can introduce them and invite them to a wonderful Host at the greatest party ever … the Kingdom of God. Through our efforts for Jesus, showing our thanks for all He has done, the invitation can go out to all the world and God's Spirit can bring salvation for those who accept.

STUBBORNNESS INHIBITING GODLINESS

Hi everyone - thanks for stopping by on your surfing the web.  Here's my homily for the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time - OCTOBER 5, 2014.  The readings can be found at:  http://usccb.org/bible/readings/100514.cfm.  I'm grateful for you're reading, commenting and sharing this blog with others.  Have a great week - God Bless - Fr Jim

TO LISTEN TO AN AUDIO OF THE ENTIRE MASS: 


HOMILY:

About a week ago at dinner, some students were trying to explain to me "Snapchat" - one of the latest social-media obsessions. I determined pretty quickly two things. 1 - that no, I will never get that - there doesn’t seem to be anything good that can come from that and 2 - if I were in college right now I don’t think I’d be able to get anything done.  I mean I’ve battled with ADD even before I had all these additional distractions to have my brain going down endless, mindless "virtual" rabbit holes.  I can’t imagine trying to study or get papers done nowadays.  It takes a lot of energy for me to resist clicking that link that has some random topic - "Interesting uses for Coffee grinds" - hmm... that seems important - and waste another 10 minutes with that when all I was intending and planning to do was respond to someone’s message on facebook.  Rarely am I successful at that (Did you know you can put coffee grinds in your refrigerator to neutralize odors from foods?)

Fortunately, those random posts turn out to be helpful at times- like when I’m writing a homily (ha!) A couple of months ago, someone had shared a post of the 10 most stubborn people ever.  I have no idea why I found that of interest.  Perhaps to make sure I didn’t make the list.  Or who were the experts who made the determinations of who made their list.  But there I was reading it.  I’ll spare you the full list and give you 5 of the top ten:
#5 - Hirro Ononda - Remember that kid down the street who kept playing hide-and-seek for 20 minutes after you had given up looking for him and ended the game?  Hirroo Ononda was that guy, only he kept hiding in the jungle of the Phillippines, for 30 years stubbornly refusing to believe that World War II had ended.  His family would plead to him to give it up, Japanese officials tried to reason with him - nothing worked until 1974 when one of his former commanders had to be flown in and announced to him in person that he was reversing his 1945 orders to stay behind and spy on American troops.

#4 - Emmett Pearson - it’s one thing to be a sports fan, but this guy takes the cake.  This Minnesota Vikings fan was so angered when his team lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1975 (after making it to the big game for the third time in five years and losing each of those times) that he vowed he would not shave again until they finally won the championship. As football fans know - in the 39 years since, that still hasn’t happened. Despite his wife’s hating his beard all these years, he refused to consider shaving.  He was even refusing to have surgery on an artery in his neck a few years back until the doctors promised not to shave the beard.  Sadly Pearson died in 2013 - his stubborn ability not to shave outlasting the Vikings stubborn inability to win the Super Bowl.

#s 3 & 2 - How many cars would need to crash through your house before you would decide you needed to move?  Well for Tim and Leigh McCall, who lived in a home for 30 years, raised their son in that house, and claimed to have made numerous improvements that are so near and dear to them – 11 cars crashing into their home isn’t enough to make them want to move -- It seems that their house is a block away from a railroad track that is raised - that unfortunately if a car is speeding, it sends them airborne right through their walls.

#1 - Harry Randall Truman - Back in 1980, officials in Washington State began evacuating for weeks the surrounding region of Mount St Helens as it was clear that the volcano was about to errupt.  Despite the warnings, he refused to budge saying to reporters that people were acting like wimps and "the mountain is over a mile away... that mountain ain’t going to hurt me."   Unfortunately he learned too late that wasn’t true when 800 degree liquid rock and 1000 lb boulders rained down when the volcano errupted!

Hearing stories like that - its amazing to see that people could be that thick-headed. Ignore warnings. Forgo advice. Be that obstinate and get that entrenched in their ways of thinking.  And even sadder is to see that in it’s extreme form -not embarrassment, not pride, not personal safety - not even their very life -  is enough of a motivation to make a person open their mind and their heart to the different messages that are being presented to them. Perhaps you know someone like that. I wonder what makes them so stubborn?
Today’s Gospel reading is giving us another example of this.   Jesus is dealing with a similarly stubborn group of people. It’s seems like it's been weeks we’ve been hearing parables, hasn’t it?   It’s one of Jesus’ favorite ways of teaching... using a variety of examples and illustrations to get his hearers to recognize who He truly is – the Son of God - and the gift that He is offering them – eternal life - which can be theirs, and ours by accepting Him, listening to Him, following Him and His commands.  Recognizing in Jesus the fullness of all that the prophets who had gone before Him for centuries, from Moses to this moment.  Seeing how God had been working through all those prophets for all those centuries to reach out to them, the people of Israel to re-establish friendship with Him.  Sometimes they listened.  Often times they stubbornly turned away from those prophets message, believing they knew better.

In this encounter, Jesus is dealing with the chief priests, the elders - the experts of the Jewish people - the ones who knew chapter and verse (literally) all about the prophets, all about the people of Israel. You would think they would be the first in line to follow Jesus and learn. They should be the ones who would be the most perceptive, the most observant and the most open to receiving the long-awaited Messiah. But a huge wall got in their way. They are blind, reluctant, resistant and absolute stubbornness to accepting Jesus. They were so stuck in their way of thinking that sadly it seems that no miracle that Jesus had performed, no preaching Jesus had made - no gift of love, of mercy, of compassion on His part is able to break through that stubbornness. Their hearts were hardened.

Jesus isn’t trying to win a debate or embarrass these leaders.  By using a parable (instead of just saying "hey guys, keep it up, don’t mend your ways and ‘enjoy hell’) he’s trying to demonstrate just the absurdity of their situation. Just on the surface, when we hear how in this story the landowner is rightfully owed and entitled to this vintage and those he sends to collect are killed - that’s diabolical. That’s insanely evil. On our human justice level - they don’t deserve a second or third or fourth chance (which according to this story they received) Italian-Sopranos style justice, this would’ve ended a lot sooner and a lot less compassionately! Yet, the landowner takes the seemingly just-as-insane risk of after all that sending his son to the tenants to collect what is rightfully his - and the son meets with the same brutal end as those who came before him.
The original hearers understood what was being said. They agree that in the story - that’s incredibly unjust. They even know that Jesus is applying the parable to them.  Despite all the explanations, exhortations and warnings - they refuse to believe. After all His miracles and words, Jesus will have no other choice but to humbly accept His Cross, an unjust sentence of death, a cruel and brutal passion - and He will not fight back or resist it, all out of His eternal Hope that His total love, total self-giving, total forgiveness will finally break the stubbornness of their hearts and minds.

The parable is meant for us as well.  We need to consider how our own stubbornness - in our pride, our ego - sometimes allows ourselves to forget all that we’ve received from God - and whether we’re truly utilizing those gifts to glorify Him or glorify ourselves. What walls have been put up that keep our stubborn behavior in tact? We are being warned to look at relationships that need to change - is someone a bad influence on me - am I a bad influence on them - or is it even lukewarm: where there’s nothing good or bad coming about from this relationship. What about our relationship with God? Is that something we are investing in or is it something we just take for granted.

We are being invited to look at the opportunities, the possibilities that Jesus is inviting us to be a part of - both here and now in the short term, and even more calls for our life, vocations - where we dedicate to serving Him in a particular way by our entire life - relationships, work, commitments.  The fruit of our labor is for the owner of the vineyard … God. If we are not offering it for His glory, what are we doing with it? Maybe we have missed those opportunities to give God what He so deserves. What will we choose today, and the day after that?

As stubborn as we can be in resisting looking at those things, Thankfully Jesus is equally stubborn! He is gently and patiently constantly offering us opportunities to take what he offers and make a real change. What has Jesus offered you this past week? What is your response? Give Jesus a chance to show you how to live a life of abundance for His kingdom.

ST. FRANCIS OF ASSISI


Francis of Assisi

Just hearing his name, people have immediate thoughts. Some will think of him as the "saint who loved animals"; while others may cite the "Make me a channel of your peace" prayer attributed to him (which, spoiler alert - although in it’s tone and message is very "Franciscan" it wasn’t written by Francis)  I remember the "Blessing of Animals" and sang that hymn at Mass many times growing up, and I’m sure those gentle images of Francis are what made him such a beloved example of a "saint" to me growing up - and are most definitely why his popularity continues to soar centuries since his death from people of all (or even no) faith.

It wasn’t until I was in the Seminary, attending a retreat that was based on St. Bonaventure’s "Life of Francis" that I developed a great love, a deep admiration that was so strong I started to pray and discern whether the Lord might be calling me not just to the Priesthood, but to be a Franciscan priest. And one of the profound things that came from that retreat was realizing that all those admirable qualities that we so often attribute to him don’t even skim the surface of St. Francis.

Quite simply, this man had a radical encounter with Jesus Christ... He so clearly heard God’s voice, that when he did, he answered him.

Not always immediately.

Not always perfectly.

For example, he knew that God was prompting him to care for the poor. This one day he would encounter a leper on his path as he was returning home (at the Lord’s direction) and his gut, his impulse was one of "horror." But that call of Christ to truly die to self - to move past that revulsion and instead see and love Christ before him in the leper compelled him to stop his horse on that plain, get down and run and kiss the man - giving him his alms and his affection. As he mounted his horse to continue his journey, he looked around at all the open plains around him - and it was completely clear.. The leper couldn’t be seen anywhere.
The actual Chapel of San Damiano in Assisi, Italy
 - that Francis of Assisi rebuilt


That experience - miraculous, mysterious - that encounter with Jesus Christ captured Francis’ heart. And so he would renounce everything to follow Christ. And when Jesus Christ called out to him from a cross found in a dilapidated church to "Rebuild my Church which has fallen into disrepair" - he with a single-minded focus simply started picking up rocks and rebuilding the physical structure. And as he kept working, he began to realize – OOOHHH - not just this Church – not this Physical building - but THE CHURCH - the humble man, the "Poverello" of Assisi did - because He Loved Jesus and Loved Jesus’ Church. And he wanted to repair the damages that caused and came from The Protestant Reformation.

What draws me to Francis, what’s made me love him is his Love of Christ, his Love of the Catholic Church. It’s his imitation of Christ.
It’s the somewhat spontaneous responses he makes.
It’s the struggles he had to make those responses.
It’s his mistakes.
It’s that relentless pursuit of Christ and how Jesus was calling Him throughout his ministry.
It’s his simplicity in living on this earth.
It’s his depth of desire for the transcendent.
It’s his utter devotion to the Blessed Sacrament.
It’s his immense humility.
It’s his brutal honesty.
It’s his ability to see Christ all around while at the same time his humanity which at times frustrated him with those around him he found it more consoling to preach to the animals (where his "love of the animals" came from - they were often more receptive audiences)

One of the most moving moments of my recent pilgrimage
to Assisi - the privilege of celebrating Mass in the Porziuncola
Francis' favorite place on Earth - just a few feet away
from where he died.
This complex but simple man who’s been tried to be imitated so often that there’s dozens of religious communities founded that try to follow his example in trying to follow Christ truly fascinates me... inspires me...captures my heart... sometimes shames me... definitely humbles me

While I never did end up in one of those many orders, I still consider myself a friend of Francis’ who I pray will continue to pray for me... encourage me to live up to his words as a Priest of Jesus Christ "now that we have left the world, we have nothing else to do except to follow the will of the Lord and to please Him."


Happy Feast of St. Francis of Assisi

THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS

Hi everyone - here's my homily for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time - SEPTEMBER 28, 2014.  The readings for today's Mass can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/092814.cfm.  Thanks as always for reading, for your feedback and sharing the blog on Facebook, Twitter & Reddit.  Grateful for all your support!  God Bless - Fr. Jim

TO LISTEN TO AUDIO OF THE ENTIRE MASS:

HOMILY:
Imagine tonight that you’re walking home on your way home from Mass and a genie appears before you. He says “hey, you’re a good kid going to Mass on a Sunday Night with no one forcing you to go and all... I’m impressed. I want to grant you one wish.” What would you like? Maybe you consider something more pressing “uh - that I have another week to start to write my 10 page paper due on this Tuesday?” – check that, it’s a genie, right? “That you write my paper - and make it an “A” - for me for this Tuesday.” But again it’s a genie - “write all my papers for all semester, no for all four years - ahh let’s just make it that you get me to graduate in 4 years graduating with honors... Wait Genie - aren’t you supposed to give me 3 wishes?” The genie looks back at you and says “Whoa... I’m the genie and you didn’t free me from a lamp, I’m just being a good guy here - you get one wish... take your time... Why do you want to do well here at Montclair State?” You probably can think of a bunch of things: “Well, a college degree is important for me to be able to get a good job.” The genie asks “Why do you want a good job?” “Honestly, I want to make a lot of money...” “OK,” the genie says, and then asks - “why do you want to make a lot of money?” “You’re quite a nosy genie aren’t you... Well with a lot of money I can buy a lot of stuff, go to different places, have nice things - I can get the Iphone 6 and the Samsung...” And the genie asks “Why do you want all those things?” You think for a moment – “I don’t know - because I want to be happy...”

Ultimately if we thought about it - whatever our wish would’ve been - money, success, health - they are all ways that each of us deep within tries to satisfy that longing for happiness. And it’s a safe bet that tonight on your way home you won’t encounter a genie to grant you a wish (sorry) to help you achieve that goal. But when we think about it - isn’t that why we’re so often tempted to do things that we know aren’t good for us?
- or things that don’t seem right
- or even things that we know deep down inside are sinful – that’s a hard concept to deal with. Sinful things. We know certain things are sinful, or they don’t feel right or maybe we were taught that about things(and don’t want to believe it)   But this desire for happiness can open us up to being confused, easily swayed - tempted by short cuts.
Happiness is?

 “I wanted to write a good term paper, but that genie never appeared – I’m so busy, I got work, I got other classes, I had no choice but to plagiarize... and what’s the big deal anyway, who cares, no one will read it, everyone does it...” That’s not limited to the classroom either... People use alcohol, drugs, sex all out of this belief that if I take this, if I do this - that will be fun, that will be pleasurable - that will lead to happiness. And when the momentary feelings of pleasure disappear, there’s that choice to keep trying, keep doing those things to try to feel more pleasure, have more fun, experience longer-term happiness. It becomes an addiction. Questions about whether we should do something or not - whether something is sinful or not become harder and harder to answer when our motivation is about making ourselves happy.

Today, Jesus gives us a pretty straight forward parable. These two sons, their Father has asked them to do some work in the vineyard. One says No and then has a change of heart and decides to go do it and the other says Yes but never shows up. Jesus asks, who did his father’s will? And we look and say, well that’s easy - it was the first one.

But we have to look deeper at what Jesus is pointing out to us. This gospel isn’t about easy answers to straight forward questions, like, is it ethical to cheat in a class to get a good grade? Jesus is telling us that he knows it’s hard to do the right thing. We give ourselves reasons, explanations, things that make our own particular case different. In a way, we can relate on some level to both of these sons in this parable:

On the one hand, – It’s hard to choose to do the right thing. We want to do the right thing on one level - the level that identifies right and wrong, ethical or not immediately - instantly, we know it in our bones. So we say "Yes" to the Lord with our lips, we are going to turn away from the bad choice and turn towards what the Lord is asking of us - but then we struggle finding our way out there to the vineyard. It’s kind of hard to do what the Lord is asking me to do, when I got so much else to do, so many other things weighing on me. We become weak and self-serving. We allow ourselves to sit on the throne in our lives and move Jesus aside.

But truth be told, there are probably times that we know what the right thing is and we’re like the other son. We’re a bit more honest and say "No" - I know what I’m being asked to do, I know what the right thing is, and I know it’s difficult - so "No" I’m not interested - I don’t want to do it. Because we’ve bought into the lie that "the right thing" is a nice ideal and nice guys finish last. We don't want to be fooled or cheated. The challenge that Jesus presents to us is this. Can we look at him and see beyond the here and now? We use our human senses to say what is true. Jesus’ mission is to make God so real and present to us here and now so we will look for Him and be pointed towards eternity. To realize all of the decisions and choices we make on a daily basis contribute to whether we want to be with Him or not - whether we want to be a part of his Kingdom, his vineyard - or not.

 We start to realize that these daily decisions, battles, internal struggles we have over the right thing versus the wrong thing are all part of demonstrating what road, what path am I traveling on? But this isn’t about a "follow the rules or else" type of living - it’s about Jesus reaching out to you and me and showing us the bigger picture. The promises of this world, the pursuits of these things don’t lead to the happiness we seek. The happiness we seek will only happen by keeping our eyes focused on Him. Living for Him. Following Him. And yes, that’s hard to do.

Which is why it’s always struck me as profoundly beautiful that in this parable, the one Jesus holds up as an example for us is the son who said "No" to the Father’s request but then changed his mind and went. Think about it – Jesus doesn’t use examples of people who never stray, who never doubt or question. In fact it’s quite the opposite – The gospels are filled with examples of people who struggle, who disappoint, who fall away. People just like you and me.  And consistently, Jesus rejoices in the moment of conversion, holds up as an example the time when the person realizes they’ve messed up and turn back to him.


As we are bombarded on a daily basis with decisions and choices to make, it is difficult to navigate through them all, to consistently make the "right" choice. Pope St. John Paul II once gave an incredibly beautiful explanation on the pursuit of happiness: “It is Jesus that you seek when you dream of happiness; He is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; He is the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is He who provoked you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise; it is He who urges you to shed the masks of a false life; it is He who reads in your heart your most genuine choices, the choices that others try to stifle. It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives, the will to follow an ideal, the refusal to allow yourselves to be ground down by mediocrity, the courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves and society, making the world more human and more fraternal.”

  May you and I engage in that difficult, but eternally rewarding task of engaging in the pursuit for true happiness - living for Him, following Jesus.

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.