BEING IMPERFECT IN A PERFECT FACEBOOK WORLD

Hi everyone, this is my homily for the 14th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.  The readings for today's Mass can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/070118.cfmhttp://usccb.org/bible/readings/070818.cfm  Thanks as always for reading; sharing this blog on your social media sites; and your feedback and comments.  I appreciate it.  Have a good week - God Bless - Fr Jim 


Quick commercial... Newman Catholic at Montclair State is ending celebrating our 50th Anniversary of the Opening of the Newman Center.  We're trying to raise $25,000 for the establishment of a scholarship in honor of one of our previous chaplains, Fr. Art Humphrey, as well as to support our ongoing mission and ministry to the Montclair State University community.  If you're interested, please check out: http://www.msunewman.com/50th-ann-appeal for more information and a link to donate on line.  Thank You!

HOMILY:
          I just had two anniversaries.  It’s 11 years that I’ve been working with college students as campus minister at Montclair State University.  That’s kind of shocking to me.  I really don’t know where the time goes as one academic year seems to evaporate and in the blink of an eye we’re starting to prep for another one.  It’s crazy.  I was also informed that it’s 11 years ago that I created my facebook profile.  I know which one of these two Mark Zuckerberg and his employees feel is more important.  I initially laughed off that later remembrance.  But the more I thought about it, it’s bizarre to realize how much both have become personal milestones.  Because while I fully expected my pastoral assignment to become a part of my daily life, I never really thought that would be the case for Facebook. 
          I first heard about Facebook and it’s pre cursor Myspace the year before I ever even thought of registering for those sites - thinking this was some fad among the younger generation that would probably fade out as quickly as it came about (Like Pokemon or something) I really had no idea what it was.  But when I got assigned to Montclair State - pretty quickly I saw at some of the New Student orientations that every student group every student was on these things.  So, I reluctantly joined.  First MySpace and then being told by one of the kids I had gotten to know pretty quickly who told me “No Father, no one’s on myspace anymore - you have to get on facebook” (wish they had told me that before I made all these flyers I was giving out at orientation) At any rate, its bizarre to see how much social media has become - a part of my work where I interact with students and trying to evangelize through it; a part of my social life where I can catch  up with friends from college & high school and keep track of extended family; even part of my personal daily routine stuff.  The other day I had to buy something for my computer and the company offered as you were checking out instead of having to fill out the entire registration form I could just “sign in using facebook” and be done with it in 2 seconds... (I know, all the privacy stuff I probably shouldn’t, but who wants to enter all those fields anymore when you can be done with a click and get this thing shipped to your door without ever having to leave your chair?)
          Social media is probably never going away (well Myspace did... poor Tom) But most of these enterprises have become billion dollar corporations.  And in a lot of ways, I know it’s been a good thing and definitely changed things in my life.  But the concerns and problems that people have with all of it are legitimate.  And one that really concerns me is seeing some of the really negative psychological effects it’s had - especially (but not limited to) younger people.  As they (or maybe I should be saying we) try to navigate this social media dominated world- what is it we usually see?  Often times people that we know or are somehow acquainted with sharing what appears to be all the great things that they’re experiencing in life; all the exciting things going on with their families; all the interesting things that they’re encountering in their jobs or in school.  But a growing concern is how these types of things are causing negative feelings among many people.  For example, a guy sees on facebook a bunch of his friends posting pictures of themselves having a great time in New York on a Friday night, maybe they’re at the Yankee game and they just saw them destroy the Mets or the Red Sox or something.  (Lets use a legitimate hypothetical)  Anyway, after liking the picture, he keeps seeing that picture and goes from thinking “that’s cool - looks like they had a good time” to “I would’ve liked to be at that game” to “I wonder why they didn’t invite me to go” to “no one ever invites me to anything” to “I have no friends.”  This type of thing happens with shares of marriages, new jobs, college acceptances.  It sounds overly dramatic, but for many, social media posts becomes this vicious cycle of negativity mixing envy, jealousy and then just self-loathing, self doubt to where the person experiences depression.  One study says that it’s gotten so bad that young adults who use social media are three times as likely to have depression or anxiety than those who don’t.    And one of the reasons is because people start looking at the world around them- or the social media presented version of the world - and see perfect versions of everyone around them.  Think about it - we can take 3000 pictures of the same thing to get the one where the light is right, the smile is perfect - and if not, we can go and edit that too.  Everything is presented as perfect.  So its no wonder people in the silent recesses of their hearts and souls feel discouraged, disappointed and then depressed and anxious that they can’t ever catch up.

          Which is why St. Paul’s words in today’s second reading really caught my attention.  In a facebook perfect world, St Paul would present him as someone who had some of the greatest impacts on the development of Christianity.  That he wrote the bulk of the New Testament.  How his teachings had heavy influences on the early Church evolving from merely a sect of Judaism to an entirely new movement.  How His missionary work to those outside the Jewish faith (called the Gentiles) helped with that enterprise and inspire the Church to understand Jesus’ great commission to proclaim the Gospel to the ends of the earth in a much broader sense then they had initially imagined.  These and a lot of other things would get Paul a lot of likes on Facebook.  This is the perfect, idealized version of him and his life.
  
        But in today’s second reading, what did we hear?  Paul talking about what he phrased as this “thorn in the flesh” that was tormenting him.   To many of us, that might sound like a “thorn in the side” causing us to wonder who was it that was annoying Paul?  It might have been a person, but the phrasing and original words make it very elusive so that it might have been a sickness, it might have been a temptation that he was struggling with - we don’t know for sure what it was.  Whatever it was though, it was bad enough that Paul refers to it as something coming from Satan “to beat” up Paul...  it causes so much suffering in Paul’s life that three times he begs the Lord for it to be relieved of him. 
          Paul’s prayer is answered - but not the way Paul wanted (good for us to remember, even the Saints don’t necessarily have their prayers answered the way they hoped for).  Instead, what does God say to Paul?   “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” 
          Paul wasn’t perfect.
          Paul’s life wasn’t perfect.
          Paul’s spiritual life wasn’t perfect.
          He had struggles.  He had set backs.  He had failures.  He had moments where he wondered what good any of what he was doing was going to matter in the end?  He had moments of doubt and depression.  He had instances where he felt betrayed and abandoned, and alone.   Which is why it’s good for us to reflect on that.  Not to commiserate or to wallow in a “misery loves company” way (who ever came up with that phrase by the way - what an awful image).  His perfection is found in him acknowledging, embracing and sharing his weaknesses - because He had to constantly go back to God, He had constantly cry out to Jesus; He had to rely solely on the Lord alone - as the one who was the source for any and all successes he was experiencing; as the only one who knew Paul in the deepest recesses of his heart and soul - who would know his pains, know his sufferings, know his failures -and gave him the grace to persevere, the strength to endure, the power to continue. 

          And so it is with us.  We have to be real and to be honest especially in this facebook-perfect world of ours to remember that:   No one in this world is perfect.  No one’s life is perfect.  No one’s spiritual life is perfect.  But Jesus is able to work in dramatic and substantial ways if we see him for who He is and welcome him into our worlds.  When people limit Jesus, or diminish him - and his effects, then his effect is limited in their lives,- and then we might as well wallow and look for company to be miserable with.  Like those in the Gospel.  Here where the ones who knew him the most, his hometown crew - people he knew from childhood.  And their stubbornness, their biases, their egos saw Jesus as simply that carpenter’s kid, Mary’s son... 
          When Paul had encountered Jesus in his conversion story, he recognizes Jesus as the Son of God... He believes in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.  That changes his world...  It changed the entire world.  This belief though, helps Paul to realize how wrong he had been in persecuting the Church - how wrong he had been about those following Jesus.  Paul stops his “selfies” - stops focusing on himself and his desires and begins to listens to Jesus’ voice directing him to follow a new course. 
          Being here, we profess those same things about Jesus.  But that voyage from the words we profess on our lips to the meaning and belief in our hearts can sometimes be a very lengthy one.  One way to speed that process up is if we can be courageous enough to stop striving to compete with one another and this unreal perfect presentation of ourselves and instead acknowledge our thorns, boast of our weaknesses... and cry out to the Lord as we recognize those things.  Knowing that when we finally boast of those things, like Paul, Christ can truly dwell and transform them... and then in our weakness, we too can become strong.

JUST HAVE FAITH? EASY FOR YOU TO SAY



Hi everyone, this is my homily for the 13th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.  The readings for today's Mass can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/070118.cfmhttp://usccb.org/bible/readings/070118.cfm  Thanks as always for reading; sharing this blog on your social media sites; and your feedback and comments.  I appreciate it.  Have a good week - God Bless - Fr Jim 

Quick commercial... Newman Catholic at Montclair State is ending celebrating our 50th Anniversary of the Opening of the Newman Center.  We're trying to raise $25,000 for the establishment of a scholarship in honor of one of our previous chaplains, Fr. Art Humphrey, as well as to support our ongoing mission and ministry to the Montclair State University community.  If you're interested, please check out: http://www.msunewman.com/50th-ann-appeal for more information and a link to donate on line.  Thank You!

HOMILY:
           
Along with courses in scripture, sacraments, church history, morality, we had a couple classes in seminary that tried to help us learn how to act in pastoral situations - encounters where as a priest we would be called to minister to families going through a multitude of different challenges.  Over the course of the semester, the priest who was our professor underlined sentences that he said should never be uttered by a priest.  Things like:
            “Well they’re in a better place” or “At least they’re not suffering anymore” - when encountering someone who’s lost someone they loved and are deep in grief and mourning.  Because saying something like that can come across as insensitive or seeming to minimize the sufferings of those who are mourning.
            -or - “God only tests the ones He loves” or “You have to look for that silver lining!”  When you’re meeting with someone who has gotten some difficult or challenging news like they were just laid off from work or received some difficult news from a doctor.  It’s true, God provides the strength, the courage, the grace we need in the face of these and countless other things that we struggle with - but He doesn’t cause you to lose that job or unleash some illness on you so you can prove your love for Him by remaining faithful in the face of these things.

            For some in the class, it was particularly challenging for them to hear these things (as they were being offered as a critique of “what they did wrong” in evaluating these future priests responses)   The professor’s point to us was that - these sentiments are all well intentioned and no doubt people saying them are trying to be supportive to their friends, their family members sufferings.  But that they can come across as overly simplistic, insensitive or even dismissive to people’s real pain, real suffering. 

            I thought about that as I was going through tonight’s Gospel.  In the midst of these two miracles that Jesus performs, we hear Jesus saying “Do not be afraid, just have faith.”  Coming from Jesus, I’m a bit leery to quote my professors criticisms.  But thinking about some really heavy situations that some friends, some family, some parishioners are going through just in my life, I couldn’t imagine me saying His words to any of them in any of those cases:
-The family mourning the suicidal death of a loved one;
-the husband who keeps hearing what a great economy it is and how unemployment is at record lows but can’t find a job no matter the resumes he’s sent or interviews he’s been on;
-the couple who’ve separated, went to counseling, and then one day, he just shocks her and says he wants a divorce...  Just thinking about these and many others, and imagining myself saying   Do not be afraid, just have faith... I imagine some politely nodding, and walking away rolling their eyes at me;  others who are a bit more familiar to me might have a few other things to say to me in response.  And I can’t blame them...

            Because if it’s just words, just a phrase to end listening to a painful, difficult conversation of someone going through a painful, difficult experience - they have a right to be angry... they have a right to be ticked off.  

            But Jesus is offering more than just words.  He’s not just tapping someone on the shoulder and saying “there there, it will be okay” in a somewhat condescending manner as he walks away.  He shows us what happens when we do  have faith. 
            This one woman was afflicted with hemorrhages for 12 years... She had tried everything known at the time to alleviate her suffering - to no avail.  She has only heard about Jesus... she sees him, she reaches out to Him and touches Him.  That episode interrupts the initial story - that the synagogue official, Jairus, came to beg Jesus for his daughter’s sake, who is so sick, she’s “at the point of death.”  By the time Jesus arrives to the house - after curing the other woman - people arrive (interesting how they’re not categorized as friends or relatives- maybe the Gospel writer, Mark, doesn’t think they truly are by their response) and say “ Your daughter has died, why trouble the teacher any longer?”  It’s in light of the previous miracle, coupled with what had to be devastating news for this father who had come to beg for his daughter’s healing that Jesus calls Jairius to deeper faith in the face of deep despair - Do not be afraid, just have faith. 

            Those words are uttered, are recorded and remembered because we are able to see pretty amazing results.  The anonymous woman who touches Jesus is called “daughter” as she experiences instant, complete healing.  Jairuis, the desperate father, ignores this horrific news and listens to Jesus.... trusts Jesus... and witnesses his daughter being brought back to life, restored to health. 

            The problem with stories like these I think is that we jump ahead and bring our own expectations to our prayers.  So when I hear of an illness, I can look at prayer as being the antidote - Jesus fix this, thanks - and then return to whatever I was doing before I heard this news.  Or the other side of the spectrum - how often have people criticized someone saying “thoughts and prayers” in response to some tragedy - because it’s seemingly empty words that are usually coupled by little to no real action on the part offering those words.

            Faith in Jesus calls us to believe in Him, to trust in Him, to know and love Him... To recognize the precious gift of life we’ve been given.  To ask Him, listen to Him as He guides us throughout our journey of life.  To not forget Him when things are going well and imagine that somehow we are truly in control of every aspect of our lives... To not give up on Him when we struggle, and doubt, and fail, and fear and are tempted to believe that faith is useless. 

            It’s when we look at faith not as some quick response to an inexplicable situation, but rather a lifetime - well check that - an eternity of God’s goodness, his miraculous, unfolding story of love with all humanity... as well as with each of us individually - including an adult woman who’s struggled with a medical condition; a family where a young girl is death-ridden - you and I who have our own stories and struggles and cares and worries.... it’s when we see faith with that vision that Jesus’ words not only make sense, but are renewing and lifegiving:  Do not be afraid, just have faith...As if Jesus were reminding us - I see... I know... I’m here... I’m not going anywhere... Don’t bring your expectations, your demands - bring yourself to me and trust in me.  Then, we can “just have faith” - knowing that, in the end, that’s the only thing we truly have... and it’s the only thing we ultimately need.