I'M NOT IN RIGHT NOW

GREETINGS! And Happy New Year! That’s Church speak - it’s the first Sunday of Advent, and we begin a new Liturgical Year (Church Year) today. The readings for today’s Mass can be found at http://www.usccb.org/nab/113008.shtml . Thanks as always for reading and all your comments! God Bless - Fr. Jim

HOMILY

So the other day I get a voice mail on my cell phone. It might seem hard to believe that it came from a friend of mine because the message said something along the line "Hey Jim, first of all, let’s talk about that outgoing message of yours. You say ‘hey this is Jim, I’m not in right now’ - Idiot - I’m calling you on your cell phone, we know you’re not ‘in’ right now, it’s why I’m calling you on your CELL PHONE. It’s a good thing you’re cute because you sure ain’t bright."

After that unprovoked attack, I had to call back and say "well the reason I have that message is because it’s nicer than saying "Hey this is Jim, I’m screening my calls right now because I’m not sure I really want to talk to you."

I don’t really "screen my calls" - shocking as it might be for some of my friends to believe - sometimes the reason I don’t answer my cell phone is that – I might be out, or that I might actually be busy. But I’m sure I’m not the only one who has to face facts. The sad reality that for most of us, there are people we don’t want to see - there are people we don’t want to deal with... so we try to put them off as long as possible.

We get that voice mail, and we try to figure out when the other person will be out so that we can just leave them a voice mail message back and not have to actually talk to them at all. Hey I guess we keep missing each other - catch you at some point!

Even from the relative safe confines of your computer - we might not want to deal with someone virtually. You have those emails you just don’t want to respond to right away. You know you have too at some point, and you might even leave them marked as "unread" in your email Inbox just so you don’t forget, but even typing a response back seems to require a greater amount of energy and effort than they should.

Then there are the actual moments where you have human interaction with a person you're trying to avoid! Maybe even at Thanksgiving Dinner this past week or there’s another family gathering coming up where there’s a part of you that dreads the holiday celebration because "so-and-so" is going to be there and you don’t know what to say, don’t know how to deal with "so-and-so" for any number of reasons.

Often times these "realities" exist because we’re not in a right relationship with the person. There’s been some fight, there’s been some difficulty, some tension - something unresolved that makes us hesitate - or even worse - simply dread this other person and causes us to want to put them off as long as possible.

Where would Jesus fall? If Jesus was calling . . . well, actually, it should be - when Jesus does call us, when Jesus does come to us, do we welcome Him in – like the savior we long for or do we want to dodge Him, put Him off, stall Him just a little bit longer?

Advent is a season that the Church asks us how do we welcome Jesus in our world? During this season, we look back and remember that first time in history some 2000 years ago with His birth that first Christmas. Back then, there are stories told (which we will hear about closer to Christmas) of how some people spent their entire lives longing for that day - their lives were consumed with that yearning to see the birth of the Messiah. And at the very same time there were others who felt threatened by His birth and would do almost anything to destroy the infant King.

But Advent also reminds us that Jesus will come again to judge all humanity at the end of the world. To prepare us for that unknown day and hour, we are challenged to reflect on how Jesus comes into our lives every day - in the Word, in the Eucharist and in one another.

So going back to that question - when Jesus comes to us, how do we treat that encounter? Is He someone we long for or someone we dodge? Because if He is someone we are in a right relationship with, then these readings today don’t unsettle us. If that’s the case, when Jesus says watch! in the gospel, we have the anticipation of a little kid waiting on Christmas night for Santa to come. We long for Jesus’ return. We yearn for Him... Jesus’ can’t come back soon enough.

But many of us when we hear things like the Second coming of Christ - we are unsettled by it. There’s an element of fear. And if that’s the case, the readings today are jarring. We want Jesus to hold off a little longer - we’re not ready for Him to come in glory. We want to dodge that phone call just a little bit longer.

And if we find ourselves in that state of mind, the season of Advent is a great opportunity to do some soul searching and ask ourselves, why?

Are we living our lives in such a way that we don’t want Christ to enter in and see the mess? Maybe there’s some sinful ways, attitudes or actions that I don’t want Him to see, that I still haven’t dealt with... Jesus, don’t come in here yet...

Or maybe He’s been knocking at the doors of our hearts to consider a specific task he’s asking you to do, a specific call He has just for you. Because we’re comfortable with our life as it is (or as we imagine it should be) we want to dodge Him again. Maybe He’ll go knock on someone else’s door.

It’s easy for all of us fall into those feelings and attitudes from time to time. And when we do, we reverse the words of the first reading - we start to think that we are the Potter and will fix our own clay anyway we want to - instead of realizing how God has his fingerprints all over each of us. He’s molded us, and the more we co-operate with Him, welcome Him, allow Him to challenge us - He’ll continue to mold and change us into our truest selves.

That’s what Advent is all about. How will we prepare to welcome Jesus into the world. Will we take His call?

BE WARNED JETS, METS AND PATRIOTS FANS... Don’t read this...


This is my homily for the feast of Christ the King - Sunday November 23, 2008. The readings can be found at http://www.usccb.org/nab/112308.shtml


Thanks for reading. God Bless - Fr. Jim

HOMILY:

To be upfront, I’m not a Jets fan. In fact, I’m not really a fan of professional football. I enjoy watching college football like when Boston College beat up on Notre Dame a few weeks ago, and I’ll tune in from time to time to watch an NFL game, but it’s not like I have any real deep fan allegiance (baseball, that’s a whole other story...)

About a week and a half ago, I tuned into the Thursday Night football game. I wasn’t even sure who was playing. I had put the game on for some background noise until "The Office" came on. As I looked up at the television from whatever it was I was working on, it was towards the end of the first half. And the New York Jets were beating the New England Patriots by the score 24-6.

I looked and said, Oh man, forget this, it’s going to be a Jets blowout. So I turned off the game. Like I said, I wasn’t too interested to begin with.

Next morning, I pick up the newspaper and on the back page was a headline informing me what I had expected – the Jets had won. But the smaller headline right underneath caught my attention as it said Jets win in overtime thriller. Huh? What happened? Quite a lot actually. Not long after I had changed the channel, the Patriots had mounted a nice comeback. The Jets, as their history usually shows, found ways to bungle early advantages. Sending what looked like an early night and an easy defeat into a game that went into overtime and turned out to be very exciting.

I wonder though, how many supposed "fans" thought the game was over like I did earlier in the night. How many supposed Patriots fans bailed early in the game, (or for that matter, how many of them bailed early in the season when Tom Brady got injured, just thinking their season was over). How many Jets fans began to feel demons from their team's past had arisen again, subjecting them to another awful loss in Jets history and holding off their hopes of being in first place once again.

See, that’s the difference between the supposed fan and the real-deal fan. The difference between the bandwagon fan and the die-hard fan. For example, I have friends who have been die hard Mets fan since they were little kids (a long, long time ago). The past two Septembers they’ve watched their team implode on the very last day during the very last game of the season . . . two years in a row. Yet, in a few weeks, they’ll start paying attention again as the Mets begin Spring Training. They’ll start repeating the Mets semi-motto, "Ya Gotta Believe", in response to the question, "Can our team pull together a world-championship team?" If the Mets do win a World Series Championship, that triumph will mean a lot more to them than to those who, the last week of October, will be buying a Mets T-shirt and wondering whose name is on the back.

All of that’s understandable though . . . everyone wants to be with a winner. It’s harder to stand by when things are rough and tough. It’s hard to stay loyal when things seem to be falling apart for your side. Which is true not just in sports.

It’s hard to stay faithful to God when bad things happen. When unexpected illnesses happen. When tragic, earth-shattering deaths occur. When you start to feel the whole world is against you as that job falls through, that friendship dissolves, that project or thing you've worked on proves to be a failure - as others seem to skate by without much effort . . .

Christ is the King? Really? Sometimes it just doesn’t feel like it. Sometimes it seems like its halftime and our team is down and it just doesn’t seem possible to mount a comeback.
Which is why we have this feast today. Next Sunday is our "New Year’s" in the Church as we celebrate the First Sunday of Advent. So we end the Church Year by reaffirming that the game’s over, folks. Jesus has already won. That victory happened when Jesus rose from the dead on that first Easter Sunday over 2000 years ago.

As awful, as frightening, as challenging, as difficult as life can be at times . . . nothing can change that fact - that in the course of human history, there has only been one Man who was Crucified, Died, Rose from the Dead and ascended into Heaven.

And more than just fans, we belong to His team.

The problem is the opposition is working overtime to convince us the game’s still going on. And, in very painful ways, our faith is tested, our loyalty can wane. Sometimes in small, annoying ways we can grow tired and it’s hard to be too excited about our faith. And, sometimes, such awful things happen that shake us to our very core that even the most "die-hard fans" of Jesus begin to wonder what’s going on.

Which is why we come together. It’s why we still gather. We come together to remind ourselves that our King’s victory has been sealed. We come not just to be in the presence of our King - but to have the opportunity to receive Him into our very lives as well. To know that He is with us every step of the way as we continue to try and make His victory ours . . .

And so Jesus’ calls us to renew ourselves in being the loyal, die-hard fans we were in the days that things were going better for us. How do we do that? Not by pretending bad things aren’t happening to us. Not by putting a fake smile on our faces when all we want to do is cry. Jesus gives us practical, everyday ways to remain faithful, to remain loyal - we see the hungry person and we give them food - we see the stranger and we welcome him - we clothe the naked, care for the ill, visit the imprisoned or shut-in.

When we love the other more than ourselves, we begin to reveal what die hard fans, no, what true disciples we are. Because, it is when our hearts are turned outwards, towards a world broken and needy, that Jesus’ love, Jesus’ victory spreads to those who don’t believe there’s any Hope. To those who feel defeated. To those who feel dejected.

When we love - like He loves - then Jesus’ Kingdom becomes a reality.

Our game clocks might still be ticking - and for each of us, the scoreboard might be reading a different score. But unlike so many other players out there, we have the unusual advantage - the mixed blessing - of knowing the final result, of knowing which side will ultimately 'win.' Mindful of that, and mindful of Christ's care and concern for us, on this feast day especially let's recommit ourselves to our fellow teamates - and to our loving and victorious King.

A MATTER OF TRUST

Here is my homily for the Thirty Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, November 16, 2008. The readings for today can be found at http://www.usccb.org/nab/111608.shtml. Thanks for reading!

HOMILY:

Every so often, you will see online, or in a newspaper or in a magazine article a list of what American people consider the most prestigious, most respected of jobs. What occupations people consider the most honorable. While the positions of the top ten can alter from survey to survey, usually the jobs and occupations remain the same. Almost every list includes firefighters, police officers, teachers, doctors and nurses.

There’s a good reason people seem to have an exalted appreciation of these jobs. It’s because they are more than just jobs. We realize that these are normal men and women, just like you and I. But that we trust them with even greater responsibility. We trust that they will have a primary focus on the good of all the people they are called to serve. Think about it - we trust that firefighters will run into burning buildings as people are literally stampeding their way out the door so that they can try to save as many people as possible. We trust that police officers will confront evil in ways we can never imagine (the drug pusher, the abusive spouse, the sexual predator) all to keep the rest of society safe. We trust teachers with an almost intimate responsibility - helping to shape the minds of young people. And anyone who’s ever been sick and realized how incredibly vulnerable that feeling can be, knows the level of trust that is given to doctors and nurses. They tell you to take this pill twice a day for a week, you do it almost without question. That’s why when we hear a scandalous story about people from these professions who’ve abused their authority there’s a deeper level of sadness and anger towards the act. Think about it - there are sick people every day who commit crimes of arson, assault, people who murder others. That’s sadly a given. But there’s a level of justifiable outrage when we hear that a firefighter has been charged with arson; when a cop is being investigated for beating a handcuffed prisoner; when a teacher has physically or mentally abuses a student; when a doctor or nurse has intentionally killed a patient.

The crimes are horrendous themselves, but in those situations, we seem even more disgusted, even more outraged. Because in those instances, people not only did these evil actions, they violated that trust that is given to them simply because they are in those professions. We’re almost hardwired to have a level of respect to the firefighter, cop, teacher, doctor or nurse. We entrust the lives, the safety, the education of ourselves to others, and to hear that one individual has acted so reprehensibly – it’s just not right. We can’t and don’t want to accept that someone has violated the public’s trust in such dramatic ways.

Today’s gospel story is all about trust. This parable has this master giving what is called "talents" to his servants, which is another word for money. One talent, would be considered a pretty large sum of money. And we hear how the first two guys double their talents by investing them and the one who was given just one, was afraid. He didn’t want to lose it - he buries it. He places it somewhere for safe keeping. He hides it so that it cannot be stolen, cannot be misplaced.

And if we are looking at this as a story about the need to invest in stocks, who could blame the guy for being so prudent, especially in this day and age?

But this isn’t about "talents" or money. And it shouldn’t be confused with our God-given talents, like being a good singer, or being a good athlete. Jesus tells us about being good stewards of our God given talents and abilities and the need to share those in building up the Kingdom of God in other Gospel passages. But what we’re talking about today... The talent Jesus is talking about in the parable - is Himself. He is explaining to his listeners that God the Father is entrusting His own Son to all of us.

All of a sudden, when we think about that parable again it takes on a much deeper meaning. We can begin to understand why the Master is so enraged by the one servant who does nothing with this gift. Because He has violated the Ma ster’s trust. He has not acted or responded in a way that one who calls themselves a Christian should. What good is it for you and I to say we are a Christian, to say we follow Jesus Christ, that we believe he is truly the way, the truth, the life if no one would ever be able to know that by looking at us or listening to us. Imagine someone coming up to you or I and saying "really, you’re a Catholic, you’re a Christian? I never knew that" as if they were just discovering you were born in New Jersey or that your ancestors were Italian. (As a priest, I’d really, REALLY be in trouble if someone said that to me!)

Our identity as Christians is more than our receiving the Sacraments. It’s more than fulfilling the obligation to come together as a family every Sunday at Mass. Being Baptized, being faithful to that obligation are incredibly important. But that’s step one. It is here that God gives us that "talent" that treasure that is priceless, each and every week. It is here we are given His Son every time we gather together for Mass. We receive Jesus in his word and his Body and Blood in the Eucharist.

So God has entrusted this priceless talent to you and I. What are we doing with it?

That’s why the parable is so real... The idea of investing the talent involves risk. Again, we only have to look at the stock markets right now to see how easy it is to fail, how easy it is to end up with seemingly nothing to show for our investing.

But Jesus is telling us that the reason this guy with the one talent is condemned so harshly is that he let fear stop him from doing anything. We can think of concrete examples of how that fear stops us right here and now in our Christian obligations. The person who hides the fact that they go to Mass every Sunday or doesn’t invite someone to come with them because they’re afraid they will be mocked for it. That’s a possibility - they might be mocked, they might be ridiculed for that - or maybe, just maybe they could touch someone else’s life. That could be the thing that get’s someone else reconnected with Jesus Christ. That could be the catalyst to help change another person’s life to find and experience the Love of God that is poured out in Jesus Christ. And right there, you or I can "double our talent" as well.

To become a firefighter, a police officer, doctor, nurse or teacher - one of the fundamental questions that is asked is can this person be trusted? God, in calling us to be a follower of Jesus Christ, has already answered that question. He does trust us. In the end though, will we be proven worthy of that trust?

I WANT MY MTV


Here is my homily for November 9, 2008 - the Feast of the Dedication of St. John Lateran given at Montclair State University. The readings for this feast can be found at http://www.usccb.org/nab/110908.shtml . Thanks for reading and all your feedback! Fr. Jim Chern


HOMILY:

There is probably few things in our modern society that has had a greater influence on our present day culture as one particular television network. People can debate this point – Fox has higher ratings, (at least right now); CBS, NBC, ABC have all been around longer; ESPN has revolutionized sports media. But, none of them come close to the effect of this one channel – which since it came on the scene in the 1980's has had a marked influence on our culture. That channel is MTV.

I hate to admit that I can remember when the channel first debuted. Our family got Cable TV installed (on only one TV in the house by the way), I remember my father had told me and my two brothers we weren’t allowed to watch MTV. Being the obedient children that we were, we waited till Dad was at work to watch it. At that point the "M" actually stood for "Music" Television. I remember people wondering whether it would be successful - who would want to watch Music videos when you could listen to it on the radio, they wondered? Where they wrong! For practically 24 hours a day, 7 days a week that’s what MTV was - you could tune in to watch Music videos as VJ’s (a video - disc jockey) would introduce all the different bands and artists. It was an immediate success.

What started as a new way to promote music slowly evolved into a cultural phenomenon. Nowadays, the music videos which were central to MTV’s programming has become background noise and end credits to a 24/7 line up that includes shows like True Life, Parental Control, Real World, Road Rules, and Busted. In the process MTV has had an even greater impact on the "younger" generation. For those of you who are in that 18-25 year old age group - think about how much information you or your friends receive that comes thru the MTV filter (which now that is owned by a much larger media corporation called Viacom has even more influence, more avenues it can use).

All of this is exactly what the Founder and Former President of MTV , Mr. Bill Pittman envisioned. Back in the early 1980's Pittman stated that in order to reach this "younger generation" they had to attract 14 year olds (which is when teenagers are entering adolescnece). And he had a very simple two point plan for MTV: 1 - Get their emotions going and 2 - make them forget their logic. Pittman explained why: "The strongest appeal you can make is emotionally. If you can get their emotions going, make them forget their logic, you've got them." Pittman confidently concluded: "AT MTV, WE DON'T SHOOT FOR THE 14-YEAR OLDS, WE OWN THEM."

It’s hard not to concede that Pittman and MTV have become incredibly successful in their goal. Just looking at the number of people who come to Mass here tonight on campus - It’s awesome that all of you make it a priority to come here tonight - but you guys know as well as I do how many of your friends, roommates, relatives are probably home watching "Paris Hilton’s New BFF" (I’ll save my editorial comments) at this moment instead of being here. For many of them, they can’t understand why we are passionate about our relationship with God. For many of them they really haven’t made a place for God in their lives.

How does that have anything to do with today’s celebration of the Feast of the Dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran? Probably just hearing that title many eyeballs become glazed over. When you compare it to Easter, Christmas, or even Palm Sunday, today’s feast wouldn’t rank too high on many people’s lists (probably a majority of people have never heard of this feast). We wonder how can this relate to our lives? We might think, It’s very nice that this Cathedral basilica in Rome has been there for close to 1,700 years - but for most of us who have never seen it (and may never get over to Rome to see it) other than a historical curiosity, why would we even take time out of Ordinary Time to commemorate this?

But today is more than commemorating the day an old Church in Rome was dedicated. It is remembering a moment where the world, "the mainstream", the culture had, at least for that moment it’s focus shifted in the right way.

That dedication celebrated that for those living in the Roman empire: saying that you were a follower of Jesus Christ no longer meant you were subject to death. The Mass no longer needed to be celebrated in underground tombs or secretly in homes. And most importantly, the empire acknowledged the one true God that Jesus had revealed to humanity – The trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit could now be praised, worshiped and acknowledged by the secular world as the one true God.

Up until then, the Emperor himself was considered a god - which is why the persecution of Christians had been so fierce. But now the Emperor Constantine had converted to Christianity. Many people throughout the Roman empire were hearing the Good News of Jesus openly proclaimed and were converting to it as well. They were no longer "enslaved" or "owned" by the oppression of a Roman emperor "god."

All of this was symbolized in a physical, visible way in the dedication of this Basilica in Rome. Today the Church remains a sign of our unity as Catholic Christians throughout the world and we are to remember that sadly, all these years later this very night there are Christians who are persecuted, who are killed for being a follower of Jesus Christ. This feast inspires hope to them and demands our support and prayers that their persecution will end.

But this feast also opens a more immediate question for us here. Who does our world acknowledge as it’s "god?" Where does our society look to for it’s "god?" MTV is one among many others that compete for that position. Here we live in a nation where at least a quarter of the entire population has been baptized as Roman Catholic Christians; nearly 80% of all Americans claim to be Christian. But honestly, does it really look like our world has heeded the words of St. Paul in today’s second reading and made Jesus Christ our foundation?

It’s true religious bigotry, and condescension towards faith-filled people is far from over (I could write a book about such incidents right here on our campus); at the same time we can rejoice and be thankful that here in the United States we don’t have to be afraid to lose our lives for being Christian. Every day we have an opportunity to bear witness to Jesus Christ by our words and actions. Each week we have an opportunity to come together as the People of God and hear His word and be transformed by His Body and Blood in the Eucharist. That transformation isn’t just for us personally - it is meant to make us the living Church. That’s why we are called "brother’s and sister’s." And those ties extend beyond this room throughout all of the Catholic-Christian world. We are united with the soldiers celebrating Mass tonight in the back of a Jeep in the deserts of Iraq; the persecuted Christians in India and China; as well as our friends in Ramapo and Seton Hall who are celebrating Mass right now too. Which is why today’s feast is bigger than just remembering a building but points to that reality of that living Church. All of us become that temple of God. Will zeal for that house consume us? Or are we too busy singing along with the rest of the nation"I want my MTV?"

"Can you be religious and pro-choice?" No

The following is my column in the weekly Newman Catholic Newsletter. Our E-board officers after reading it suggested that I share this online as well.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Last Sunday I was reading the New York Post and there was a headline in the opinion section that said "He’s no Saint: Pope Pius XII didn’t do enough against the Nazi’s." The headline gives you the gist of the article. The author is arguing that Pope Pius XII could have said or done a great deal more to stand up in face of the Nazi’s murdering of millions of innocent human beings who were targeted by that evil regime all for their diabolical reasons.

The article is in response to those who looked at all that the Pope did during that time and claimed the man is a saint. Those supporting the Pope point out the many, many ways that Pius worked, as our current Pope Benedict XVI puts it, "secretly and silently to avoid the worst and save the greatest number of Jews possible."

While I’m not an expert in this debate, I do know that the Catholic Church wouldn’t canonize someone (declaring a person is a Saint) without incredible scrutiny over all aspects of their lives. So I trust that the Church will discern and investigate Pius’ actions before She would simply name him a saint.

But, the author of the article in framing the debate around Pius XII asked: the story is essentially about how one very powerful man responded to the most pressing moral question of the age. This is not some distant historical dispute among scholars. It is a defining issue that asks... what would you have done?

Not even two hours after I read that article, I happened to read something online that said that on our campus, an organization was sponsoring an informational meeting that asked "Can you be both religious and pro-choice?"

Considering I wasn’t invited to be a part of the discussion, on one level there was a part of me that felt "just ignore it - just let it go." But as your priest, I’m concerned when people try to mislead you or confuse you. I’m frustrated when individuals try to spin their agenda in a particular way to make something that is morally, ethically abhorrent somehow religiously "acceptable."

Since the very first century the Catholic Church has been a clear voice to this pressing moral question: the Church has consistently taught that abortion is a moral evil - it is a grave offense... and in recent years has amplified this teaching in a world that tries to drown out any voices that challenge it’s self-absorbed, self-centered ways.

Those who support abortion have lost the argument in terms of scientific evidence (if a fetus in a mother’s womb is not a human being, what is it? Can a pregnancy result in anything other than a human life? Has a woman ever given birth to a plant?) - so they approach it in different ways. Abortion has moved from being a moral and medical issue to a political issue (which has become a very volatile one).

Now, there are attempts to make it a religious issue. "Can you be both religious and pro-choice," the title to the discussion asks, the short answer - No.

As I said, I wasn’t invited to participate in the discussion on campus, but have been at similar ones in the past. Usually these types of discussions like to confuse the abortion issue by raising questions, questions and more questions. These questions raise other moral evils, all of which are designed to appeal to extreme and emotional examples. "God doesn’t want people to suffer" is the response to those examples- and somehow they argue that while abortion is a bad thing, so is rape, so is incest, so is poverty. They conclude with a seeming shrug of the shoulders that says "until we eliminate those reasons for abortion, we will be left with women who will feel they have to choose abortion." This makes abortion seem like it is not a big issue. Yet, no mention is made that nearly one third of your generation has been killed...

The idea that somehow any religion or religious person would find any moral or ethical justification to supporting the killing of an innocent child in the one place a child should be the most protected, the only "safe space" (if you will) – a mother’s womb is beyond comprehension.

And, it is simply wrong.

The question all of us need to answer, whether we are religious leaders or fellow citizens in a free country: a country that promotes life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness... When we’re asked about the fact that 4,000 innocent babies are murdered each day in abortion clinics, to this pressing, moral issue of our day and age ask yourself– What did you do?

In Christ’s Peace and Love,
Fr. Jim Chern