FOLLOW US TO FOCUS -

Hey everyone!

I hope that you're having a terrific Christmas week. As many of you know, I am the campus minister and director of the Newman Catholic Center here at Montclair State University. Today, I'm leaving with about 30 of our students to attend the FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) Conference in Orlando Florida

If you'd like to follow us there - check out our blog, which will be updated continually from the trip:

http://msunewman.blogspot.com

Thanks and say a prayer for a safe trip for us!
Father Jim

THE SPIRIT OF THANKSGIVING

PLEASE CONSIDER HELPING OUT THE NEWMAN CATHOLIC CENTER WITH OUT CHRISTMAS APPEAL - Read More HERE


So four years ago I was writing some OP-ED pieces for Fox News' website. I had forgotten about this till someone had directed me to this after they had found it on Google.

Happy Thanksgiving!!


What makes America great?

Depending upon your perspective, your experience or your history, the answer to that question will vary. For many nations, greatness is measured by military strength. By this measure, the United States is peerless.

The bravery with which young men and women volunteer to risk their lives in service to our country is a measure of American greatness. Today, we are mindful of those serving so far from their homes and families so that we could enjoy this holiday in peace and security.

Another measure of a nations greatness is it's diversity. Whether you use the term "melting pot" or "salad bowl" to describe it, the variety of races, religions, cultures and nationalities that have made their home in the United States is a characteristic of our nation that is uniquely American. Though there have been some serious lapses throughout our nation's history, America has always strived to offer all the opportunity to live in peace. Today, we have a peaceful nation where Muslims, Christians and Jews can be on a line in a department store or in the same restaurant and not fear the other. This is something of which many people in other nations are rightfully envious.

Some would argue that a nation's greatness comes from things over which they have no control, such as the physical land that nation occupies. For some countries, problems such as poverty or hunger are caused by their location. America is also great in this sense--from rich farmland to busy sea ports, from reserves of natural resources to thriving cities, from the Rocky Mountains to California's beaches.

All of these things make America great, but these are not all that make America great. There is something more, which encompasses all of these and reveals the true greatness of this nation. What makes America great is that it is the greatest experiment of faith ever attempted. Our nation was founded by Christians who were fleeing religious persecution. Our forefathers believed that each person had a soul, and that soul was made and given as a gift by a creator. They knew that the greatest gift in the heart of a soul was the freedom to chose between what is right and wrong.

Our Founders had faith in God, and tried to create a nation where everyone could choose their own way to serve him. Our national songs do not say, "God Save the Queen or King;" we sang "God Bless America." We imprint "In God We Trust" on our institutions; We pledge to be "one nation under God."

Today, there are many who disparage religion's influence on America. They don't want to hear that our leaders believe in God and openly practice their faith. They want to remove traces of religion from public places--whether it's a plaque of the Ten Commandments in a court house, or Christmas carols being sung in a public school. Yet, Thanksgiving isn't about turkey, Pilgrims or football.

Thanksgiving was first proclaimed by President George Washington in 1789 with these words "It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor...[we] recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanks-giving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors Almighty God."

You'd expect to hear this from a member of the clergy. Yet, our first president, in proclaiming Thanksgiving a national holiday, articulated the belief that was in the hearts of the people who had entered into this great faith experiment that is America. When the United States finally became a truly free and independent nation, it must have seemed miraculous. So our forefathers thanked God for their many blessings.

As millions gather with their families this Thanksgiving, our prayer at this meal is obviously one of thanking God, but also a prayer of petition that Americans will be able to rediscover their spiritual selves, and draw strength and comfort from their individual spiritual faiths in the same matter that our Founders did, a faith that guided them in creating this great nation, and has sustained American greatness to this very day.

IS CHRIST OUR KING?

This is my homily for the FEAST OF JESUS CHRIST THE KING - Sunday, November 22, 2009. The readings can be found at http://www.usccb.org/nab/readings/112209.shtml

Thanks as always for reading and your feedback. God Bless, Father Jim

HOMILY:

Are you the King of the Jews - Pilate asks Jesus, and by all appearances, it sure doesn’t seem like it, does it? King’s aren’t usually turned in by their own people to an enemy. You have to be really hated for that to happen. And that’s what’s going on here. The Jews hated the Romans. Hated them for occupying their land. Hated them for making them live under their rule. Hated them for treating them like second class citizens. So they must really hate Jesus to be looking for the Roman authorities to take care of him. Not exactly royal. Not exactly what we imagine a King to be.

We kind of have in our minds what a King should be like. Maybe you’re like me and think of that guy from the movie 300. King Leonidas. The guy becomes king because when he was a kid, he makes a spear and kills this giant wolf. That’s cool right there, isn’t it? I mean, considering what a mess our political scene is, that seems as good a way to pick a leader as any. (Just kidding on that) Years later in the movie, these messengers come from Persia, a larger, more powerful kingdom and they demand the Spartans submit to their king peacefully or that they would be attacked, enslaved and taken over. King Leonidas doesn’t take those threats too kindly - he kicks the messengers down this massive well to their deaths. Then realizing that the Persians probably are going to be ticked off and attack them, King Leonidas leads this band of 300 men to battle against this massive army from Persia. Most (if not all) of the 300 realize that this is certain to end with their deaths - yet the King would never consider surrender. In the end, the Spartans prove to be more difficult to deal with than Persia expected. Even though the 300 would lose their lives the King and his men’s valor and sacrifice inspire the people of Greece to unite against their Persian enemy.

The scene we have of Jesus Christ our King in this Gospel is the complete opposite. There’s no one in sight coming to Jesus’ rescue. In fairness Jesus had told Peter in the Gospel just a few passages before to put away his sword. So what could be done? We’ve heard this story before, so we know what’s going to happen next. Pilate would ignore the truth of Jesus’ innocence. Instead compromising the truth so as not to hear the angry hateful voices that were shouting “CRUCIFY HIM” turn on Pilate himself. So the embodiment of truth, Jesus Christ, the Son of God ends up nailed to a tree.

If that were the end of the story, it would be ridiculous to look to Jesus as a King. We know that Jesus is King because we know that Jesus’ story didn’t end on the cross or in the grave. We know that Jesus rose from the dead, ascended to God’s right hand in the heavenly kingdom and that He remains with us in this His Word and in His Body and Blood which he gives us to eat in the Eucharistic Bread and wine

On the Feast of Christ the King, you would think we’d read something from the Gospels about those realities of our faith rather than this scene that we just heard focusing on Jesus’ trial. I doubt the directors of 300 would pick this scene to celebrate Christ the King.

So what’s the Church thinking? I think it’s meant to remind us that this feast isn’t just about that fact that Christ is our King because he has destroyed Sin and Death in his crucifixion and resurrection. It is meant to point out that this world still seems to want to fight our king. This world continues to question his authority. This world continues to put Jesus on trial. This world has always and will always reject Jesus Christ as it’s King.

Jesus’ radical call of selfless, sacrificial love isn’t popular in this world of ours. To follow this King means being obedient rather than seek power. It means putting others first rather than trying to be first. It means trying to live our lives with that same radical, selfless and sacrificial love that He had.

It sounds good, so why does it still elude us? Because people of this world still feel the effects of original sin – We go right back to the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve. The sin of Adam and Eve wasn’t simply about eating a piece of fruit as much as it was self-centeredness. By doing the complete opposite of what God asked them to do, by buying into the lie of the serpent, they basically asked - Who need God when we can be god’s ourselves?

So the trial of Jesus, the interrogation by Pilate resonates thousands of years later. We are asked point blank, is Jesus our King? Or are we stuck with Adam, Eve and many of those who live focused on this world who still try to be gods themselves, living by their own rules, making their own definitions of things, rejecting Jesus and His Gospel.

To be a follower might not seem as dramatic as following King Leonidas to the battlefields against the mighty Persians, but make no mistake, our King is calling us to battle each and every day in small but meaningful and eternally important ways -

Do we cheat in that class?
Do we sleep with that girl or that guy?
Do we take that drug?
Do we make fun of that classmate, roommate or colleague?
Do we forget about that relative who’s suffering because we have stuff to do too?
Do we refrain from telling someone that something’s wrong because we don’t want to deal with the hassle of testifying to the truth?

“Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus has already answered that in his death and resurrection. Is Jesus really our King? The choices we make, the lives we live gives testimony to where our allegiance ultimately lies.

HELP ! CHRISTMAS APPEAL!!!!


-- Homily for this past Sunday November 15 follows this note...

Dear Friends of Newman:

Have you ever felt like you’re living in an alternate universe? Spending some time with us here at the Newman Center you might begin to wonder. In an expanding secular world that seems to question the validity of religion’s place... In a culture that seems to be encouraging everyone, especially young people to “Eat, Drink and be Merry for tomorrow we die,” you would be encouraged and inspired to witness what is happening here at the Newman Catholic Center here at Montclair State University.

Our Sunday Night Mass continues to be the most important thing we do as the Catholic Campus Ministry here at MSU and is becoming a fixture on the campus as the number of students continues to increase. Visitors joining us often comment how beautiful and uplifting our liturgies are - and especially how the “students are filled with Joy.” But our activity doesn’t end there. The number of students coming to daily Mass has tripled since last year. Eucharistic Adoration is offered weekly as more and more students want to spend time with Jesus present in the Blessed Sacrament. In fact, between all the spiritual activities, community service opportunities offered on a weekly basis, and the usual number of social events - there’s usually several things going on every day of the semester.

In addition, this semester we have been blessed with 5 missionaries from FOCUS - the Fellowship of Catholic University Students. These selfless young men and women are recent college graduates, who sacrifice two to three years of their lives to Jesus and His Church by ministering to their peers. The missionaries have added so much in such a short period of time. They presently conduct ten bible studies per week; hold monthly Men’s and Women’s Evenings focusing on living chaste, soberly and pursuing excellence in academics and life (as Jesus came that we might “have life and have it more abundantly” - John 10:10) They are challenging their brothers and sisters to realize how they are “Made for More” than what the world shortchanges them as.

There’s so many wonderful things happening here, that it might feel like an alternate universe, but we are very much apart of this world. So I know that this is a difficult economy for many people, but I am confident that I can turn to you - our parents, friends and supporters - will help us continue to do the good work God is directing us to do here for His children. With the increase of students, and programming, our needs continue to increase for supplies and financial resources. Whether it’s something as trivial (but important!) as food for an event or paying a registration fee for a student unable to afford attending FOCUS national conference this December in Florida, we have had to dip into our savings to meet these challenges. I am hoping that this Christmas Season we will be able to raise $10,000 so that we can continue to build on all the good we have started as well as purchase much needed furniture for our new community room (our basement – which was renovated through your generosity this past summer).

Thank you for all of your support and your prayers for us. We remember you often in our prayers, especially when we look around the house and see what has been accomplished through your generosity. May God’s saving Love which we celebrate with the Birth of Jesus Christ at Christmas, shine brightly upon you and your loved ones at this special season of faith.
In Christ’s Peace and Love -



Father Jim Chern,
Chaplain & Director

Please send all donations to: NEWMAN CATHOLIC CENTER; 894 Valley Road; Upper Montclair, NJ 07043

EVERYDAY SERVANTS

Hi everyone - here’s my homily for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 18, 2009. We’ve had a “lock-in” here at Montclair State over the weekend, which is basically an overnight retreat. So this Sunday night Mass is kind of the close to that retreat (hence the more “local” examples) - but perhaps these examples will help trigger local examples for you as well.

The readings can be found at http://www.usccb.org/nab/readings/101809.shtml

God Bless - Father Jim

HOMILY:

So it’s 12:30 on Thursday night. Or more accurately Friday morning. I’ve been working on this homily most of the week – prayed with this gospel trying to listen to what Jesus is speaking to me through the readings. A variety of ideas and thoughts come to mind on what direction to go. Nothing seems to work.

I just deleted another Word Perfect document draft of my homily (Yeah, I use Word Perfect and I’m proud of it), when Matt Higgins (our recent college graduate who’s a campus minister here with me) stops by. He wanted to talk about this weekend’s Lock-in (a mini-overnight retreat we have on campus). He had a couple of questions about some of the retreat talks. Final counts for the weekend - questions about supplies and other details... He leaves and I’m thinking to myself, it’s Thursday night - Matt’s 23 years old. Yet he’s been working hours upon hours on this Lock-in for weeks with our lock-in team. This is one thing among a variety of other things that people don’t even know about or realize that Matt does. He’s a smart, good guy... could be doing anything - yet here he is, investing his time and energy, selflessly giving them...

As he leaves, I can still hear people downstairs (remember it’s after midnight) It’s one of our 5 FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) Missionaries. Now those of you who know them or met them in the last 7 weeks or so, probably realize what awesome people they are. They’re recent college graduates. Smart, diverse, gifted people. Even with this terrible economy and high unemployment, all 5 of them could be employed - without a doubt. They’re hardworking. They’re intelligent. Yet, here it is after midnight and one of them is still working (and laughing with their helpers) as they stuff envelopes – writing to people and asking for their financial support so that they can pay their rent, get gas for their cars, take care of all their bills as they work here, serving YOU. Come to think of it, I’ve seen that all week. In between doing their multiple Bible studies, meetings to try to make sure as many of you who want to go to the conference over Christmas break can go – sitting and spending time with students, after ALL OF THAT, our missionaries have been working - whether it was later on Friday evening last week, or various hours they found during the week in between meetings, etc, all of them doing the same appeal letters to people. They’re doing all of this; they are here, putting their lives, careers on hold; sacrificing their comfort and all; AND doing fundraising appeals- for the privilege of being able to minister to you (and yes, it is a privilege).

And while we’re at it - we can’t forget Mary our Office Manager and Pastoral Associate. She’s a highly intelligent, gifted women who’s been successful in the world, worked in the garment industry, has her own family- and she’s here.... Look (or listen) to Bruce our Music Director, he too has his own family. The guy’s so talented and joyful as a musician - he could be working anywhere and he’s here - every Sunday night for this his third year.

Me, well, the Archbishop sent me, I didn’t have a choice. Just kidding - you know (or I hope you know) how much I love you guys and love being here.

Yes it’s 12:45 in the morning on Friday and all of this is dawning on me. It’s so obvious, that I take it for granted. We can take it for granted - not only how blessed we are. But even more, the living witnesses we have to what Jesus is talking about in today’s Gospel.

Because when we hear and read this Gospel where Jesus says, “Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all” - it’s a little unfathomable. It becomes a nice pious sentiment. It’s a beautiful ideal that the Gospel presents that we hear every so often - but it’s not really real to us. Maybe - we will call to mind Mother Teresa as an example of someone who did that and while that’s an accurate one, she cannot be the only one - and she’s not. Which is why it’s good for us to take a moment to look around. Not in an awards-style ceremony where we acknowledge achievement, but in a more personal, loving way at our own everyday examples.

Simply for us to take a moment and recognize – living the Gospel, right here, right now is possible. Is it difficult? Absolutely. But it’s also life-giving; life altering; radical; and utterly amazing as we see what is possible when we allow Jesus to take the wheel, as we put aside our wants and desires, as we in a sense learn and practice what true love is - something that seems more and more foreign, rare, unknown to people in this day and age.

That’s why as we keep reading this Gospel of Mark, something sticks out. It’s more and more obvious that the apostles haven’t a clue what Jesus is talking about. Sure they’ve been with him for years by this point. More than a couple of times, they have heard him predict his passion and death. More than a couple of times they’ve heard him explain what “greatness” in the kingdom of God means.

None of it will make sense though until the Cross. As Jesus dies on that cross, pours out his entire life for humanity - then everything will click for them. No, just as he had been saying over and over, Jesus will not be conquering the Romans with armies of people raising arms against one another in a war-time battle. Jesus’ battle will be won one heart at a time. And the first ones that will finally be conquered are those of the apostles who will be able to start living the life that Jesus has called them to. Some better at it than others, but at least trying each day to get up, hear his voice and respond...

And it’s been the same ever since. People still try to do the same thing each day. So when we look around us here, no these people are not saints ... They’re just like you guys. They are people, who are Catholic Christians. Some went to Catholic School. Some had awful CCD classes. Some have really devout Catholic Families. Some have families who haven’t a clue why they are doing what they are doing. All of them could be doing better (financially, at least, and in other ways the world deems important) than they are doing by being here - as a part of the Newman Catholic Campus Ministry here at Montclair State University.

Yet they happily, joyfully serve here. Why? Because the voice of Jesus in today’s Gospel resonates in their hearts and souls — whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first must be the slave of all.

Where are you in that line? How is Jesus calling you?

What pops into your head, that you immediately shake your head about and say, “Nah - I could never do that for Christ, for others - that’s a crazy thought”? Is it a call to be a priest or a religious? Is it some career of service that may not be as financially successful or significant in stature to the world, but the thought of it brings joy to your heart in a way that nothing else does? Maybe it’s just an invitation to grow closer to Jesus and one another right here, right now in a smaller but meaningful way - community service, bible studies... How is Jesus trying to conquer your heart so that you can help him win over someone else’s? How can you become a servant to all? It may be crazy, at least in the view of the world, but, done lovingly, with God, all things are possible.

WHAT MORE DO YOU WANT

Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 11, 2009. The readings can be found at http://www.usccb.org/nab/readings/101109.shtml. Thanks for reading and all of your feedback! Fr. Jim

What more do you want????

You ever feel like saying that?

Maybe it’s to the professor who seems to pile more homework on top of already assigned papers with exams looming in the not too distant future - forgetting that you have four other classes...

Maybe it’s to your boss who isn’t so much as “suggesting” as much as “expecting” that you’ll work more - (perhaps without even getting the money or recognition you deserve for the extra work)

Maybe it’s to family members who put whatever ethnicity-you’re-from guilt on you for a variety of reasons (we Italians think we’ve got this market cornered. We might have perfected the guilt factor, but I have to say, I’ve seen other nationalities do pretty well in this realm).

We all seem, at one point or another, to get exasperated or stressed or pushed to a breaking point. We feel we’ve done all we could - we don’t have another ounce to give and if someone (anyone) comes forward with one more request, suggestion or demand we’re going to snap and say “WHAT MORE DO YOU WANT?”

In reading this Gospel passage I sense that this young man, and even the apostles, are in a similar position. They might be acting respectful by not saying it, but you can almost read their minds - they’re almost at the breaking point and they want to say “WHAT MORE DO YOU WANT, JESUS?”

This rich man approaches Jesus with a question of eternal importance: What must I do for eternal life? Because he’s a wealthy individual, it seems that he’s a practical, successful type of individual. Perhaps he’s a businessman - “Jesus I’d like to confirm my reservation for eternity? Deluxe suite please. If we review my record, I’d like to make sure everything’s covered. As you know, I haven’t killed anyone... no adultery, either – looks good, huh? Maybe I can get a penthouse in this eternal kingdom you keep talking about....”

Jesus, lovingly looks at the rich man and says, “Yeah, you’re doing the right things, but maybe not entirely for the right reasons. You want the deluxe room? You want eternal life? You can experience it all right now... Sell all your riches and come follow me.”

The guy leaves.

It’s almost as if he’s saying “I could have killed a couple of people or committed some other sins that seemed kind of attractive at the time, and I didn’t... WHAT MORE DO YOU WANT???”

And, interestingly, the Apostles seem a bit perplexed as well. Confused probably because they had mistakenly seen wealth and abundance as signs of God “taking care of someone.” So here they were. They had left all they had behind. Fishing careers, government jobs, maybe not the most exhilarating things in our minds, but hey, they liked their jobs, they paid the bills, they took care of things. So they had left all of those things, and now they hear Jesus tell this wealthy guy – maybe the richest person they’ve seen in a long time – to give all that up and follow Jesus. To join the rest of this materially poor group.

Maybe Peter was getting a bit frustrated with the lack of accommodations, security, wealth, power or prestige that those in authority are used to. Instead, Peter and the crew are basically waiting for the next miracle for their next meal. And so he kind of barks out - We have given up everything and followed you – or - What more do you want?

For the rich man, the apostles, for you and I - eternal life, being a disciple, following Jesus - it’s not only about doing all the right things, avoiding the wrong things (or hoping that God didn’t see it when we screwed up)

We follow the commandments that God gave us because we recognize the goodness of them. That they are (as the popular Protestant preacher Dr. Robert Schuller once said) commands meant for our happiness. And when we follow them - we start to see how they are designed to get us in touch with the Father’s heart. Breaking the commandments isn't about breaking the Father’s law as much as it's about His heart.

When we follow them, they bring us closer to God. And what Jesus sees in the young man and the apostles is people who DO see the goodness of the commandments - the rightness in walking in the light - and that they follow them, and they struggle, and they try and they fail and they pick themselves up again and try and they keep going.

Jesus looks at that with Love. He looks at us with Love He’s trying to help us by giving us the key. Why do we struggle? Why do we fall? Why do we make the wrong choices when we know what is right? Why does temptation still wreak havoc in our lives when we know that when we choose not to go down those paths God has laid out for us, they are designed to do just that, wreak havoc?

Because we’re still not detached enough from the things of this world. Jesus is saying “Rich guy - you want the joy that comes from being a righteous man - you must drop that gold that you're clinging to in your hand in order to grab my hand”

For Peter and the apostles he’s saying - “Look guys, you must drop these ideas in your heads that following the Messiah is going to lead to some powerful reign where you are going to be “taken care of” in the possessions and positions the world deems as signs of greatness... the reality is you’re already being taken care of.”

He’s asking us what is it that’s holding us back? Am I rich in popularity, in friendships? Or am I rich in gifts and talents? Maybe I'm a person of considerable intellect and smarts? Instead of asking God “What more do you want” the proper question we need to ask is Do we want any of those things more than what Jesus wants for us, namely to experience eternal life now? Do we want these riches, or do we want Jesus Himself?

MARRIAGE WITHOUT LOOPHOLES


MARRIAGE WITHOUT LOOPHOLES....

Hi everyone. Thanks for checking out my blog and reading my Sunday Homily. I’m grateful for your feedback and reactions. Here’s my homily for the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 4, 2009. The readings can be found at http://www.usccb.org/nab/readings/100409.shtml. The Gospel is Mark 10: 2-12:

The Pharisees approached Jesus and asked,
"Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?"
They were testing him.
He said to them in reply, "What did Moses command you?"
They replied,
"Moses permitted a husband to write a bill of divorce
and dismiss her."
But Jesus told them,
"Because of the hardness of your hearts
he wrote you this commandment.
But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female.
For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother
and be joined to his wife,
and the two shall become one flesh.
So they are no longer two but one flesh.
Therefore what God has joined together,
no human being must separate."
In the house the disciples again questioned Jesus about this.
He said to them,
"Whoever divorces his wife and marries another
commits adultery against her;
and if she divorces her husband and marries another,
she commits adultery."


HOMILY:

A gospel that’s asking for a homily on marriage here in USA in 2009 - there’s nothing controversial there, huh? I would imagine that for a lot of people hearing this Gospel, there’s a great temptation to shut down or tune it out or explain it away or look for some loophole...(even as a priest, maybe I can just talk about the second reading this week)

After all, statistics tell us that all of us know people, (or are people) who’ve experienced divorce. We hear how Politicians are becoming very bold in saying that they will change the definition of marriage from what has been understood as one thing for thousands upon thousands of years to what present day society claims to be a more enlightened understanding of marriage being simply about people loving one another. (Particularly here in New Jersey, politicians boast that, no matter what the results of the election, they plan on passing “Gay marriage” in the lame duck session after the election) If you take a look at all the prime time television shows - almost every night there’s something in prime-time that tries to legitimize or normalize divorce, out of wedlock relationships (that are usually sexual) and gay marriage.

Society seems to keep telling us that things have changed and that religion needs to get with the times. If you should happen to disagree or question any of these things that society has accepted, well then you’re conservative or you’re closed minded o r worst of all you’re being hateful.

So we’re bombarded with these realities in our world and hear this Gospel and what do we think? Jesus must have been misquoted? Or, maybe Jesus didn’t really mean what he said ? There are some who will argue those theories. In fact I know of a few ministers who will work REALLY REALLY hard on this theory and confuse the issue (and their people) by asking questions upon questions that are designed just to muddy and confuse things just enough so that their people aren’t sure. They provide just enough cover for people to claim ignorance since, they can argue “we’re not biblical experts,” and because these ministers are saying things that will make religion a bit more acceptable to the world around us with it’s ever changing realities, some buy into what they’re teaching...( In this instance, it is those ministers who are the ones who are ignorant, but that’s for another time, another place)

The notion of marriage being a s acred bond between a man and a woman who become a husband and wife for life is treated more and more as a novelty or a relic of a former era.

The thing that is striking in reading this Gospel is how little things have changed in 2,000 years. Sure we have evolved over a couple of millennium with twitter and you-tube and all now. But if you look at what the Pharisees are saying and doing here - they’re simply looking for a loophole. Jesus is asked this religious question “Is it okay for a man to divorce his wife?” The fact that the Pharisees asked the question tells me that they already knew it was wrong. Have you ever noticed that no one ever asks “Hey Jesus is it okay to give a starving person some food?” People seem to know on some level instinctually what is right and what is wrong. So they knew on some level that there was something wrong about divorce.

But they also knew it was a controversial issue that divided people Heck, it had been since Moses was around. Moses in fact got to the point that he couldn’t deal with the c onstant whining and complaining and arguing by the people over this issue. At the same time, Moses was worried about all the abuses that were being done and how women were being treated like property. Yes, he saw that sin had deeply wounded an institution that God had created. God gave this gift of marriage so that when a man and a woman come together in this committed relationship, sacrifice their individual selves for the other and live that commitment for the rest of their lives - that would enable them to participate in the divine act of creating new life. Thousands of years ago, people struggled, some failed and some more (a vocal group to be sure) looked for a loophole and so Moses relented and relaxed God’s mandate.

Yes, Moses allowed divorce because he couldn’t speak to his people’s hearts or change them. Moses was a great man, but even he knew he couldn’t do that. No God himself would have to do that. Enter Jesus. That is Jesus’ mission - to change hearts, to reclaim them to what they were originally designed and created for. To make us stop looking at God’s commandments and rules and laws as things that inhibit who we are or what we want to do (and looking for ways to do that without getting him angry at us) and=2 0instead realize that God’s law, God’s commandments are designed to give us the instructions on how to make God’s heart our own.

This isn’t about bashing people who’ve suffered through divorce or have made bad choices or struggle with different sinful temptations. It’s about recognizing the pain of those things and trying to help others not go down those same roads. We do that by revering God’s law, not by redefining it or making clauses, exemptions. Misery doesn’t love company, it just brings together more and more miserable people.

A few weeks ago, I was attending a Mass for the installation of a new pastor. Before Mass began, this middle-aged woman came in to ask the Bishop to do a blessing for her parents who were celebrating their anniversary that night. I must admit, knowing how long these Installation Masses can be, coupled by the fact that I wasn’t sure where I parked in Hoboken was a great location and all - well, I wasn’t exactly overjoyed or excited that Mass was going to go even longer.

After communion, the Bishop invited the couple up, and these two older people started to walk up the aisle. Holding their hands - already with tears in their eyes. They got to the foot of the altar and the Bishop asked them how many years they were married, and the wife responded 60 years. And then when he asked them, where did they get married and she said right here - I don’t think there was a dry eye in the Church.

I watched them and how they couldn’t even really look at each other. But that they, very lovingly kept holding and rubbing each other’s hands. What had they lived through? What struggles, which seemed insurmountable at times, had they conquered? What joys and moments of pride, what sleepless nights of worry had they had over their children? What twists and turns, ups and downs did they encounter? How often did they think “THAT’S IT - I CAN’T DO THIS ANYMORE” - and yet found the grace from God to give them the strength to try and return to that commitment they had made. I have no idea - I don’t even remember their names - I don’t know their story. But I know that I witnessed something radically sacred. I know that those were two people who weren’t perfect - but kept trying, 60 years and counting, to live those radical, life altering vows.

I wonder what they think today... They probably don’t even watch or know of the top rated shows that lampoon and mock their commitment and label it as cute nostalgia (their probably too busy chasing after their 15 grandchildren and 3 great grandchildren) I bet For them, there’s nothing controversial about marriage - as the simply live everyday of their lives bearing witness to the beauty of God’s truth. Yeah, I bet they’re glad they’re weren’t any loopholes.

9/11

Newman Catholic Center
Mass of Remembrance and Hope for the September 11th Attacks
Friday - September 11th, 2009

Fr. Jim Chern

HOMILY:
Something we need to remember today as we struggle with the painful remembrance of the terror attacks of September 11th, is that the goal of Evil’s is to turn us away from God - Evil wishes to change us and make our perspectives, our responses, our relationships far from being Loving.
In the days and weeks after September 11 2001 - people had various and different responses. For me, one of the hardest aspects was participating in two funeral masses for two cousins who worked together at EuroBankers. Brett Bailey and Bobby Coll, were 28 and 35 years old. Brett was engaged to be married in the summer of 2002 and Bobby had been married to Brett’s sister Jennifer for 6 years with two children, one who I think we’re 4 and 1 years old. To say it was heartbreaking is almost pathetic in description.
In those days, the notion of forgiveness became as foreign as this new reality, new world we seemed to be entering in. It’s amazing last night watching different specials on today - this morning watching the pictures, remembering the moment by moment events – reliving some of that history - forgiveness is still something that’s still difficult. As human beings, we find it easy to talk about forgiveness in a general way - like an ideal that we aspire to, a goal we wish to achieve. But when it’s personal, it’s a different story altogether.
So for us here today we are once again uncomfortably confronted by the question Could we forgive those responsible for September 11th?
Even I, who didn’t lose someone I love that day - who didn’t work down at the World Trade Center site in the midst of that horror – I struggle with that. I’m embarrassed to share that - that my faith isn’t stronger - that I can’t say, even eight years later that I truly forgive those who did those horrible things.
But then I recognized part of the problem that I have, and I think many people have with forgiveness is that we think it’s an all-or-nothing proposition. That either you forgive someone totally and completely right at this second or you don’t.
Maybe forgiveness is something best achieved gradually, sincerely. And maybe that starts by our recognizing our own need to forgive and being open to or having the desire to one day achieve that.
A year after the 9/11 attacks, Lisa Beamer, the widow of Todd Beamer whose story of bravery on the United Airlines Flight 93 which crashed in Pennsylvania is summed up in the words “Let’s Roll” had an interview with Reuters. And what shocked many people was that she said that some day she may be able to forgive the September 11 hijackers responsible for the deaths of her husband, Todd, and the 39 other passengers and crew members who were killed on that plane. She explained it saying: "Forgiveness is a process. It's not something where all of a sudden you wake up one day and say: 'OK, I forgive them.' You need time. You need perspective and growth. It's too early to say definitively that I have forgiven them.”
The newspaper article made a point of identifying Beamer as an “evangelical Christian” – which struck me as odd at first, but something that I was comfortable with some reflection. Because that’s what we as Christians are called to.
We are called to Forgive as we have been forgiven, we are called to Love as we have been loved. That’s rarely easy, rarely simple and rarely achieved perfectly. But it’s as much for the world around us as it is for each of us.
Whether any of those responsible for these atrocious attacks cares whether we struggle with forgiving them and actually achieve that forgiveness or not isn’t so important. What’s important is the change that comes from our giving the forgiveness. As Beamer continues through her own process of being able to forgive, she in a sense is a role model for us as Christians struggling with this question and makes an important point as she said:
"...it's something that over the course of time I feel confident will be resolved," and then she added. "I can say I don't hold a lot of bitterness or anger. Those things would be detrimental to me and my family, and the terrorists have certainly taken enough from us. I'm not going to let them take any more."

I WONDER WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT


Here’s my homily for September 6, 2009 - the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time. The readings for today’s Mass can be found at http://www.usccb.org/nab/readings/090609.shtml. Thanks for reading and your feedback. God Bless - Fr Jim

I wonder what happened next.... Don’t you? I mean, one moment the guy is deaf and unable to communicate. Jesus spits and touches this guy and he is forever changed. Well at least in the realms of speech and hearing he was forever changed. What did he do with the gift though?
Because no doubt he had wanted this,
longed for this,
dreamed this day would happen

Wondering – what would it be like to hear - to speak. Was he so dumbfounded, so overwhelmed that he couldn’t speak? I doubt I could imagine the excitement – trying to conceive of it, I picture him screaming, jumping up and down in excitement like if I witnessed Yankees just won the World Series AND realized I had just won a Mega-Millions Lotto worth $330 million. Truth be told, he was probably even more excited about this miraculous healing than one would be over those material things.
Imagine it - after this encounter with Jesus - I can hear - I can speak. That’s what sound sounds like. That’s what you sound like... This is amazing! THANK GOD!
But I wonder what happened next.

Did he say to friends the next day “It’s so great, I can hear, I can speak...but it’s weird, I couldn’t sleep last night because I could HEAR everything. But that’s okay, I’m not complaining - even though I’m a bit tired...” Or “Did you see that camel skin jacket that guy was wearing? I might not have been able to hear or talk, but my sight is great and I’ve seen a lot of camel skin jackets and that was the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen!”
Did he hear when popular opinion turned against Jesus. Words that were lies. Words of betrayal. Did he say anything?

I wonder....

The thing is we don’t know. All we know is that this dramatic healing happened. All we know is that Jesus wanted to reach out and reveal to this man in this very personal, very intimate way. He wanted to say to him:
Do you know how much God loves you?
Do you know how much God thinks of you?
Do you know how much God dreams of your perfect joy and fulfillment?
Do you know how much God wants you to be made whole?

Because that’s what this miraculous encounter is all about. And Jesus says words that penetrate his heart and soul. He says to him, “Just so you do know - ‘ EPHATHATHA! BE OPEN’!” That’s the message Jesus was trying to send to the deaf and mute man. He wasn’t trying to simply do some presto-changeo magic act. He wanted Him to know - truly know how much God loves him. Him personally.
And not just him - but all of us. He loves us, thinks of us, dreams of our joy and fulfillment, wants us to be made whole. That’s why Jesus came. That’s why he still comes to us. Which is why those words EPHATHATA BE OPEN are recorded and remembered. As we hear his word proclaimed. As his Body and Blood are made really present in the Eucharist and given to us - Jesus calls to us to Be Open.
To Be Open to His vision for life
To Be Open to His call to radical love
To Be Open to His individual dream for each of us
To Be Open and realize what an incredible, unimaginable gift this is that the creator of the entire universe cares this much about you and me.

While our hearing and speech might be fine... the reality is often times we are deaf and we are muted. We can’t help but get caught up in the noise of the world streaming through our ipods drowning out those essential words. We don’t share those life-changing words out of fear (I don’t want to sound too religious or something...) Heck, if you’re lucky like me, you don’t have an ipod - you have an iphone, which makes it even easier to drown out that voice of Christ with even more distractions (how many apps do you have???) As we put our ear buds in and hum along to the noise that ultimately is unsatisfying, unrelenting and leads us to loneliness, confusion and despair. (It sounds catchy at first...but)

But we’re here. Which is a great thing. And Jesus’s word and his presence here tonight is meant to shake us up a bit. Not simply to look for a miracle – “Jesus, straight A’s this semester would be sweet...” (For some that would be quite the miracle) But to look beyond the miracle and hear that voice calling us to truly hear his Voice – that miraculous touch that makes us able to sing his praises.

Imagine, a paraphrase of this Gospel. St. Mark recounting what he witnessed: Jesus went by way of Montclair State University’s Student Center and met you - someone who was deaf and unable to speak. He took his finger into your ears, and spitting (I know, it sounds gross, but it is Jesus - so it’s heavenly saliva) touched your tongue and said “BE OPEN” - Be open to hear my word proclaimed... Be open to receive my Body and Blood. Be open to the people I’ve sent to share my life and my presence through them...

I wonder what will happen next...

YOU'RE IN THE RIGHT PLACE - JUST LOOKING FOR THE WRONG THING

Hi everyone - thanks for checking out my weekly homily... Last week, for the month of July, the stat counter for this blog recorded the greatest number of hits in the two years I’ve been posting my homilies up here, so I appreciate all of you taking the time to read what the Holy Spirit has helped direct me to write.

Here’s my homily for the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 2, 2009. The readings can be found at http://www.usccb.org/nab/readings/080209.shtml - Thanks as always for reading - Fr Jim


Ash Wednesday can be a difficult day to be a priest. There’s additional Masses, lots of people coming out to them (for some this might be one of a few times that they come to Church all year). That’s not t he problem. On a lot of levels, those can be good things, good opportunities to reach out to people. Because no matter where people are in their faith lives or journeys, it’s wonderful to see so many people coming out to begin the Holy Season of Lent.

What can make it a difficult day to be a priest is that some seem to miss the significance of the day. Some might be confused over what the symbols mean, or not really know why we are doing what we are doing. For example, about six years ago, we were celebrating the fifth (and final) Mass of the day for Ash Wednesday. The Church was packed again as it had been at all the other Masses of the day. We had given Ashes out during the Mass, right after the homily, (where the Church directs us to distribute them...) And we had continued with the rest of Mass as usual. We were distributing communion, and as normal, I was saying “The Body of Christ” to each person as they were coming up and getting the typical response “AMEN” person after person. One guy who had come to Mass late came up to communion and when I said “The Body of Christ” he looked at me and said “Oh, I don’t want that, I want ashes Father...”

Was I aggravated - oh yeah... there was a part of me that was losing my mind at that moment and wanted to snap at him. Wanted to say “You’d rather have a piece of dirt on your forehead to remind you that you are going to die and that without God all that you would be is a pile of dust, of ashes, rather than receive the one thing that saves us from that cruel fate, the actual body and blood of the Risen Jesus Christ given to us under the appearance of this simple piece of bread and wine?”
Something like that... But fortunately the Holy Spirit sat on my tongue a bit and I very calmly said, “Could you wait till after Mass and I’ll get the ashes for you?” He said okay, and walked away - not even looking to receive communion.

That whole episode has always stayed with me. I don’t want to pick on the guy or anything - I’m sure there’s a whole litany of reasons this guy might have wanted the ashes - they may have really meant a lot to him. And obviously his experience or his education or both about what the Eucharist is was deficient.

The thing was, he was in the right place, looking for the wrong thing.

That’s what’s happening in the Gospel today, too. Today’s Gospel picks up from last week (and we’re going to hear from this section of John during the next three weeks as well). Last week, just a reminder, Jesus does this tremendous miracle - the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. Thousands of people are fed from five loaves and two fi sh. Such a miracle got the people more than a bit curious. They had seen it, experienced it themselves. So they come looking for Jesus. He had disappeared - gotten to the other side of the lake without them noticing it... some of the boats had still remained on the other side of the lake.

“Hey Jesus, how’d you get here?” they ask, “ Did you walk on water, ha ha ha?” (Actually, he did, we just don’t hear that part of the Gospel). Jesus doesn’t snap at them for that question or for the fact that the real reason they want to be with him was they were hungry again. It was the next day. And like those dinner guests who never want to leave, they’re wondering now, “Hey, what’s for breakfast - we only have one box of cheerios and a little bit of milk! What can you do now?”

They have temporal needs, which at that moment are important to them. And Jesus uses this as an opportunity not to rebuke them, but to challenge them to go deeper. Saying, maybe you haven’t thought about it because right now you’re physically hungry and your stomaches are empty but - what spiritual hungers are you experiencing? How is your heart and h ow is your soul feeling empty? Because, sure, miraculously I was able to do something pretty cool and feed you’re physical hunger. Would you like to have those other hungers and thirsts and emptinesses filled, too?

And more than likely, many of us find ourselves in a similar situation. Maybe we’re here at Mass because we’re dealing with some major issue in our lives. Someone is sick, someone has died, someone is unemployed. And we’re fearful or angry or afraid. And it’s a good thing to come and bring that to Jesus. Or maybe we’re here because it’s our routine - we have this Sunday Obligation we need to fulfill and we don’t want to be like that Ash Wednesday guy that that priest was talking about at Mass.

Jesus gives us this Gospel to speak to us today too. Knowing the many things that are on our minds and hearts, we can forget what is given to us each week in receiving His Word and His Body and Blood. He turns to us though and doesn’t criticize us for looking for the wrong things, he’s simply happy we’re in the right place. He’s probing our hearts and souls20to go deeper... asking us, rather than simply a quick fix to the problems that are afflicting you today wouldn't you like something that will feed you and sustain you for all eternity?

JESUS' PERFECT GAME

Hi everyone! Happy Sunday! Here’s my homily for the SEVENTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - July 26, 2009 - (the readings can be found at http://www.usccb.org/nab/readings/072609.shtml )Thanks as always for reading. Hope you’re having a wonderful summer! Fr. Jim

HOMILY:

Aside from when the Yankees beat them, or the Red Sox lose to them, I rarely pay any attention to or have any real interest in the Chicago White Sox. But this week, every baseball fan, even casual sports fans heard about an amazing feat, one of the rarest of sports phenomenons occurring at Comiskey Park in Chicago. Mark Buerhle pitched what is called a perfect game - which basically means - 27 opposing players came up to bat, and all 27 never got further than that. There was no walks, no hits, nada.

This is considered one of the rarest of accomplishments in all of sports. There have only been 18 pitchers who’ve thrown perfect games since the late 1800's. For the Yankees, many will remember Don Larsen throwing a Perfect Game (with Yogi Bera catching) during the World series in 1956; and in recent years, David Wells threw one in 1998; and very bizarrely, David Cone would throw one a year later for the Yankees (on Yogi Bera Day with Don Larsen throwing out the first pitch no less! A game I passed on the opportunity to go to because it was my Mom’s birthday... ah the love we have for Mom!) I remember two years later watching Mike Mussina getting to the 27th pitcher in Fenway Park (against the hated Red Sox) and being one strike away from also throwing a perfect game when Carl Everett hit a single (just another reason to hate the Red Sox).

Up until this past week, the last time a Perfect Game happened was 5 years ago. So that’s why, when they do occur, people make a big deal about it – there’s so much attention paid to it. And while, the pitcher has to pitch PHENOMENAL baseball, part of the greatness of this achievement, of this “perfection,” comes from the entire team playing PHENOMENAL baseball as well. Everything has to go right. The rest of the team needs to be completely “on their game.” One bumble of a ball could ruin the whole thing. I remember how members of the Yankees, when interviewed after the game, said how they started to realize that something special was going on in around the 4th or 5th inning, and then they grew more and more anxious themselves as each batter came up to the plate and sat back down, not thinking so much about simply winning the game, but keeping it “perfect.”

For Mark Buerhle, the most recent member of the perfect club, not to take away from his moment of history, but even he knows that if it were not for Dewayne Wise, and the absolutely incredible play he made in the outfield - where he seemed to leap up against the wall and grab a ball that had been slammed into the right field by Tampa Bay Devil Ray (I know it’s the Rays, not the Devil Rays, just like to smack them a bit) - Gabe Kapler at the top of the 9th inning, this game could have been simply a moment on the highlight reel of sports news for the week about “what almost happened,” rather then the international headline news this became. I knew I had to get there," Wise said. "I told myself, 'Whatever it takes, if I have to run through the wall to try and catch the ball, I had to do it.' It hung up there long enough to give me a chance to get back there and make the catch." A roar went through the crowd, and Wise received a thunderous standing ovation. His teammates couldn't believe what they were seeing. "It was an unbelievable feeling," Wise said. "Getting off the ground and having the ball in my hand. I was just wishing that the game was over with at that moment."

In a matter of minutes, it would be. Buehrle retired the next two batters, cementing his place in White Sox history. After the game, the pitcher was asked if Wise deserved a steak dinner for his efforts. “I think I owe him a little more than that," Buehrle joked.

The point is this “perfection” came from many contributing factors. History, sadly has a way of forgetting those essential components. Yet, to appreciate the greatness of the moment, you can’t forget those other essential factors.

In a sense, today’s miracle in the Gospel has the potential for the greatness of the moment to be missed as well. Jesus has pulled quite a perfect game himself here. Just to recount - this HUGE crowd is following him, they’ve been with him all day - and well, they’re hungry. So Jesus says - where can we buy enough food for these people to eat? The practical apostles are tired themselves and a bit exasperated, Philip basically responding, Jesus even a year’s salary would only get them a small piece each.

This little kid has 5 loaves and 2 fishes - he gives it to Jesus and miraculously, the entire crowd is fed in abundance. So much so, that there’s plenty left over in fact - there’s more left after the meal than there was before they started eating.

This is PHENOMENAL! This was such an amazing miracle that it’s recounted in all four gospels - no one forgot what Jesus did that day. Yes, that got people talking and taking notice of Him and His “perfect game.” Yet the gospel ends on an abrupt, somewhat surprising note.

When the people saw the sign he had done, they said, ‘This is truly the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world.’ Since Jesus knew they were going to come and carry him off to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain alone. Another translation says “Jesus escaped”.

Why didn’t Jesus want to savor this moment, to allow the glory of the moment to shine in the roars of an amazed crowd? One reason might be because, to appreciate the greatness of the moment, you can’t forget those other essential factors.

The little boy with the five loaves and two fishes, is the epitome of humbleness and trust in Jesus as he offers all that he has to the Lord for the service of others. Yes what Jesus did was pretty great - pretty perfect. No matter how hard we try, even if we had the assistance of Rachel Ray and every other expert from the Food Network, we would not be able to take 5 loaves and two fishes and somehow feed multitudes and be left with even more leftovers than what we started with. We could not duplicate this culinary miracle on our own.

Yet, the greatness of the moment is that when we offer who we are, what little we have, completely to the Lord , God can and does work miracles that can meet and fulfill the spiritual hungers of the world around us in abundance as well.

We can dismiss that. We can look at Jesus as just some magician, som e performer, some perfect athlete, and wonder, “What has Jesus done for me lately?” We can place ourselves in the role of mere spectator, waiting for that next miracle to impress us, wondering what his next feat will be . . . Or, we can take a more active role, we can embrace our weaknesses while trusting in God - we can look up, and realize that the ball is in our glove.

From "SWEET JESUS GET ME OFF THIS PLANE" to Frequent Flyer?

Here is my homily for June 28, 2009, the Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time. The readings can be found at http://www.usccb.org/nab/readings/062809.shtml - Thanks for reading and all of your feedback. Fr Jim

I hate flying....

Well maybe that’s not the best way to describe it. I have an incredibly irrational, (yet very real in my mind) white-knuckle fear of flying - and when you add that with my desire to keep away from things that make me that nervous and anxious, flying would not rank high on a list of things I like to do. This fear/hatred has made me outright reject considering travel opportunities for years.

It started about 15 years ago. My best friend from grade school was graduating from Boot Camp at Parris Island, South Carolina when he became a United States Marine. His parents had invited me down to his home in Virginia to surprise him when he arrived home. So my parents reasoned with me that it made much more sense to fly down rather than to drive - especially since I only had a few days before I had to return to start my senior year of college. And flying down was great. We were up in the air, down, nice quick 45 minute flight. I couldn’t believe how easy it went. That was great - that would have taken me easily 9 hours to drive and I was there in 1 . . . piece of cake!

The return from Norfolk to Newark that was quite a different story. You see, going down it was this big plane that was going to Florida and just made this quick stop in Norfolk. Going home, I was on a small little plane that had those propellers on the side. I think there might have been 20 people onboard. It was rainy. We never even got above the clouds. We hit turbulence. So I was growing more and more nervous and anxious the entire flight. At one point, I looked out the window and the propellor to the plane stopped. It really did. The plane made some noises. I started to freak out. The stewardess very mater-of-factly said to me, “It’s okay sir, we’re just gliding right now.” Sorry, that wasn’t much comfort. At which point, I just started praying/freaking out as I started saying out loud over and over again, “Sweet Jesus get me off of this plane . . .”

I made it home alive (obviously) - kissing the tarmac, looking whiter than I ever have in my life. I swore to my parents when we got in the car that I would never fly again. There was nothing out there that I needed to see. Our relatives had left Italy to come here, why would I want to ever go back there? We live in the NY-metro area, it’s basically the center of the universe (at least we seem to think so) - what’s the point? And basically, I have never flown again.

This past week I made 4 flights in a matter of 2 days. My good friend Fr. Bill Sheridan (who is a campus minister at another college) and I had been invited to go to University of Illinois in Champaign, Illinois, to meet the teams that would be working on our campuses this coming year. These are members of FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) and they are recent college graduates who make a 2 year commitment to Jesus Christ and His Church to serve college students by doing peer-to-peer ministry, Bible studies, witnessing that you can be a young person and passionate about your Catholic-Christian faith. So they’ve been out there for about 6 weeks praying, studying and preparing to come to our campuses in a few weeks.

I’m so excited that they’re coming to our campus this year (as is Fr. Bill) - but when I got the invitation to come and meet them in person, I began to freak out a little bit. I went to Map Quest to see how long it would take me to drive (about 18 hours) - which Fr. Bill told me there was no way he was doing (I suppose I’m a little lead-footed in driving). For some reason the train was going to take the same amount of time - it would have sent us to Atlanta, then to Chicago then to Champaign - it was crazy. And because there was a limited time we could spend with them, and because both of us had obligations and responsibilities back here, it really was becoming more and more difficult to plan this trip. It came down to either we had to fly out there - or - not go.

And I really considered not going. Fr. Bill and I couldn’t coordinate our schedules to go out together, so it would mean I’d have to fly alone on top of everything. We were on the phone and the computer sites for about three hours a week or two ago trying to figure this out. And it really came out to that choice - either to fly or send word to these kids that I was sorry I couldn’t make it, but looked forward to meeting them in August.

That’s when it really hit me. Here these 5 young people are sacrificing their lives to serve Christ and His Church, His people. Is it inconceivable to think that since they’re coming from all over the country that maybe they’re a bit anxious to come to big old, crazy New Jersey, to this chaotic NY metro area? The Lord’s called me to be a priest, he’s called me to be their spiritual father, don’t I have a responsibility to get over this irrational, fear - if not for my own well being or my own interests - than for His and the people He’s sent me to serve?

And so I went. And so I survived (obviously). And you know what, it was still an awful, awful experience. Every flight had some issue - one plane they couldn’t get the door shut. They had maintenance come on, where this guy kept slamming the door and couldn’t get it to remain shut (as he shrugged his shoulders and scratched his head) - but for some reason after an hour it seemed “OK” and we took off. Another flight, it looked like the same exact plane I took that first inspired my fear with the propellers on the side, and because a 10 year old kid was scared to be responsible to open the emergency door on the wing (in the VERY unlikely event of an emergency) - they asked me, the priest sitting two rows behind if I would mind switching with him (which I ended up doing more out of the embarrassment of saying I was just as scared as he was than anything else). Another flight, we ended up sitting on the tarmac for about 2 and a half hours before take off.

Yeah, I still don’t like flying much. But here’s the thing... I really didn’t feel the incredible fear I did on Monday when I was going to the airport. It was okay. And of the many things I am grateful for this week, I realize how the Lord continues to challenge me and challenge all of us as to move beyond our fears and to trust in Him.

That’s what this Gospel is all about. You have Jarius - his daughter is deathly ill . . . you have this woman, she’s been suffering with these hemorrhages for 12 years. Two great, amazing stories. Jarius as a synagogue official had to know that going to Jesus would not be looked on well by his fellow colleagues of the synagogue who were (at the very least) skeptical of this Jesus. What does he do? He moves beyond that fear of, “What will my friends and relatives think if I go to Him?” - He moves beyond the fear of being mocked when those friends and relatives tell him, “Your daughter is dead, what’s Jesus going to do for you?” - His faith moves him beyond all of those, and no doubt many other fears, to have this encounter with Christ.

The woman who’s been ill for 12 years - she’s been told by all the doctors and experts - look there’s nothing you can do - you’re unclean. It’s too bad. Keep away from everyone else, lest you make them unclean. And so physically, emotionally, spiritually she’s been isolated. Her faith moves her beyond the fears of, “What will the crowds do if they see me out in public?” “What will Jesus’ reaction to me be?” - and so she had this encounter with Christ.

And so my brother’s and sisters, Jesus is calling out to us. What is it that’s holding us back from having that deeper relationship with Him? That’s holding us back from the “imperishable life” that God created us to have that we heard about in that first reading - how God created us in his image - that’s not an image that gives into fear.

This one meditation I was reading about this Gospel said, “‘Do not be afraid - only have faith.’ If we really learned this one lesson, it would revolutionize our lives. Do not be afraid of what other people will think of you: follow the way of Christ. Do not be afraid of failure: following God’s will is the only path to everlasting success. Do not be afraid of changing your personal plans in order to follow God more closely, His plans are even better. Fear, confusion, lack of trust in Christ – these are the kinds of things that tie our souls into knots, causing untold needless suffering and keeping us from experiencing the life-giving power of God’s grace.

As I was reminded of this important lesson sitting on various runways this past week, that didn’t mean Jesus would magically protect my plane from something bad happening or that each flight would be smooth sailing (or smooth flying) - that’s dependent obviously on a lot of other factors and people. What Jesus was able to make me see was that I needed to move beyond my fear. Not simply to do something He was calling me to do, but to let go of something that has limited my life experiences and made me pass up many great opportunities.

What fear is holding you back from what Jesus is offering you? What will you be able to accomplish, if only you’re willing to trust him?

"HEY JESUS - DO SOMETHING???" - "Why don't you ask???"

Here is my homily for the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time - June 21, 2009 - the readings can be found at http://www.usccb.org/nab/readings/062109.shtml - Thanks as always for reading and your feedback! Fr Jim

HOMILY:

The other day I was on “The Catholic Guy Show” on Sirius Satellite Radio and we asked a question on air “What drives you crazy at Mass?” People were invited to call in to give us their complaints. In the close to two years I’ve been going on this show, I don’t think we’ve ever had that many phone calls. The phone lines were jam packed for over an hour and a half, the host got a flood of emails, so much so, that he continued the topic the next day for another hour. One of the amazing thing was with all of these calls and emails, I didn’t hear one “repeat” - every caller had their own issue, their own pet peave - and everyone, from the Priest, to the music people, to the lectors, to the people sitting to the right, left front or behind in the pews got critiqued.

It was really funny, as people called with stuff I hadn’t even thought about - for example one lady called and said “I can’t stand it when someone’s cell phone goes off, and then the person is flustered and embarrassed, so they jump on the phone and hit the button that silences the ringer, but they don’t realize the cell phone is still on, so when the person is finished leaving a voice mail, 20 seconds later we have to hear that loud voice mail ringtone go off...” the woman continued “now not only am I distracted and aggravated, I’m wondering who called this person and what did they have to tell them.” Another guy complained “this just happened to me yesterday - this little kid is sitting in front of me at Mass, and he turns around and stares at me, so what am I supposed to do with that? I try to ignore him, but he’s like got a staring contest going on and I don’t want to lose, but I don’t want to pay attention to him...” They were pretty funny.

One person said “I just can’t stand it when all of us, priests, people are just so dull in our responses. We almost are sighing through the Mass - could we be more bored as we say “The Lord be with you” “And Also with You” “Lift up your hearts...*Sigh* We lift them up to the Lord....” Or when we recite the Holy Holy Holy - here we are joining the song of the angels praising and worshiping God - and we recite it very robotic, mechanical... maybe we even try to speed it up to shave a few minutes off of Mass.

Like I said, it was an interesting segment (to say the least) as people called with one observation after another - and more than a couple seemed familiar on some level. But I have to admit that the part about how we pray kind of stuck with me, and it came back to me as I was reading this Gospel today.

As Catholics - there’s a beauty to our Mass that we don’t simply do whatever we want or create our own liturgy. We don’t come and decide one week “let’s just have a Gospel reading, skip those other ones - who cares about Job - that’s not an easy story to tackle, so let’s just skip it and get to a nice Jesus Gospel story, maybe add some poems or something at the beginning or some pop song that the kids like.” We participate in a liturgy that unites us with our brothers and sisters throughout the entire world as well as our ancestors in a liturgy that Jesus began and the apostles handed down to us. That’s a real gift we have. But there’s a challenge there that because it’s so familiar, because there’s a set pattern, we can be almost numb to it and not really think about what we’re doing.

Now some might be thinking “here it comes, one of those homilies on our behaviors at Mass. That’s not really my aim, in the traditional “Uh oh, Father Grumpy is going to tell us we better shape up.” I know for myself how often I can slip into the routine and not really think about what it is I’m hearing, I’m responding to, I’m praying.

And that’s what I think the Gospel is trying to challenge us with today. What is it that we believe - We believe that God is speaking to us in these readings. That this Liturgy of the Word contains truths that our God wants us to hear and apply to our lives today. We believe that in the Eucharist, when we receive communion, that we are given Jesus’ body and blood... God couldn’t be more present more close to us. He continues to reach out to us.

Yet, at the same time, so often many of us has some cares, some fears, some things that we are troubled about and we wonder “Does Jesus really care?” “Does God listen to my prayers” “I go to Mass, why do bad things happen to me or to my family or to my loved ones...”

If we go back to that gospel reading - the disciples are basically in the same position. Here they are physically in the boat with Jesus. They floating out and this violent storm comes - waves are crashing - it’s FILLING UP WITH WATER - and the disciples finally wake Jesus up and say “DON’T YOU CARE?” Don’t you care about the storm? Don’t you care we’re going to die!!” And with a confident voice, Jesus speaks, and nature obeys. Three words from Jesus “Quiet be still” and the wind ceases, there’s great calm - there’s great peace.

Jesus DID care. Jesus hadn’t left them. The problem was, The disciples hadn’t gone to him. They didn’t trust him. They didn’t expect much from him - they let him sleep as they continued to worry, continued to watch their boat fill up, continued to prepare for (and expect) the worst to happen. Just because they were in his presence, they expected some divine bubble to shield them from the storms - rather then going to Him and realizing in the midst of this violent storm, Jesus was there - and if they truly spoke to Him, let Him in on their fears, ask Him to help calm the storms that had distracted them from his presence (rather than just expecting Him to do it for them) they would have found there was nothing to be terrified about and that their faith was stronger than a some nor-easter

In some ways, I think that’s what happens to us. As we come to Mass, and allow ourselves to be distracted by routines or pet peeves or other nuisances - rather than focusing that Jesus is here with us. He wants us to trust him that He does care for us. He does have the power to quiet the storms in our lives. If we really were attentive to His voice, His presence not just in all the aspects of Mass, but in all the aspects of our lives, we might be surprised at how faith in Him does have the power to quiet the waves, winds and storms that terrify us.

So, in the end, we need to stop listening to that ring-tone, stop trying to win that staring contest, stop reading that teenager's T-shirt in the pew in front of us - and remember who truly brought us all here in the first place, and more importantly - who alone can truly bring peace into our lives.

HE MUST INCREASE, WHILE I MUST DECREASE

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

This picture is of an icon of Christ the Good Shepherd made by a devout Catholic artist from Spain named Kiko Arguello. When a man is ordained a priest, it’s a custom to have prayer cards to remember that occasion, with the hopes that your family and friends will take the card and remember you in their prayers (seems to make sense, doesn’t it?)

This was the image I had picked for my prayer card. I don’t remember the first time I saw it, but whenever that was, it spoke to me. In this illustration, Jesus appears humble, simple, as he holds the sheep over his shoulders with his arms crossed over his heart as he does so.
On the back of this image, I had the words: "He Must Increase, While I Must Decrease..." from the Gospel of John 3:30 and the words from Terrence Cardinal Cooke: From the day of his ordination, a Priest can never forget that he has been called by God Himself. . .Called to be a servant, a victim, a brother, a listener, a friend... With my own words asking for prayers that me and my brother priests would never forget that...

Usually in my ADHD brain, I’m multi-tasking/planning/thinking about upcoming things. But in the last few weeks, I’ve found my mind thinking back over these past 10 years. So many memories come to mind. People that I would never - ever have come in contact with, never known who they were or what their stories were – somehow through God’s plan, somehow I was a part of major moments in their lives- births, deaths, marriages, struggles in those marriages... In these years, there were many nights I would go to bed and think "God, really? You really want me to be here? Am I really helping them?" When I do stop and seriously think of all the different moments, the over 3,500 Masses I’ve offered - the faces of people that God has asked me to serve... it’s beyond overwhelming.

Just to be honest they weren’t always happy, good times. In fact, there were times of heartbreak like I had never experienced before. But here’s the thing I’ve learned through all of that - is that God never abandoned me. In my disappointments with others or with myself. In my inadequacies, my own failures, there was Jesus, that Good Shepherd. And as much as I wished to imitate Him, so often, I realized I was the sheep being carried by Him.
How do I thank the Lord for all He has done for me?
At my "first Mass" almost 10 years ago in my home parish of St. Agnes in Clark, I said to my family and friends that day that everyone was "thanking me" or "congratulating me" for my ordination and I felt kind of awkward because I felt like I hadn’t really "done anything" yet. Yes I had responded to God’s call to be His Priest; which is no small deal... but the outpouring of love I felt far exceeded whatever I had done - what I had given.
And 10 years later, that still remains the case.
So I simply want to say thank you to all of you for demonstrating God’s love, for being Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd "carrying me" when I hoped I was carrying you.
If I have one prayer, it is that more men and women will hear and respond to Jesus’ invitation to be give up their lives and serve as His priest or religious. Not because of anything I’ve done, but because you can see what he has done for me...
I Love all of you so much! Thank YOU!
In Christ’s Love,
Fr Jim
Fr Jim

10 Years of Priesthood


This is my homily for the 4th Sunday of Easter, May 3, 2009, (the readings can be found at http://www.usccb.org/nab/readings/050309.shtml ) the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. This evening I’m celebrating my upcoming 10th Anniversary of Ordination to the Priesthood (actual date is May 29th - the picture is of my holy card from my ordination) with the students from Montclair State University.

Thank you all for reading and all of your support and feedback! God Bless- Fr Jim

HOMILY:

“‘Life’ is an unrealistic goal...”

That is the argument that Australian academic Helen Goltz is making as she proposes limiting, or 'shortening,' the bonds of marriage. “We have fixed term contracts for the buying of property, cars and insurance,” she says, “But there is only one contract available for marriage and it is for life. Is it time to consider introducing fixed-term marriage contracts?” According to the NY Post, under the plan, couples would sign a 5 or 10 year contract - if it works, great, if not, the union would simply dissolve without what she calls the, “shame and stigma” that is associated with divorce. It’s somewhat surprising that it’s taken this long for someone to propose such a thing.

With reportedly 45% of marriages ending in divorce, Ms. Goltz, no doubt, means well. Just as a Catholic sociologist and a priest did, over 10 years ago, when he proposed something similar when he argued that there should be the establishment of what he calls the “Priest Corps,” something like the Peace Corps. His plan is that in the “Priest Corps” young men who are interested would commit themselves to a limited term of service to the Church in the priesthood, say five or ten years, which would then be renewable. If they like being priests—and he argues that the evidence in many studies suggests that they would— they may want to stay. If not, then they are free to go, with gratitude and respect.

Why not? Wouldn’t this be a great way for couples to see if they really want to be married? Wouldn’t it be a great way to increase the number of men who are willing to give priesthood a try? Test it out, see what it’s like - if after 5 or 10 years it’s not your thing and you want to move on, it still would have made for a good run.

I’m sure that the people behind such proposals are well-intentioned (Isn’t there a saying about a road to somewhere paved with good intentions?) Seriously though, there’s a reason that such proposals appeal to people. They seem practical. People sign one year contracts and we’re hopeful that both sides will honor it. 5, 10 years - people think that’s a big enough commitment, anyway. In this day and age, it’s rare that people work in the same place, or live in the same place for a long period of time. Because my lease was up, I just got rid of a car that was brand new three years ago - setting up the payments for a new car for five years seemed like a big deal to me. Everything around us seems to be temporary, seems to argue that a lifetime commitment is just a bit too much to ask of any reasonable person.

Today’s Gospel, though, gives us a clue to one major difficulty Jesus would have with this type of 'redefinition' of his sacraments. “A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. A hired man, who is not a shepherd and whose sheep are not his own, sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away and the wolf catches and scatters them. This is because he works for pay and has no concern for the sheep.” Jesus gives us an important contrast here between what makes a good shepherd different from a hired hand - his concern for those in his charge.
The hired hand works for a time, but his mind, his direction, his heart is somewhere else. He’ll do his job - but enter wolf - WHOA, that’s not in my contract, SEEYA sheep. For the Shepherd, his life is tied to His sheep. Good times, bad times, they are his and he is theirs. The shepherd knows that in his heart, as do the sheep, who hear his voice and follow him.

About five years ago, I think I might have welcomed t he notion that my priestly vows could “expire;” complete with a nice farewell, thank you cards, bunt cake and toaster. Five years ago, I was pretty much on my way 'out the door' of being a priest.

It wasn’t the people - I loved, correction, I love the people from my first assignment in West Orange, where I was a priest for 7 years - or Ridgewood, where I was a deacon and returned as a priest for a few months. So, it wasn’t the people.

I had just gotten angry and disillusioned about a lot of things, some of which were very justified, looking back, but I don't need to get into that right now.

The point I do want to make now, though, is that leaving seemed so logical in my mind. My arguments were solid, I felt pretty justified in what I was doing; I had behaved well and with respect to others. Even my 'post-priesthood' plans (although those whom I confided them to weren't as thrilled about them as I) would at least provide a good job, stability, and a new life doing good, noble work.

So I took a leave of absence, and I got my opportunity to start over, in a different field; it was right in front of me - all I had to do was sign a letter and mail it in (and I guess it’s safe to assume I would also have to show up for work the next week). But there was something that kept me from signing that letter. A very, very quiet thing inside me that was gently holding me back. It wasn’t fear - and, surprisingly, as an Italian Catholic - it wasn’t even guilt . . . I wasn’t sure what it was, but I truly felt stuck.

A few months later, still trying to figure all this out, I was in Sloan Kettering Hospital with my family, visiting my niece, who had leukemia. It was a Saturday afternoon, and we were sitting around, trying to entertain or distract her. The door opened, and it was a priest who had come for a visit. There was something inside us that was instinctively relieved to see him. Yet, truth be told, he spent more time putting on the hospital gown and surgical mask, that we were all required to wear, than he spent being with us.

And that stayed with me. First, I was angry, saying, “Geez, buddy . . . Why’d you even bother to stop by? I mean, I know there were times I might have been uncomfortable doing something as a priest myself - but couldn't you at least try to fake it a little better?” But very quickly, almost immediately, that voice was cut-off by this feeling of utter compassion for this priest. I started to think, “I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to be the chaplain in the pediatric unit of a cancer hospital . . . As hard as I thought I had it at times, I doubt I could do this on a daily basis - how does he come here every day?”

After that encounter, I started to realize that the reason he came back to work each day was the same reason I “was stuck," unable to truly “leave” the priesthood behind me. No, the reason wasn’t fear, nor was it guilt . . . It was Love. I was a priest (and that chaplain was a priest) because of the love Jesus Christ invited me to share with others, and - although I had been unable to see it until that moment - because of the Love he was constantly inviting me to receive.

The love of Jesus Christ doesn’t have a term limit, or contract, or statute of limitations or expiration date. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, never abandoned me. Jesus’ love hadn’t ended, even though I may have felt betrayed or abandoned by others. And as I started to let go of my anger and disappointment, and step away from the things that had made me stop focusing on him, I started to be able to feel that love again in my own life - and, finally nourished and refreshed myself, I was once again able to freely offer it back to others.

Now, on this World Day of Prayer for Vocations - on this Good Shepherd Sunday - and on the 10th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood, I can look back with acceptance and gratitude. Acceptance of what (no offense, Jesus) was a totally insane, roller-coaster ride there, for a couple of years; acceptance of the fact that, although I can imagine a lot of easier paths, this was the path that Christ (perhaps he has a sense of humor?) chose out for me. So now, at the ripe old age of 35, I can accept that, with love.

And I feel gratitude. Not only to all of you for your support since I arrived here - not just to my old parishioners, my friends and family, and other priests who stood by me when I was all over the place, and unsure of the right direction to take - but gratitude to God that, although I couldn't always feel it, his inescapable love was always surrounding me. And, although I didn't always know it, his providence and protection were leading me here and will, one day, lead me into other, different and, perhaps, difficult situations.

But I can face that.

I can accept that.

Because he is with me always, and I won't lose him now.

Although I don't always have all the answers, although I still make (plenty of) mistakes, although, at times, I stumble and lose my way, I still have now that same, beautiful, life-altering realization I had then, standing on that pediatric cancer floor - a realization that came, just when I least expected it.

The realization that I am a priest.

PRESENT, BUT NOT VOTING...

Here is my homily for Sunday, March 29, 2009 – the 5th Sunday of Lent. The readings can be found at http://www.usccb.org/nab/readings/032909a.shtml. Thanks for reading! Fr Jim

HOMILY:

In the late 1800s, there was a wealthy English philanthropist named Jeremy Bentham. In his will, he left a fortune to a London hospital. But there was one odd condition to the bequest: The hospital could keep the money only so long as Bentham was present at every board meeting. So for over 100 years, the remains of Jeremy Bentham were wheeled into the board room every month and placed at the head of the table. And for over 100 years, the minutes of every board meeting included a line which read, "Mr. Jeremy Bentham, present but not voting."

Present, but not voting - just there. As we look around our world, our families, our workplaces, ourselves, that idea might not be so foreign – present, not voting.

Yet, every life worth living, every great work, has a price that has to be paid. And whatever that price is, it always involves letting go of something we value. That’s what Jesus is talking about in today’s Gospel when he’s saying that unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat - but if it dies it produces much fruit. Whether it’s a grain of wheat or a seed - they have a miracle locked up inside it: They have the capacity to become something greater - the seed becomes a noble tree or a gorgeous flower or a tasty meal for someone. But it can't become any of those things if it stays on the shelf in its nice, dry little envelope.

It has to let go of that comfortable spot and get down into the dirt where it's dark and damp. It has to let go of being a little seed, if the miracle is to happen. This comes as the prelude to the celebration of Jesus’ Passion, death and resurrection which we begin next week with Palm Sunday – And the message is for all of us as well as Jesus – To complete his work, he had to let go of everything, even his very life.

How and what we have to let go of takes different shapes for each of us. For the battered wife or the man who's grown hopelessly stale in his job, it may mean letting go of security and status, and moving on. For the couple whose marriage is foundering, it means staying put but letting go of old habits and ideas that have got in the way. Whatever the situation might be, clinging to things as they are and refusing to let go will inevitably rob us of life and steal away all of our joy - all because we're afraid of losing what we have, though it may be as tiny and insignificant as a seed.

Knowing when and what to let go is not easy. And finding the courage to do it is even harder. Only one thing makes it possible: Our connectedness to Jesus - who will help us see ourselves clearly through his eyes, and then help us act with his strength.

This last week of Lent, the gospel challenges us with the reality that God wants us to have life and joy to the full. That can’t happen if we’re going thru life simply "present - not voting," not moving, not changing - not responding to His grace in our lives. So that we don’t miss the best parts of life, this last Sunday of Lent, God is challenging us to ask ourselves: What am I clinging to that is robbing me of life? What am I afraid of letting go of?

THIS IS NOT A PONZI SCHEME

Here is my homily for the Third Sunday of Lent. The readings can be found at http://www.usccb.org/nab/readings/031509a.shtml - Thanks for reading and your feedback! God Bless, Fr Jim

HOMILY:

Bernie Madoff. Could there be a more, for lack of a better word, "hated" man in the American public’s minds right now? This confessed, imprisoned man orchestrated a "Ponzi" scheme which in effect stole around $64 billion dollars from people, for some eliminating their entire retirement funds or savings accounts. Even after being caught, what got people even more upset was that Madoff seemed so unremorseful. The fact that this happened during a difficult economic time for the country seems to have attracted even more attention then maybe it would have otherwise.

It’s hard to have any sympathy for the man. Especially as he’s living this luxurious lifestyle –
even after his arrest as he was awaiting trial – while so many others are watching their financial security disappear. It seems to inspire a sense of righteous indignation among us. Perhaps that’s why so many of us who aren’t victims of Madoff’s scheme were glued to this story. People on the street were interviewed saying how happy they were to see these pictures of him being handcuffed and led to jail. News programs did stories showing pictures of the cell he would be staying in, chronicling what his new life would be like. Headlines in the newspapers said "Inside peek at rat’s new cage"; or "Pathetic, pathological pig has learned absolutely nothing."

Yeah, not a lot of sympathy for Bernie Madoff. What is driving such rage? Hypocrisy. Here’s a man who they had trusted to secure their financial futures and instead he was a complete fraud, blowing all that cash.

That’s probably what’s driving the vast public (who up until December never heard of this guy) interest in this case. We don’t care much for any criminals, but those who are hypocrites seem to really raise our wrath. We don’t just want justice in those cases, we want them to "get theirs".

That’s why this Gospel scene is a favorite for a lot of people. Jesus runs a little hot in this story - as he confronts hypocrites. A little background to the story - the "selling" of cattle, sheep, pigeons, the money changers, it started out as a good thing. Pilgrims visiting the temple wanted to offer a sacrifice to God (they were still doing that back then). But there had to be specific types of animals. You couldn’t offer just any old pigeon to God. So they had set up these tables, where people could purchase acceptable sacrifices.

But in time, the money changers started to charge these crazy fees for their services. The vendors selling these animals for sacrifices had overcharged the pilgrims. And so a humble offering that a pilgrim wanted to make to the Lord had become an occasion for greed, extortion. All of these people had taken something that was holy and sacred and were more interested in their wealth.

Jesus, seeing this hypocrisy, seeing his Father’s house, seeing these people who sincerely and genuinely wanted to make an offering acceptable to his Father - well he just snaps upon seeing it. For the Jews, the Temple was the Holiest place in the world. It was in the Temple where God and man could meet. Seeing it defiled in this way, well, it causes him to get so infuriated he knocks over the tables, he drives them out, as he is FILLED with this righteous indignation.

Stick it to them Jesus!

Before we cheer too loudly though, this Gospel coming during the season of Lent addresses us too. As Baptized Christians, each of us has become a "temple" for God. The Holy Spirit dwells within us. Over time, we have maybe let vendors and moneychangers into our lives too. There’s elements of our lives where maybe we’re being hypocrites in that what we profess to believe is very far off from how we actually live.

As Jesus enters the temples of our hearts, he’s taking a look around right now and asking "do I need to start knocking over some tables?" Lent in a sense gives us the opportunity to avoid that from happening. We have this time to see where we are in our relationship with one another and with the Lord. To see how our lives don’t always offer the perfect worship to the Lord that he deserves and then do something about it. He gives us the Sacrament of Reconciliation as a way to examine our conscience, be forgiven and start new. We have the opportunity to clear out the fraudulent moneychangers, the criminal vendors, the hypocritic things that have crept into our lives. Wouldn’t it be much better if we cleaned up the mess rather than making Jesus angry?