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?

WHAT'S YOUR DESTINATION?

Here is my homily for March 1, 2009 - the First Sunday of Lent - AND - the conclusion to our the Newman Catholic Campus Ministry at Montclair State University and Ramapo College’s (aka "MONT-APO") Spring retreat called "UNSTOPPABLE." We had close to 70 students attend the weekend where we reflected on and drew inspiration on St. Paul’s conversion to Jesus Christ. The readings can be found at http://www.usccb.org/nab/readings/030109.shtml

Thanks for all your prayers and, as always, for reading and commenting:

HOMILY:

For those of you who are considering purchasing a Tom Tom or some other GPS system for your cars, you might want to think twice about your purchase – Talk to half of our retreat team who got lost either going in and out of the Lincoln Tunnel, the Verezzano Bridge on their way to the retreat center on Friday because of their GPS’ – or better yet, you might want to talk to a man by the name of Mr. Jose Silva.

Jose Silva a few weeks ago took a trip to visit a Grand Prix racing facility in New York state. He was driving with his son and his nephew. Now, not being from the area, he didn’t know where he was going, so he was relying pretty much solely on the GPS system in his car. For the two of you out there who might be unfamiliar with what a GPS is - that’s an abbreviation for"Global positioning system." So basically a GPS is a small computer like device in your car that guides you along your journey. You type in where you want to go to, what your destination is and the computer gives you direction, gives you commands along the way saying things like "turn here," " take the next exit," "make a right at the next intersection."

So Mr. Silva had gotten to the race track without too much difficulty. As he was making his way home is where, you could say, things got a little "off track." He was following the directions of the computer device. The GPS said "Left turn here," he made a left turn. "Take the next exit" he dutifully took the next exit. Then the GPS directed him to make a right turn, and, he did - instantly, obediently – which placed him right on a set of railroad tracks, which he continued on until eventually his car was stuck on them.

As he sat on the tracks with his son and nephew, I wonder did the GPS start berating him and saying "Really, did you think I meant a Right turn - right here and now? Seriously, right on to the train tracks. Yeah, that’s right, it’s me Mr. GPS just playing with you - ha ha" or "are you really, really this stupid?"

Fortunately, we can report that Mr. Silva didn’t wait for the device to tell him to get out of the car and to take his son and nephew with him out of the car as a Metro North Train came barreling towards them which ultimately demolished the car.

In the "sad but true" category, Mr. Silva is, supposedly, the third person within this past year, to do the same exact thing. In fact, the Railroad company is planning to install signs warning people to ignore their GPS and not turn on the railroad tracks!

GPS systems can be helpful tools, but they’re computers. And computers do fail at times and can make mistakes. Just think of a time that you lost a paper because of a computer crashing to remind you of the lack of perfection we find in electronics. It’s interesting that some would put that kind of faith to the point that they are willing to let go of all reason in blind obedience to it’s direction.

In our independent mind sets (especially for those of you first tasting independence being away from Home - being in college for the first time) we don’t like to think that in our lives any voice directs us like that. That’s part of the "rebellion" that happens for most people when they begin college. The reality is that there are still a lot of "voices" trying to direct us. Whether it’s professors, academic advisors, legal authorities, priests (d’oh!), even parents.

But now it’s up to you to decide, to discern which voices to listen to. People have said to you"Don’t go out and drink" - 7 Irish Car-bombs later, a ticket for underage drinking and a visit to the hospital you learn the reasoning behind that warning. A friend says to you, come on let’s stay up and watch another movie or go to the diner at 1 am- then when you can’t get out of bed at 7:30 the next morning for class, you wonder why!

That’s part of the whole "growing up" thing - trying to determine who to listen to, who ultimately has our best interests at heart - and who has their own interests, their own agendas in mind.

In today’s Gospel, we find that the Holy Spirit not only directs, suggests, points out where he wants Jesus to go, the Gospel says that the Spirit DROVE Jesus there himself (so Jesus didn’t need a GPS, he had a chauffeur – yeah, I know that’s bad...couldn’t resist)

Why would the Spirit want Jesus to go there? What’s the purpose of that? In the Gospel just a few lines preceding, Jesus had just been baptized, God had called out of Heaven and said "You are my beloved Son, my favor rests on you." If that were me, I’d turn around and be like "hey did you all hear that, did you all get that - Beloved Son here, maybe you guys should take time to listen to me..."

The Spirit directs Jesus into the desert so that he doesn’t do something like that. He calls him out of the world for a time so that he can focus simply on hearing the different voices. Learning to determine how they sound - what each voice is prodding, challenging, even trying to direct Jesus what to do next. He hears Satan who’s tempting him with things like "you should go back and tell all those people - uh, didn’t you hear God’s voice - Beloved son here, maybe you guys should take time to listen to me..." (Yeah, I just identified myself with Satan - something I need to work on...)

He hears his Father’s voice more clearly too. The voice that will direct him to clearly know how to confront evil when he will encounter it. The voice that will provide his much needed strength to sustain those trials. So we see that Jesus before he embarks on his ministry - before he goes back to Galilee to proclaim the Gospel wants to clearly be able to distinguish between those two voices and know how to say Yes to His Father and No to His tempter.

For those of us just returning from our Spring Retreat, that was one goal of the weekend. To take some time to get away from the world and to listen. To hear how loving God's voice is. To see the challenges that come from listening to that voice. To hear the call to change our lives - radically change them and to be transformed to be bold and dynamic in our faith, as St. Paul was.

But it's not something that simply "all those retreat people" have to deal with. There's a reason this Gospel comes on the first Sunday of Lent. And going on a retreat is one way to begin that process of examining who's voice we're listening to. Which "directions" we’re following. It's hard because in the chaos of our everyday lives, we are bombarded on a daily basis with voices. Some voices offer us something that "don’t seem like a big deal" - and appeal to a desire I have, so what’s the problem? Some voices say things that we know are probably the "right thing to do" - but it seems too hard, not as pleasurable as the other thing.

Lent provides a spiritual desert where we are asked to quiet ourselves a bit, to be more reflective and see where we’re at. Who’s voice is navigating our direction in life? Where am I being led off the true path, the road to ultimate fulfillment and the joy of being a child of God? Fortunately, if we find we’re a bit lost, this season of Lent is a great opportunity to reset our GPS and make a U-turn.