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.