LONGING FOR PANDORA?


Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER - April 25, 2010. The readings for today can be found at http://www.usccb.org/nab/042510.shtml. Thanks as always for reading and sharing your feedback. Always appreciate reading your comments! God Bless - Fr. Jim Chern

HOMILY:

The last movie I actually sat through was back in January when I was on a 40 hour (round trip) bus ride with about 30 of you guys who went to Orlando for the FOCUS conference. That’s pathetic isn’t it? That I have to be trapped on a bus in order to get a chance to watch a movie. Two movies to be accurate - the animated picture UP which was terrific and the movie Transformers 2 - 2 hours and 35 minutes of my life that sadly I will never get back (maybe because I didn’t see the original???) Anyway, I realize how sad my life sounds to people when I tell them I haven’t SEEN let alone GONE to the movies in months...

This pathetic-ness, in this area of my life (I’m sure that there’s others) has been pointed out to me a lot in recent weeks as people seem to continue talking about the movie AVATAR. As soon as I explain that I haven’t seen it, people treat me like I have a disease (You haven’t seen Avatar... Ohhh... that’s a shame) Or like I did something wrong (You haven’t seen Avatar - WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU)

I realize that I’m in the minority by not seeing it. Because as of right now it has earned over 2.7 Billion dollars in box office sales,
making it the highest grossing film of all time in the entire world.
If you too are in this minority, from what I’ve read Avatar is a science fiction film set in the future about a paralyzed military man who is taken into a computer world that is the definition of a “perfect” place called Pandora. Couple that story with what has been described as new 3-D technology, innovative film making, stunning visuals all brought to you by the guy who brought us the Terminator and Titanic. It’s not too shocking that this would be such an unprecedented success.

What is shocking is that there would be something called “Post-Avatar Depression” (or P.A.D.) CNN reports that there are some fans who after viewing the movie have become severely depressed, some even suicidal. Thousands of fans have been posting messages on the movie’s website that have entire threads discussing P.A.D. People try to offer support to one another; counselors from the magazine Psychology today are giving their insights. Just hearing about this, you have to wonder what is it about this movie that triggers such extreme emotional reactions. One fans explanation was that Watching the wonderful world of Pandora and all the [people from that world] made me want to be one of them. I can't stop thinking about all the things that happened in the film and all of the tears and shivers I got from it, I even contemplate suicide thinking that if I do it I will be rebirthed in a world similar to Pandora and the everything is the same as in 'Avatar.' "

There’s a bunch of fans who agreed with that; they had become depressed because they too really wanted to live in the fantasy world of Pandora, this perfect place. Especially since they had become disgusted with our world. One fan very simply summed his feelings up saying “I so much wanted to escape reality.”

When you initially heard Post-Avatar Depression, if you were like me, you probably thought “come on... really?” But just hearing that last line from that one troubled fan - “I so much wanted to escape reality,” you realize this isn’t so new after all. There seems to be a lot of people looking for that same escape.

That doesn’t have to be a bad thing. There’s something within us that longs for something greater than what is presently in front of us. In some ways, the image of sheep in today’s Gospel is an accurate one - because don’t all of us look for greener pastures? Kind of waiting for the next best thing? Wondering when will things be perfect? When I graduate High School? When I move out of home and go to college? When I get a girlfriend or boyfriend? When I finally get my degree? When I get a job? When I get married? When I get a home? When I can retire? We go through life constantly waiting for fulfillment.

Here we are in one of the toughest economies ever; unemployment is high, people seem stretched and stressed to the max, So its no wonder that people are getting caught up in the hype and eyepopping things they see on the screen as Avatar continues to rake in billions of dollars breaking all types of box office records.

Yet, those couple of hours are just that... a couple of hours. A diversion. Not reality. And for some, the sad thing is that they buy into that fictional place, and when reality comes as the lights in the theater turn up (or now that it’s been released on DVD, your TV screen goes back to the main menu) they are lost. Like frightened sheep.

Today’s Gospel is pretty short, and more than likely, most of us have heard the“Sheep, Shepherd” passages before. CCD or Catholic school coloring book images of Jesus in flowing robes with a shepherds staff and a sheep on His shoulders seem to come to mind (at least to mine). Frankly, that image doesn’t seem to be as cool as some blue avatar character in 3-d

But it’s not supposed to be cool. It’s supposed to be real. Jesus comes to bring us fulfillment. Jesus is God’s answer to that longing, that desire within for something that is greater in life... If you’ve ever been to a football game and saw people with those signs saying JOHN 3:16 (and we’re too lazy to look it up) - in that one short verse, Jesus explains his entire mission: For God so loved the world, He gave his only Son, that everyone who believes in him might not perish but have eternal life. That’s why Jesus’ came and in today’s Gospel reading Jesus echoes that by saying My sheep hear my voice; I know them and they follow me, I give them eternal life and they shall never perish.

We are being invited to have LIFE to it’s fullest. That’s the thing – so many people don’t think in terms of “life” or long term. They want to have the most they can get out of this moment... this day. Some still follow the motto “Eat, Drink and be Merry for tomorrow we die”; and yet how merry are they? Last week a bunch of you went to the Annual Spring Bash. Nothing wrong that people wanted to be together with friends to dance, sing, have fun together as Graduation approaches and the end of another school year approaches. For some though, it was all about that night. YEAH OPEN BAR! I can get stupid drunk (probably no more perfect term). Attending a meeting at the Drop in Center, (a health-center office mid-campus) for an hour that afternoon, it was amazing, never had I seen that many young men streaming towards the place. One group of about 8 guys walked in and I heard him say “Yeah, can we get some condoms?” “All of you?” was the response “Yep.” I couldn’t help but just feel sadness. Because it’s just more examples of people who have bought the lie that the only way to treat that desire, that longing for something more, something greater is to fill it with things, with people (using people), with movies that leave us strangely unsatisfied. That so many don’t know, don’t hear the Shepherd’s voice.

We’re here – so we know something about this Shepherd. We’ve heard about his invitation. We may have even had glimpses of the promises Jesus is making in our own lives. But are WE truly listening when he calls us to a different life than the one the world tries to entice us with that leave us unfulfilled? Are WE truly following HIM or have we allowed others to introduce doubt, make us feel we’re missing something if we don’t just give into every temptation? Do we desire that full life, that perfect life that remains long after the credits of a movie have ended?

JESUS DOESN'T GIVE UP ON US... EVER


Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER - April 18, 2010. The readings can be found at http://www.usccb.org/nab/041810.shtml . As always, thanks for reading and all your feedback and comments. I appreciate it! God Bless, Fr Jim

HOMILY:

You have to wonder, if there’s two sides to every story, and a picture is worth a thousand words, then what are we to make of this: About a week ago, a photo of a 7 year old, frightened little boy appeared in newspapers across the world with headlines similar to the one in the NY Post: “US Woman put adopted Russian son on one-way flight alone to homeland.” Now you have to be a little skeptical when your dealing with reporters and journalists whether they are getting their facts straight or are more interested in sensationalizing something. It’s natural that we want to believe that there’s got to be another side or that we’re missing something.

But in the days since this story first broke, there really hasn’t been much said that challenges or disputes the awful feelings you get as you hear this report: The boy, Artyom Savelyev, arrived unaccompanied in Moscow on a United Airlines flight on [April 8] from Washington. Social workers sent him to a Moscow hospital on Friday for a health checkup and criticized his adoptive mother for abandoning him...the boy was carrying a letter from his adoptive mother saying she was returning him due to severe psychological problems. "This child is mentally unstable. He is violent and has severe psychopathic issues," the letter said. "I was lied to and misled by the Russian Orphanage workers and director regarding his mental stability and other issues. ...After giving my best to this child, I am sorry to say that for the safety of my family, friends, and myself, I no longer wish to parent this child."

Like I said, we want to give the benefit of the doubt, and assume we’re missing something. Because otherwise we’re left with the impression that this little boy who was adopted about 8 months ago, has ended up being treated like an article of clothing that someone decides doesn’t fit them and is simply returned from where they got him, rather than a CHILD in need of a parent. Which is why there’s been such outrage over this incident all around the world (and sadly, this case has now jeopardized the adoptions of many other Russian orphans by American parents who are desperate to welcome them into their families). The reason many people are upset about this is because, it’s pretty much a given, whether you’re a parent or not, that children are far from perfect. Children will often times mess up. Children can be self-centered at times. Children, sadly can even say and do unloving things. Ideally it is the role of parents, by their lives, their sacrifices, their example – by their love to teach children how not to mess up, how to be selfless, and how to be loving themselves. Obviously if the adoptive mother was overwhelmed and unable to fulfill her role as a Mother something needed to happen. But the image of this little guy being sent home alone on a plane to Russia simply with a note, and the question - what was it that he did that made this mother give up on him is difficult to even consider or accept.

After that sad story we hear some incredible and important good news. The Gospel gives us the complete opposite message. Because one of the essential points we can take from this passage we just heard is that Jesus doesn’t give up on us... ever.
Just sit with that. Jesus doesn’t give up on us - ever.
Jesus has been raised from the dead. The Apostles, his followers have encountered him twice already. After those two encounters, we read at the beginning of today’s passage St. Peter saying “I am going fishing.” Now as a quick recap here: Jesus had been betrayed by one of his chosen 12, Judas;
during his trial, Jesus is denied by Peter.
He ends up dead on a cross.
And this amazing, unprecedented thing called the Resurrection,
which fulfills the deepest wish,
the longed for hope,
the greatest desire in the hearts of all humanity – to have a life that doesn’t end- happens on Easter Sunday. In that, all that Jesus had ever said about His Father’s desire for all of us, His creatures to have life more abundantly, to it’s fullness. And that the good news Jesus proclaimed of the depth of God’s love for us was all confirmed to be true with this central event to human history.

So here’s the one that Jesus had chosen, the one he had told –
you’re the guy,
you’re the one who’s going to lead them after me -
you’re the one who will be the rock on which I will build my Church -
Peter, our first Pope - how does he react to this incredible event just a few days after Easter?

“I am going fishing”...

Why? Because Peter, knew that he had messed up... big time. Peter had been self-centered. Peter had been unloving at the moment Jesus needed Him to stand up the most. And that denial of Christ killed Peter. As soon as he heard the rooster crowing on Good Friday reminding him of Jesus’ prediction hours earlier saying “before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times,” Peter’s heart broke. He had yet to experience the fullness of joy that the resurrection brought to the world because of this broken heart of His. And so in shame, in guilt, in sadness - not knowing what else to do, he returns to something familiar from his former life. Something he knows how to do. A place where he probably figures “I won’t mess up here.” He goes fishing.

But - Jesus doesn’t give up on us - ever... and he goes after Peter. In this scene, Peter’s out with the others (who’ve continued to follow him) - and now on top of being a miserable failure to the Son of God - here he is after a long night and Peter and the others can’t catch any fish. (Talk about things going from bad to worse....) Someone from the shore calls out “hey, you catch anything” - “NOPE - thanks for asking...” The voice responds “Try the other side” - and Peter’s probably thinking - “UHH... this sounds familiar...” And sure enough - BOOHYAH - a catch of a multitude. John shouts “It’s the Lord” (Peter’s probably thinking - “no kidding”) They return to the shore, they eat with him, they interact once again with this glorified Jesus for now the third time.

Now Jesus does something that to me is one of the most beautiful encounters in the Gospels - probably because I’ve been a miserable failure in my life many times and find this reassuring... He asks Peter - “do you Love me?” three times. On the surface it seems like - wow, is Jesus trying to make Peter feel uncomfortable? Is this Jesus’ subtle way of saying “Yo bro - yeah - what happened there on Good Friday - did I tell you? Did I predict it - COCK A DOODLE DO and it was like PETER - OUT!”

No it’s not that at all. Jesus’ is helping the child Peter become a parent, a father himself for the Children, (or rather the sheep) he will be leading. Jesus doesn’t give up on Peter, and he makes him see past his mistakes, past his failures, past his selfishness; drawing what was even greater out of Peter’s heart - Lord, you know I love you... Lord you know I love you... Lord you know EVERYTHING - YOU KNOW THAT I LOVE YOU.” Peters confessing his love three times after his triple denials has now impressed the truth that Love conquers sin even more deeply in Peter’s heart than his previous failures had wounded it. He can now “feed” the flock Jesus entrusted to him - with that same life-changing message - that Jesus doesn’t give up on us - ever... that he is constantly calling us to this new, more radical, full life.
And not our doubts,
not our fears,
not our messes,
not our failures,
not our selfcenteredness,
not even the lack of love we sometimes show will ever alter that.

In a world where people can be far more absolute and harsh in their judgments for far less, the Easter Message of Hope continues to invite us to experience the new life of the resurrection ourselves right now. It’s reassuring to know though, that until we do - Jesus doesn’t and will not give up on us – ever...