"THIS SEASON CELEBRATE REASON" - We do!


FOR UNTO US A CHILD IS BORN!!! ALLELUIA! MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!! Thanks for stopping by to read my homily for THE NATIVITY OF THE LORD – Given on CHRISTMAS EVE, DECEMBER 24, 2010 at the Church of the Immaculate Conception, Mahwah NJ. The readings comes from the Vigil Mass of Christmas - http://www.usccb.org/nab/122510a.shtml - A VERY MERRY & BLESSED CHRISTMAS TO YOU AND YOURS! Father Jim

Homily:

Almost as soon as the Thanksgiving turkey has been digested, an event that’s becoming an annual tradition begins. The so-called “war on Christmas.” Lawsuits are waged yearly over whether singing a Christmas Carol mentioning the very name of Jesus Christ or having a display that represents his birth in public arenas violates the separation of Church and State (by the way, it doesn’t... but that’s a discussion for another day). Interesting that some of those same people don’t seemed threatened over songs about a four-hooved, antlered being from the North Pole with a radioactive-red-lighted nosed (quite possibly contracted from a nuclear power plant or toxic nightmare) flying overhead. The message from these battles each year, though, has been pretty clear in terms of the celebration of Christmas (or 'the Holiday Season') - Rudolph and his friends are OK; Jesus, not so much.

This year though, things took a turn from those who are in the “anti-Christmas” camp. A billboard of the Nativity Scene, placed right outside the Lincoln Tunnel greeting drivers going from New Jersey into New York City, showcased the words, “You KNOW it’s a Myth; This season, celebrate Reason!” In the several weeks the billboard has been up (I saw it about 3 or 4 times while stuck in traffic) a thought came to my mind. If you look at that message and think about it for a moment, you realize that this seems different from the usual debates that dominate the cable news networks' coverage of the “WAR ON CHRISTMAS." This message seems angry or condescending, as if the atheist group thinks we’re stupid for celebrating Christmas. I wonder, how many of us who aren’t Buddhists and don’t follow the teachings of the Buddha, would spend time and energy looking for publicity to target that group of believers; how many of us would want to tell them how wrong their beliefs are – even to the point of going into an area with the largest number of Buddhists, putting up a billboard saying, “You’re WRONG?”

That’s why a thought hit me that this billboard, rather than making a statement, seems to be asking a question – What is the reason we celebrate Christmas? Maybe the story of Jesus Christ does seem too good to be true. The idea that there’s a God who does love us, cares about us, thinks of each of us personally, individually as his own blessed creation seems a bit too good to be true. That this God, who has loved us for all eternity, would actually want to enter into this human drama of ours; to try to break through the craziness of our lives; to get that message through to us; well it sounds like the beginnings of some great myth...

But there’s an element about the Christmas story that escapes those who solely focus on those eternal truths and skip over the human drama that surrounds the Christmas Story. So let’s look at it again . . . We just heard tonight about these two people - Mary and Joseph - whom the Gospel tells us “were betrothed, but not living together.” Being “betrothed” was more than just what we would understand as engagement. Betrothal was the time when the couple was already legally married but before they lived together. From the betrothal on, they could only be separated by death or divorce (which wasn’t very accepted in ancient times).

So Mary shares with her betrothed, Joseph, what the Angel Gabriel has told her. How she had conceived a child by the Holy Spirit, how this Child was to be Jesus and what his birth would mean for humanity. And we read Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame decided to divorce her quietly. That one sentence tells us a lot. Joseph is identified as a righteous man. Learning that he would not be the biological father of the child his wife was carrying was something that could have brought incredible shame to him. Had he been simply self-focused he could have demanded that his righteousness be protected. He could have divorced Mary publicly, not even entering into the debate about this (far-fetched) story that Mary was presenting to him. He could have let the courts, authorities, public, gossip all have their say, make their judgments over the one to whom he was betrothed as Joseph goes on with the rest of his life.

What stops him from doing what would have been reasonable in the face of what seemed untrue? Joseph loves Mary and he knows that Mary is in love with him. That’s why they were betrothed . . . So what now that Mary is pregnant? How does Joseph react to this news? It’s hard for us to imagine, I’m sure, but perhaps Joseph was afraid Mary cheated on him? Or maybe Joseph just didn’t understand what Mary was saying . . . it’s hard to imagine any of us having an immediate understanding after hearing such a story ourselves were we the first recipients of it. What average guy who’s a virgin, righteous or otherwise is going to begin to understand that his betrothed is pregnant by the Holy Spirit?

We can’t read Joseph’s mind at the time, but we can read his heart . . . Most likely it was a broken heart that didn’t know how to reconcile this tale with the plans, dreams, hopes that he and Mary had imagined together. Joseph as a righteous man can't see clear to allowing Mary, already pregnant, to enter his house without shame . . . and so with one, little, three-lettered word - the word Yet - we see what Joseph’s plan is. Yes, Joseph was a righteous man who by his rights had every REASON to demand justice, to demand a REASONABLE explanation, who had a REASON to make a public scene, YET unwilling to expose her to shame [he] decided to divorce her quietly... Joseph has found a compromise that was still righteous and just - but would leave him broken hearted.

So if we’re looking for a reason, it’s something that goes beyond logic, something that goes against what is expected. The reason Joseph was doing all this was Love... Love for Mary yes... but what isn’t immediately evident, but no doubt active in this love story is Joseph’s love for this mysterious God who he had believed and trusted in who was now intervening in their lives in an unprecedented, unexpected way. The Love story doesn’t end there though.

St. Matthew, could have continued with another “Yet” – Yet, God was unwilling to let Joseph move on through life with a broken heart. God the Father sends an angel to Joseph in his sleep, and invites Joseph to let go of the hurt he felt as he went to bed with his shattered dreams and instead invites him to dream God's dream. Joseph will not have any biological children of his own, but, if he chooses, God the Father invites him to dream his dream of being a Father to his Son in a spiritual and real way while maintaining his virginity, just as God is our Father in a spiritual, real and not-physical way. Joseph and Mary’s plans to move from a being betrothed to living together in the traditional way aren’t going to be able to happen… But God the Father invites them to Dream God's dream of Joseph taking Mary into his home, to love, honor, cherish, and protect her all the days of his life; an even more important task for Joseph now that this child-- for whom God had even bigger dreams for -- was to be born.

The human drama, the love story isn’t simply about two random people, an unsuspecting couple who had their lives interrupted, disturbed, thrown by some heavenly buttinskys. Because we realize that the love story involves Mary and Joseph loving God the Father. It’s only their love for God that makes it possible for them to believe those words, “Do not be afraid” as their plans are fading away in the wake of this amazingly inconceivable plan being proposed. Their love of God gives them an openness to find new ways to dream.

For us, while wars continue to rage; with seemingly unexplained acts of tragedy befalling people from natural disasters to sickness and deaths; with the evils we perpetrate on one another, whether it’s nation against nation, neighbor against neighbor, or relative against relative, -- all of those realities confirm cold, hard, facts that are sad, but true. And it is from those realities that people can easily write off Christmas and God Himself as a Myth that is unreasonable in the face of those cold, hard, facts that can be verified and determined as sad but “reasonable.”

Yet, 2,000 plus years later, this Christmas, we’re invited to look beyond those realities. To once again, dream God the Father’s what seems to us to be inconceivable, far-fetched dreams. To announce once again the good news of great joy to all people that the Emmanuel, God-is-with-us, has come. To give birth once again to the Messiah, the Christ Child to a world that even though it has been enlightened by his presence, seems to slip back into its darker corners. To do that by daring to live the eternal truths of forgiveness; selfless, sacrificial love; and peace that Jesus Christ personified.

If we believe in the truths this night contains, then the hope that has brought light into the darkness of countless generations before us starts to brighten once again in our own lives, and all those we come in contact with. Then our atheist friends may understand that in this season, we do indeed ‘celebrate reason’ - the reason we’re here tonight, the reason Christ came to earth, the reason of Christmas itself - the eternal love of God for each and every one of us.

CHRISTMAS SHOPPING ON THANKSGIVING? REALLY????


Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the 2nd Sunday of Advent, December 5, 2010. The readings for today’s Mass can be found at http://www.usccb.org/nab/120510.shtml. Thanks for reading, and all your comments and feedback.

Fr. Jim

Your help this Christmas for the Newman Catholic Center is greatly appreciated! Please click here for more information


HOMILY:

So a week and a half ago, Thanksgiving 2010, there was a historic first. It was the first time since 1925 when the department store Sears first opened that this national chain made the decision to open their stores on Thanksgiving Day. They joined a handful of stores that seems to be growing each year who’ve very slowly been expanding “Black Friday” -which was the day after Thanksgiving which traditionally is the biggest day of sales moving stores financially from being in the “red” (in debt) all year to being in the“black” making a profit. Opening on Thanksgiving, is another attempt for stores to try to get a jump on their competitors.

For some reason, that seems to have been “the line” for me. We all know how rough the economy is, so, the whole 4 am Black Friday opening with crazy sales, while you’ll never see me wake up that early to go shopping (I hate shopping to begin with, so make me get up that early, I can’t imagine I’d be too pleasant) - I do get what drives some people to do that to try to get a bargain. And I’m not against Christmas gifts... (for those taking notes: XL shirt size, size 12 shoes) As much as I hate shopping, I do enjoy thinking of something that might surprise and excite my family and friends to buy. So I don’t agree when people argue that everyone, or “religious” people should stop buying and giving gifts to each other for Christmas.

But shopping on Thanksgiving Day seems to have really hit a new low, doesn’t it? It just doesn’t make sense. Because who is it that means so much to us that we want to buy them Christmas gifts that we’d chose to go shop rather than spend time with them and other family and friends on a day like Thanksgiving?

I don’t mean to make anyone feel bad or guilty if they found a circular or saw an ad with prices so tantalizing that they ducked out part of Thanksgiving to save some cash and purchase something (well, maybe a little guilty) One reason that gift-giving started was to experience a taste of the joy that God has in showering us with blessings in our own lives, from our very existence– that we are even here - to the ultimate gift of His Son Jesus Christ, in whom God the Father has given us the path, the way to spend eternity with Him. That’s what should bring us ultimate happiness - reflecting on all that God has done, all that He continues to do right now... How Jesus continues to come to us to bring us fullness of life. That’s the joy we celebrate Christmas. Advent is meant to prepare ourselves to renew our appreciation of that gift.

The thing is, for so many of us is how the devil has been able to twist all of that. We all seem to race around in these weeks leading up to December 25th , and then wonder why there’s so much stress, so little happiness this season. We seem to be on this marathon to the point that we can’t wait for Christmas Day just to collapse... The happiness, the joy, the love that Christmas is all about seems for many to be an ideal to hope for, but have yet to really experience. It becomes a prize - a jackpot some think that only a few will win, and so all of these things – parties, cards, gifts become like lotto tickets... If I just do this, get that thing,... maybe, maybe this Christmas I’ll feel something. I’ll experience that happiness that has eluded me every other year.

Which is why what a gift we receive today as the Church gives us this Gospel on this second week of Advent. John the Baptist steps into our lives and says “REPENT.” Just hearing that word, a lot of us has this gut-reaction like “Here comes the dose of guilt again - making me feel like a bad person...” great way for us to feel that happiness we desire, huh?

But that call to Repent is a real gift. It’s a loving thing that John the Baptist speaks, that the Lord uses the Church to call us too once again. To call out to us, to wake us up as we’re falling asleep at a 4 am door-buster sale, skipping out on Thanksgiving, getting deceived by the lies of the evil one that tells us the happiness of Christmas is out there somewhere and instead, listen to John the Baptist as he says - “the Kingdom of heaven is at hand!”

It’s within our reach. It’s in our grasp. But we have to let go of all the things in our lives that make it hard to grab onto - that make it seem so far away. We have to free ourselves of those things that dominate so much space in our hearts that there’s not enough room for Jesus to truly reside there. We are being invited to take a new, honest look at how this quest for happiness we’ve been on has left us empty... how all those other voices have deceived us as we’ve bought into them and found ourselves unfulfilled.. And then ask ourselves What is it that brings us here today? A religious obligation? Trying to cover our bases to make sure if there’s a heaven, we’re on the list to get in? Hopefully what brings us here is that on some level we’ve identified, we’ve sensed, we’ve experienced some of that fullness of life we seek in following Jesus Christ. And we want more of that– we desire even more of that joy, that happiness. And we find once we start to receive that joy of Christ in my life, we can’t contain it. It overflows from us to those around us, who, in turn, will want it - and we will want to share it with them.

What is it that we’ve been holding onto that still hurts? What is it that we’ve done that we still feel guilty or ashamed about? What lie is it that diminishes who we truly are - beloved children of God - that we have heard or told ourselves and believed? This time of Advent, will we take advantage of the gift of reconciliation, use this opportunity to go to Confession to really rid ourselves of all these things? Until we “repent” of these things, and clear these paths to our hearts, Jesus can’t fully reside within us... and that joy we seek will continue to elude us. Jesus longs for us to experience the true happiness that His coming to us means. Imagine what a Christmas we could have if we experienced that ourselves. What better gift is there than to give that to one another.

Newman Catholic Christmas 2010 Appeal

December 1, 2o1o

Dear Friends and Parents of Newman Catholic Students:

One of my all time favorite Christmas Carols, In the bleak mid-winter played in the background the other day. I am not ashamed to admit that I have gotten misty eyed at this carol more than any other. But something hit me in a different way just thinking about the young men and women of Newman Catholic here at MSU as I listened to the final verse which is especially beautiful:

What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb.
If I were a wise man I would do my part.
Yet what I can, I give Him — Give my heart.

In so many ways, I am constantly humbled and inspired to see our students illustrating that by how they are striving to give their hearts to Jesus Christ in countless ways every day. Maybe it’s the student who quietly slips into the chapel in between classes to reflect on their life and think about what God is calling them to be. Or watching the student who invites one of their friends to join them at one of the 10 weekly Bible studies offered by our FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) missionaries. Or the student who wakes up early on a Saturday morning (parents of college students realize what a sacrifice that is!) to volunteer at a local food bank supplying food to needy families.

What they can, they give Him... their hearts. It is humbling for me to witness their examples and ask myself if I am giving all that I can give to Him as I serve them. That’s just one way I often feel I receive more than I give to them.

I am so grateful for all of the support of so many friends and benefactors who assist us with their prayers, their encouragement and their financial support that enables us to continue our mission to help students grow in their Catholic-Christian faith through spiritual, social and community outreach activities. It has been the generosity of so many that has enabled us to create a beautiful chapel; upgrade and expand our facilities making the center even more homey and inviting for students (they’re here all the time!) These donations also allow us to make sure that any student can attend/participate in any activity we sponsor whether they can personally afford to or not, those few times there are expenses (such as our annual retreat) .

With your help once again, we will be able to continue to encourage our students to simply come, give Him what they can – the most valuable and important thing they have – their hearts.

Merry Christmas & My promise of prayers to you and yours!



Father Jim Chern,
Chaplain & Director

For those who would like to make a donation, please make a check out to Newman Catholic Campus Ministry and send to Newman Catholic Center; 894 Valley Road; Montclair, NJ 07043