FASTER, GREATER, MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE SPEED OF LIGHT!

Hi everyone - MERRY CHRISTMAS!!  Here’s my homily for the celebration of THE NATIVITY OF THE LORD - CHRISTMAS DAY.  The readings for this homily are for the Mass for the Day.  The readings can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/122511-mass-during-the-day.cfm .  I’m grateful to all of you for taking the time to stop by, to read and share some comments.  God Bless you all - and MERRY CHRISTMAS!
Fr. Jim

HOMILY:

    It probably would be a safe bet to say that everyone here has at least heard of a man by the name of Albert Einstein.  If you’re like me, you might not really know why he’s considered an intellectual heavyweight – you just accept that his face could be an illustration of “one who is brilliant,” or that his name seems to be synonymous with genius.  If you studied physics in High School (I barely got through Chemistry and Biology, so I didn’t) you probably learned a great deal about Einstein and why he is somewhat revered for his knowledge.   Particularly his major contribution to the field of Physics - his discovery of “the speed of light.” 

    I remember in college one day trying to understand what this meant and asking friends of mine who were science majors about it in one of our highly enlightened conversations.  My one friend started by saying that there’s nothing faster than the speed of light.  I questioned that saying “I thought Superman was?” to which my one friend said “no Superman is faster than a speeding bullet... it’s ‘the flash’ who’s faster than the speed of light.”  “Who’s the Flash?” I wondered.  At which point my science major friend told us to shut up as he pointed out this was why I couldn’t study physics (or a bunch of other things for that matter:) and then went back to trying to explain this theory of the speed of light. 

    My buddy explained that if the Sun was a giant light bulb, that got flipped on, that it would take something like 8 minutes for the “light” ray to hit earth.  So the speed of light moves 91 million miles in 8 minutes.   The reason this is important, the theory goes, is that everything in the universe affects other things.  And by knowing the “speed of light”, Einstein was able to discover this one “constant” in the universe.   That nothing could go faster than the speed of light.  So in discovering that, Einstein had come upon an essential thing to beginning to understanding everything.

    Which is why I was kind of puzzled a few weeks ago. There was a headline on (I think) Yahoo - a small headline - very unimpressively listed with dozens of other headlines, that you could easily miss it, that said that scientists have now discovered things, these particles, that are faster than the speed of light.  Like I said, I’m not a scientist by a long stretch, but I thought when I saw that - isn’t that kind of a big deal – to the Physics people?

    And, when I read it, yeah, it really is.  In fact there’s some that are dismissing it outright trying to protect Einstein.  There’s also some healthy skepticism and arguments by various scientific teams who are continuing to study this latest “discovery.”  Because quite simply, if they have found something faster than the speed of light - then, as one scientist put it:  “Einstein was wrong... [and] our traditional concept of the universe would be ripped apart.”

    The whole thing is fascinating to me - which is strange to me not really being interested in science.  And it’s not a matter of wanting to tear down a hero in the science community.  Because even if they do discover there’s something faster than the speed of light, it’s obvious Einstein’s work was the first step in them being able to do that.     What’s fascinating though is that something that was seen as the standard by which the universe was measured... that one constant was the speed of light.  And now that constant might be gone.  That standard might not be in effect.  And all that people thought they knew about the mysterious aspects of the vastness of this universe have to be reconsidered.

    We celebrate a similar thing that happened over 2,000 years ago.  Christmas proclaims how the whole universe would have to be reconsidered – not by the Speed of Light, but by THE LIGHT Himself.    It’s easy for this essential truth of Christmas to be missed.  Our focus on Christmas  – very beautifully and appropriately – centers around children.  As we see the innocence, the anticipation, the excitement, the joy  of kids – they give life to our images of the baby in a manger, blissfully unaware of his meager, humble beginnings.  The brilliance in God’s plan is that a baby is unthreatening.  The Christ-child, like our kids, simply desire our attention, our affection, our love.  God’s entrance into our history does so wishing for our eyes to gaze on him and love him.

    But there’s more to Christmas than meeting Jesus in the manger.  Our human nature is prone to ask questions that need grown up answers.  We don’t simply wish to unlock the secrets of the universe in an inquisitive way.  No, we wonder what has happened to those promises of the “God-with-us” Emmanuel born in the manger.  We sing of that “silent night holy night” with “the Son of God, loves pure light” and wonder with the darkness in our lives or the darkness of those near and dear to us, the darkness throughout the world - wonder, was that Silent Night, Holy Night, for  just one night only? The darkness gives us pause, makes us wonder if we need to reconsider “the Light’s” affect on the universe.

    Which is why the Church gives us this beautiful and rich word of God from St. John reminding us that with the birth of Christ, the history of humanity, the very course of the universe has changed: 

    In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.   He was in the beginning with God.  All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be.  What came to be through him was life and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it.   

    St. John’s Gospel talks about Jesus as being “The Word” – the essential, the unifying thing that unites all the cosmos; He refers to Jesus as “The Light” - an element that without which life would not be possible.  For us, Christmas reminds us of these unchanging, eternal realities.  God enters as a baby to make himself accessible to humanity.  But He remains fully God.  And while things like war, poverty, abuse, illness, death continue to ravage the lives of the world around us, His promise that He has come and dwelt among us, and remained with us which is what draws us together for this feast.    We might not be able to fully understand this mysterious presence defined by St John as “light.”  But the true gift that is Christmas is that God allows us to come to know Him and love Him and welcome Him in the person of Jesus Christ.  To have a personal relationship with this miracle ourselves.

    A famous man once said “There are two ways to live your life.  One is as though nothing is a miracle.  The other is as though everything is a miracle.”  - That was Albert Einstein.  Will we this Christmas allow this universal miracle to penetrate our hearts and radiate in our lives?

ON TIM TEBOW - ONE MORE THING...

So a quick PS on Tim Tebow and my homily for last week (which is right underneath this posting).  First off thanks to everyone who read it, forwarded it, recommended it -etc.  There’s a “stat-counter” on the blog and I was surprised at the numbers of people who were on the site to read it.  And thanks to all who sent a note or message... it’s awesome to hear how God works through all of us and how He touches your hearts.

So last night I watched Saturday Night Live.  I usually will tune in, always with the hope that perhaps it will be funny as it was.  For some reason SNL goes through these cycles of funny/unfunny.  When they’re good, they’re really good.  When they’re not... well, they get desperate.  Which they did last night.  Not to mention wildly offensive.

After a funny show – thanks in part to tons of funny former cast members returning as Jimmy Fallon (a former cast member himself) came back for the “Christmas Episode” – with a few moments to spare till the end, they went with a cheap, unfunny, pathetic and insulting “sketch.”  Having “Jesus” visit the Denver Broncos locker room post-game – Christ was portrayed telling Tebow to “tone it down”; took credit for all the victories (which is something none of us, including Tebow himself would ever claim) and then told Denver star kicker Matt Prater “Prater I pray to you.”

I’m not a prude or puritanical by any stretch of the imagination.   Which you could probably figure out by the fact that I watched the entire episode and found most of it funny.  But the lack of any reverence anymore is just surprising to me.  Maybe I’m still naivete in being surprised.  But seriously, making a faithful, religious, devout man – who happens to play football (and is doing better than any of the Sportswriters had predicted) a target to ridicule by Jesus? 

I took comfort that most in the audience seemed to be silent.  Perhaps because it was unfunny as well as offensive.  Only hope the writers took notice.  If not for their jobs, than for their own reflection, to ask themselves – do they really think it’s okay to mock God?

– Phew... I feel better just posting that...  Homily for the 4th Sunday of Advent to come later tonight.  God Bless!

TIM TEBOW OR JOHN THE BAPTIST - SAME MESSAGE

Hi everyone, here is my homily for the THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT - December 11, 2011.  The readings for today can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/121111.cfm.  Thanks as always for reading and for your feedback.  God Bless - Fr. Jim

HOMILY:

    For the most part, I don’t consider myself a Football fan.  Its not that I dislike Football, it’s more a matter of time.   After investing a lot of time in the New York Yankees from late February when Pitchers and Catchers report to Florida for Major League Baseball training till the end of the World Series in late October (which on a somewhat regular basis the Yankees are in, or at least get close to it) by then, Football is already half-way through their season, so I’ve never gotten overly interested or excited about different teams.  With most of the games being played on Sunday, which happens to be quite a busy day of the week for me, its hard to get into a team when you’re not able to watch them and support them on a weekly basis.  I must admit that I do have teams that I root against, like the Patriots and the Eagles (just because they’re the home towns to Baseball teams I hate); and most Jets fans are Mets fans which is another problem.  But aside from those dislikes, and catching a game here or there, I don’t follow the NFL, their teams or their players too much.

    Which is why it’s interesting that I do know who Tim Tebow is.  I know that he’s a Quarterback.  Off the top of my head I remembered that he played football in college at a School in Florida and got selected for the NFL for Detroit?  (A quick check on Google filled in the blanks he actually plays for Denver – I knew the city started with a “D” – and the college was University of Florida). 

    But the main reason I know who he is, has little to do with Football.  It’s because not only does he not hide his faith in Jesus Christ, but he actually (get prepared to be shocked) tries to live his life as a follower of Jesus Christ.  Taking such a public stance has resulted in some surprising things that you’d find few parallels with other athletes.  A few years ago at a news conference, he was asked “Are you saving yourself till marriage” and he responded yes - he is still a virgin.  Can’t remember seeing that question asked of many athletes at their press-conferences.  He has taken things like  his signing bonus and gives it to charity.  He, at this early stage of his career, has already started a foundation to help inner city kids, orphanages in the Phillipines (where he was born) and get assistance for kids who are suffering from a variety of illnesses through helping establish hospitals or other medical assistance.  His belief is that all that he has, all of his gifts, talents, abilities come from the Lord, and so he publically acknowledges that with taking a knee in prayer on the field - as he does off the field.

    Sadly, all of this has become controversial.  He’s made fun of both on the field and off for this.  A few weeks ago, when Tebow’s team lost, several players on the opposing team mockingly went to their knees in what they called “tebowing.”   And then this past week a retired NFL player, Jake Plummer went even further.  He was interviewed on a Phoenix radio station and said  he would like Tebow more if he would "shut up" about his faith in Jesus Christ.

    If it had been me I probably would have pointed out the irony of his detractors finding difficulties with how he lives his life rather than looking at their own.   So Tebow challenges me as well as he responded true to himself and his faith as he said: "If you're married, and you have a wife, and you really love your wife, is it good enough to only say to your wife 'I love her' the day you get married? Or should you tell her every single day when you wake up and every opportunity?  And that's how I feel about my relationship with Jesus Christ is that it is the most important thing in my life. So any time I get an opportunity to tell him that I love him or given an opportunity to shout him out on national TV, I'm gonna take that opportunity. And so I look at it as a relationship that I have with him that I want to give him the honor and glory anytime I have the opportunity. And then right after I give him the honor and glory, I always try to give my teammates the honor and glory.   And that's how it works because Christ comes first in my life, and then my family, and then my teammates. I respect Jake's opinion, and I really appreciate his compliment of calling me a winner. But I feel like anytime I get the opportunity to give the Lord some praise, he is due for it."
   
    That shouldn’t be controversial.  That’s not supposed to inspire hostile reactions.  That’s called “testifying” to Jesus Christ.  It’s precisely what John the Baptist is doing in the Gospel today.    To put the Gospel in context, we have to remember that for awhile, John had his own followers.  People who were coming out to hear him preach.  People who were being moved to repentance, to changing their lives, to conversion. 

    But John realized that wasn’t because of anything he was doing.  He knew  that the Lord had commissioned him.  Entrusted him to be “the voice of one crying in the desert, make straight the way of the Lord.”  He knew that all his gifts, his abilities were not to make him into an idol himself – he clearly knows this as he declares who he is not – I am not the Christ; he recognizes that the “baptism” he’s offering of water (that throngs of people are coming to receive) pales in comparison to the Baptism to come in Jesus Christ.    John the Baptist knows in his innermost being that his goal, his mission was by his very life to point to the one who is the Christ, to prepare people to welcome Jesus into their lives, to be the one who would call humanity to “Behold the Lamb of God.” 

    For you and I this Third Sunday of Advent, we’re left with the same mission.  We are not unaware of who it is that’s coming, or in fact, already here.  We are not confused as to who’s birth it is at Christmas that transformed humanity forever.  But perhaps we need to remind ourselves of our responsibility to share that good news, to point to Jesus Christ in all that we say and do in our lives.  Which is perhaps why Tebow makes some uncomfortable.  In a day and age where there’s been a shift to humanize heroes and  to trivialize virtue, people wait for dirt to come.  One commentator put it like this in an opinion piece that was published this week:
    “...we don't want heroes who are truly good. We want them to fail the occasional drug test or start a bar fight from time to time. It makes us feel better about ourselves. Tebow, however, doesn't make us feel better about ourselves. People like him make us feel a little convicted about the things we say and do. So we find a reason to dislike them. Or, when Tebow says that glory goes to God and the credit for a victory goes to his teammates, coaches, and family, we are suspicious. An increasingly jaded culture, we don't believe that anyone can say such things and really mean them.   

    So we wait.

    We wait for evidence that he really isn't that good. We hope to see him kick a player on the ground, drop an F-bomb on television, or Tweet pictures of his privates.   In the meantime, we always have Penn State's Jerry Sandusky to make us feel better about ourselves.  (Larry Taunton, USA Today)

    I wonder if that’s true.  Have we grown so cynical, so jaded that the life and message of Jesus Christ seems too good to be true, so we profess our belief in him to a certain extent as an insurance policy just in case rather than truly believing with all our hearts and souls that it is true, than nothing else really matters. 

    Tim Tebow seems to be secure enough as a man not to need the defense of some priest who’s never met him or any of us for that matter.   And I’m sure he takes comfort that the Lord Jesus who was ridiculed and mocked as well, till he ended up dead on a cross - is with him when the attacks and mockery get ugly.  Because Tebow realizes that the love he has for Jesus barely scratches the surface of the love Jesus has for him and for each of us.  So rather than trying to defend Tebow, the challenge is will we try to imitate him, as well as John the Baptist - by using our lives to point to Jesus Christ as well?

BETWEEN EVICTION OF 103 YR OLD & BLACK FRIDAY - Can we prepare a way for the Lord?

Hi everyone, here is my homily for the SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT - DECEMBER 4, 2011.  The readings for today can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/120411.cfm .  As always thanks for your feedback and comments.  God Bless, Fr. Jim

HOMILY:

    The past couple of weeks has been a bit of a downer for me when looking at television news, seeing news stories online or reading a newspaper (yeah I actually still get those ancient things called newspapers) To see that each year, how the hype of Black Friday, Cyber Monday - shop on Thanksgiving night gets worse...  That no one seems to care about the store workers who have to work, or the public servants cops, firefighters, EMT’s who are even more necessary to deal with greater insanity...  That each year we see more commercialization and absolutely atrocious behavior ... hearing all of this “news” described as “Christmas preparations”; leaves me somewhat disheartened.   

    Which is why when I was scanning the news and saw a picture of this 103 year old woman in her bed and quickly saw a headline that said something about “evicting” her, I really was about to look for the Maalox or Rolaids.  Vinia Hall, who’s three weeks away from her 104th Birthday has been living in this home in Northwest Atlanta (with her 83 year old daughter) for over 53 years.   The family has been in some dispute with Deutsche Bank, to the point that on Tuesday, the Bank had planned on evicting Vinia and her daughter from their home. 

    But here’s where the story took an unexpected turn.  When the sheriff’s deputies and the moving company hired by the bank arrived at the house of this elderly woman who said of her modest home “I love it... It’s a mansion” - the deputies and movers got back in their cars and left, saying they would not be part of kicking these two older women out.  Vinia seemed steadfast through the whole ordeal saying  "No, I knew that they know what they were doing. God don't let them do wrong."  She added one request, "Please don't come in and disturb me no more. When I'm gone you all can come back and do whatever you want to."

    It remains to be seen if the sheriffs deputies will be charged for insubordination, the movers fired and whether initial promises made by bankers and politicians to allow Vinia and her daughter to remain in their home or not will be fulfilled.  But it’s hard not to see in the mix of the daily news feed, how Vinia’s story seemed to be like a prophet’s voice calling out to us who contribute to this “desert” of an environment that we call the “Christmas season”... and that voice cry’s out, as Isaiah did in the first reading, as John the Baptist does in the Gospel – to prepare the way of the Lord... to Make straight his paths. 

    Because hearing a story like this, we can go to the usual commentators on the left and right who will all argue about financial stuff - point lots of fingers at one another: politicians, bankers, lenders... And we can go off angry that the other side is wrong and my side is right, as we storm off and line up at midnight for 70% off a HDTV or whatever it is – all the while we continue to ignorie the poor, the needy, the helpless, the sick, the sorrowing, the imprisoned.

    Meanwhile, the scriptures remind us, very simply, that “GOD COMES.”  That is the hope filled sentiment of Advent – not “God has come” not “God will come” – GOD COMES - here and now.  In this time and space, through the hearts, the souls of His faithful people.   Often times God comes to us in the ordinary, routine, everyday experiences and encounters of daily life.  For Vinia, no doubt, as her family and the bank has fought and argued for years over this mess, there were opportunities God was inviting people to come to a reasonable resolution that were ignored.   There were moments where God was trying to break through to people to come to their  sanity that were not taken... Which led to the moment where this poor old woman about to be steamrolled out of her apartment. 

    Her last refuge was God.  Who she put her complete faith and trust in.   That God would come to her, and “save her.” But how sad is it that it had to have been in this dramatic, public way – through the non-actions of those ordered to fulfill their “duties” (which to me seem heroic considering the consequences they could be facing).  That’s not how things are supposed to be.  That’s probably not how Vinia expected her prayers to be answered, with her face, that sweet smile splattered on the nightly news. 

    But she knew that “God comes” - and that if He has to, as He did to Vinia in her moment of trial, He will reveal Himself in quite unpredictable ways.   For you and I, who are blessed to be here - we know the fullness of these prophetic calls – that the hopeful dreams of the prophet Isaiah were realized beyond his imaginations in Christ.  That John the Baptist’s knowledge of the Jesus being the “Lamb of God” was only a glimpse to the fullness of who Christ is, probably greater than he could have expected.   We know that God has come to us, and remains with us... That’s why we’re here.  We know that Jesus has come and stayed with us. 

    But as injustices continue, as the poor and hungry await relief, as the persecuted and suffering long for deliverance, in many ways God’s coming remains simply a promise, or a distant hope.  And often times if we look at those situations objectively,  there’s no reason it should be that way.  His salvation, His redemption remains distant because what we’ve experienced and known to be true of Jesus Christ hasn’t become enrooted in our hearts and transformed our lives to make us the prophets and messengers to proclaim God’s word; we haven’t become the presence of Christ to bring His healing to those desperate for it.

    He who has come, died and rose from the dead - is expecting us who wish to celebrate His birth at Christmas in a few weeks to “prepare His way,” to be His prophet: To proclaim with whatever talents and skills we possess His presence in the wastelands and barren places around us.   To create a highway for His compassion and justice to enter and re-create our world so that the Vinia’s around us who are looking for signs that “God comes” isn’t just a promise, but a reality.

WELCOMING THE NEW ROMAN MISSAL

 Some of our students who weren't able to make it to Mass last evening were upset they missed our "teaching Mass" where we introduced the new English Translation of the Mass, and explained some of the changes and other parts of the Mass that perhaps they had forgotten / never heard before.


Just a "warning" - these are my "notes" - so I didn't write them to be published, so please excuse grammatical/spelling mistakes (which regularly appear even when I do know I'm going to post something!)  Also - please know that I used a couple of sources for a great deal of these notes -- Dr. Edward Sri's "Biblical walk through of Mass"  and the Magnificat Roman Missal companion; as well as things I remembered from liturgy classes in Seminary... So here we go...


INTRODUCTION:
    Today we start using a new English translation of “THE ROMAN MISSAL” which is the book that contains all the prayers and responses for our worship.

    One of the beautiful things about our Catholic-Christian faith is the Unity of the Universal Church.  For centuries the language at Mass was Latin.  A major reason for that was to maintain our unity - that no matter where you went to Mass around the world, Catholics would all be saying the same thing.

    In the 1960's the Church recognizing how fewer and fewer understood Latin and prayerful concluded that we could still say the same thing but allow the Mass to be celebrated in the language of the people. 

    So we’ve only been celebrating Mass in English (or any other language other than Latin) for close to 50 years (and the Catholic faith has been around for over 20 centuries!)  The Church, constantly is prayerfully considering where we are and where we believe the Holy Spirit is moving us to go.  In recent years, Bishops (especially those who speak multiple languages) noted that the English translation wasn’t nearly as precise as the other languages to the original Latin texts we used.  And that in some cases the meanings and scriptural references were a bit lost or missed.   Not to mention that not all English Speaking peoples were using the same translations of the prayers.   That’s why we have a new translation.

    So tonight at this Mass, as we introduce the new translation with some of the changes that will affect the responses that we’re used to making, we’re going to have what’s called a “teaching Mass” where I’ll try to pause at certain points and explain what it is we’re doing and WHY we’re doing it (in some cases in a new way):

SIGN OF THE CROSS/GREETING: 

    As Catholics the first thing we do at Mass after we’ve Gathered is to begin our worship recognizing  that God is a God in three persons.  The gesture of the sign of the Cross has ancient origins with written descriptions of it being done before the year 200.  In making that sign, we invoke God’s presence and invite him to bless us, assist us and guard us.

    Immediately after the sign of the Cross, in the words of Greeting we discover the first change: There’s three possible greetings the priest can use and all of them have origins from both the Old and New Testaments. 

    The most common has been “The Lord be With You”.  When the priest is saying that it’s not a Church way of saying “hey how are you” and the people responding back “great and you?”  The Priest is reminding the people that when we assemble in Jesus’ name – as he told us in the Gospel of Matthew – that He is here in our midst.    So whenever we hear “The Lord be with you” it’s a reminder that we make this space Holy and that sacred things are taking place in our midst. 

    Here is one of the first changes for the people.  So as your priest, I’m calling on you to remember this important aspect that you by gathering in Christ’s name make him present, From now on in response to that , you will respond“And with your Spirit.”  Again, this comes right from scripture from St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians.     By saying “And with your Spirit” it’s not exalting the person individually (me Fr. Jim) - it’s the community, who recognizes that “The Lord is with Them” and in response recognizes the deepest interior part of the priest - His Spirit, that has been transformed by ordination, that allows him, that makes him able to lead the people in these most sacred actions of the Church – The Celebration of the Mass.


END OF INTRO RITES/ BEFORE READINGS:
    With the conclusion of that Opening Prayer, which we call “the Collect” which says what it means – it “collects” all the prayers and intentions of the people gathered to participate in the Mass - we have concluded what is called “the Introductory Rites”.  Now we begin what is called “The Liturgy of the Word”
    This is considered the “first table” of “two tables” in which God’s people are nourished.  So in this First Table - we are fed with God’s Sacred Word coming from scripture.  It’s good for us to remember that the scriptures aren’t just moral lessons, reflections on the spiritual life or historical recollections.  We believe that in the Liturgy of the Word - God is speaking to us.  Yes, through human authors and their writing styles, and historical incidents are recounted, but the fact that are contained in scripture means they are inspired by God.  And so we are about to hear God speaking to us.

    This being the first Sunday of Advent, we begin a “New Church Year”-   On the First Sunday of Advent, we start reading from a different Gospel.  Last week we finished reading the Gospel of Matthew, now we begin the Gospel of Mark. Next year on the First Sunday of Advent we will hear from the Gospel of Luke. In the course of three years in coming to Mass, you would hear the entirety of the Gospels proclaimed (with the Gospel of John being heard throughout the Easter Season as well as parts of the seasons of Advent, Christmas and Lent and when Liturgically appropriate)

    Our First Reading usually comes from the Old Testament.    At the end of the passage, the lector says “The Word of the Lord” – That’s not our way of saying “The End of this, let’s move onto the next thing” - it should cause us to pause in amazement how marvelous it is for us human beings to hear God speaking to us...  Which is why we respond with a heartfelt “THANKS BE TO GOD”

Between our First and Second Reading - we respond not with our own meager words but rather with God’s own inspired words of praise and thanksgiving from the book of Psalms - a collection of poetry that captures the spectrum of Human emotions and experiences and the presence and activity of our God through all of them. 


Our Second Reading comes from the New Testament, usually one of the letters written by St. Paul, St. Peter, St. James, St. John to the Early Church communities.  While the first reading is often connected to the Gospel, the Second Reading is meant to reflect on the mystery of Jesus Christ and his saving work – and the meaning it has on our lives. 


BEFORE THE GOSPEL:

    So while the whole Bible is the inspired word of God – The Gospels hold a special place because they are the “principle source for the life and teaching of the Incarnate Word, our Savior” JESUS CHRIST.

    That’s why we do some things to point out the special reverence for hearing the Gospel - we STAND to welcome the Lord Jesus who is about to be proclaimed.  We SING “ALLELUIA” - a Hebrew word which is so particular that we cannot fully find an English translation.  The closest we can come is “Praise the Lord”  - But it’s a word we find in scriptures that captured the angels using that word to praise God for his work of salvation and to announce the coming of Jesus Christ to his people.

    The Priest carry’s the Book of the Gospels - again to underscore the solemnity and importance of about to happen.  (You might notice that the priest bows at the altar and seems to mumble to himself, the priest is praying: Cleanse my heart and my lips, almighty God that I may worthily proclaim your holy Gospel.  AGAIN - this comes from scripture, where the prophet Isaiah’s lips needed to be purified before proclaiming the word of the Lord to Israel).

    The priest reminds the community again “THE LORD BE WITH YOU” and the community reminds the priest of his special role, now speaking the words of Chirst “AND WITH YOUR SPIRIT” - at which point we trace the Sign of the Cross on our head, lips and heart – which is our way of consecrating our thoughts words and actions to the Lord asking that his Word in the Gospel be always on our minds, our lips and in our heart.   

HOMILY:

    From the earliest days of Christian liturgy, the Word of God was not read on its own - It was accompanied by a homily which explained the meaning of the scriptures and drew out applications for people’s lives - this was an ancient Jewish custom that continued through Christianity to this day. 
    There’s a reason that only a priest or a deacon preaches a homily.  We believe that the Bishops are the successor of the apostles – the priests and deacons are sharers of that authority (the Archbishop could remove my “faculty” to preach and in fact has the responsibility to if I should be leading the people of God astray) And the idea of this is that the scriptures are to be read and understood under the authority of the apostolic faith.  That’s why only an ordained minister can preach a homily.  That’s not to say that lay people or a religious sister of brother might be more eloquent than a priest, but the homily in the context of the Mass, preached by an ordained minister is meant to be a guarantee that the preaching is passing on the Church’s apostolic faith – not just the private thoughts or experiences of any individual person.    

CREED:

    As the Liturgy of the Word comes to a conclusion, we come to the Creed which is an ancient statement of our faith.  In a sense, we give a cliffs notes narrative to the entire Scripture from the creation of the world, the Fall of humanity, the incarnation (or coming of Christ) - His Death and resurrection to the sending of the Holy Spirit, the era of the Church and looking forward to the Second Coming.

    There’s a few noticeable changes which is why we need the cards to assist us in our proclamation of something that many of us had memorized:

    First is the shift of the very first word from “WE” to “I” believe – starting with “I believe” is an exact translation of the Latin word “credo” and the difference is that while we are baptized into a community of believers, we acknowledge that we receive the sacrament in our own persons, one by one - that we have a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ and with His Church.  So by saying “I believe” I’m making a declaration of what I believe with my heart, my mind, my soul...

    There’s a few other changes of significance - and because this is such an important “statement of faith” that we are making, it’s important to notice the changes and what they mean:

    things visible and invisible instead of Seen and unseen - the emphasis is that it’s not just a matter of perception, but things by there very nature cannot be seen - angels for one; the “moral law” for another – all have their origin in God and are a part of His creation
    only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages – while we celebrate at Christmas Jesus being born into humanity, into time, this is a more precise theological point that before there was a thing called “time” - God existed and that there was never the Father without the Son and the Holy Spirit.  All things, all times - from the beginning of the world to its eventual end are a creation of the Blessed Trinity.
    The next change has probably gotten the most attention:  from “one in being with the Father” to Consubstantial with the Father - this, again, is a more precise explanation that Christ is not a different God or somehow less significant than the Father.  The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are of the same substance, so since God is one, Christ being consubstantial with the Father means he too is God - not a different God, but the same God.

    Incarnate of the Virgin Mary - rather than saying “born of the Virgin Mary” which turns our minds to Christmas at Jesus’ actual birth, by being more exact and saying “incarnate” we recall the Annunciation - the moment where Mary said to the Angel “behold I am the handmaid of the Lord, May it be done to me according to your word.”  Jesus became incarnate in the virgin Mary 9 months before his birth. 

The Prayer of the Faithful -

    The final act or the culmination of the Liturgy of the Word is what we call “THE PRAYER OF THE FAITHFUL” - This has been a part of the Mass from ancient times, as late as the year 155.  In a letter written by St. Justin the Martyr where he gave an outline of the prayers and rituals of Mass, he explained that after the readings from scripture and homily – [QUOTE] we all rise together and offer prayers for ourselves... and for all others, wherever they may be, so that we may be found righteous by our life and actions, and faithful to the commandments, so as to obtain eternal salvation.”


- Before the Preparation of the Gifts-

    We’ve now concluded the Liturgy of the Word - now we enter into what is called the LITURGY OF THE EUCHARIST where Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is made present by the priest – by carrying out what Jesus did at the Last Supper and what he commanded the apostles to do in his memory.  The people bring forward bread and wine as gifts which are consecrated and changed into the body and blood of Christ.

During the Preparation of the Gifts, on Sunday, usually we sing a hymn so often times you don’t hear the prayers the priest offers as bread and wine are presented to him.  Bread and wine had profound meaning to the Israelites - Bread was the most basic food and necessary to sustain life; wine was not just a side beverage, but a common part of Israelites meals.  At the most ancient of Israelite meals, the Passover feast - which was what the Last Supper was – Jesus offered the bread and wine as the priests do today acknowledging that these offerings are gifts of His creation and  the result of our labors.    This rite symbolizes our giving of our entire lives to God in the offering of bread and wine.


THE EUCHARISTIC PRAYER:

    With the prayer over the gifts concluded we now begin “The Eucharistic Prayer” - which from this point till we sing the Great AMEN is one long prayer that consecrates the Bread and Wine into the Body and Blood of Christ.

    Because of the importance of this, there’s again a great deal of meaning to the things we do at Mass. 

    The first thing is once again the invocation of “The Lord be with You”  - as we said earlier, this was a biblical greeting that when God called people to important but daunting missions they were greeted with these words because they needed the Lord to be with them as they set out on their charge - here this greeting is repeated as we embark on the most sacred part of the Mass.  You’re response to the priest is a reminder that this isn’t something the priest himself does, it is the work of the Holy Spirit who has transformed the priest’s soul, his spirit at his ordination. 

    Then the priest says “Lift up your hearts” - another exhortation that comes right from scripture.  In the bible, the heart is the hidden core of a person - their thoughts, emotions, actions all are contained in the heart.  So in lifting up our hearts, the priest is calling us to bring our fullest attention to what is about to unfold.  Which is why we respond “we lift them up to the Lord” - recognizing this is the only place we should be focusing our attention.

    Finally (and another Change) is when the Priest says “LET US GIVE THANKS TO THE LORD OUR GOD” We now simply say “it is right and just.”  This brief translation corresponds to the Latin version.  We affirm simply that it is the right, and just thing for us to do.


THE COMMUNION RITE:

Before the Our Father:

Now we begin the final preparations.  The Eucharistic Prayer is ended and we begin “The Communion Rite”   - the bread and wine have been consecrated and Jesus is now truly present before us – in a few moments we will receive his body and blood in holy communion.  From this point forward these rites are meant to lead all of us to the sacred point of holy communion and help ensure we are properly prepared to receive the body and blood of Christ.

First is the Our Father which our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ did not simply give us words to pray - He gave his saving command to pray these words which also forms us as Children of God.


THE RITE OF PEACE:

Now we participate in THE RITE OF PEACEIn the Our Father we asked the Father for deliverance from evil and for peace to be established.  Now the priest addresses the Lord Jesus recalling his words from the Last Supper where He offered us that deep, longer lasting peace that the world does not give. 

We are reminded that in this rite that when Jesus is the foundation of our lives, when we follow his commands, we can withstand life’s many disappointments, trials and sufferings - This is the peace that builds unity between a husband and wife in marriage; in families, in communities and nations.  Which is why the priest now shares the words of exhoratation from St. Paul “THE PEACE OF THE LORD BE WITH YOU ALWAYS” and once again you respond that that peace reign in the core of the priest - and with your spirit.  Then we exchange a sign of peace.  A sign that signifies that we who have called God “Our Father” are brothers and sisters and as apart of that family are called to live in peace with one another – and it challenges us to work to make God’s peace a reality in our love and forgiveness to one another.



   AFTER LAMB OF GOD/BEFORE INVITATION:

    The words “Lamb of God” takes us right up to God’s throne.  When we say or sing those words, we join the angels who worship Jesus as the victorious Lamb in the New Testament book of Revelation.  So we are crying out with our hearts that this Lamb of God has saved us from our sins by his death and resurrection.

    The change to the “invitation to communion” now has the Priest inviting us to “BEHOLD THE LAMB OF GOD” - which comes from the Gospel of John.  These are the words of John the Baptist who when he saw Jesus in the Jordan, he cried out with those same words.   So we are being invited to “BEHOLD” to contemplate the mystery, to gaze upon and behold with heartfelt gratitude what God has done for us.

    After that is a signifigant change in translation that uncovers a scriptural reference most of us never noticed before.  In the Gospel of Matthew & Luke, there’s an encounter that Jesus has with a Roman Centurion who has a servant who is seriously ill.  The Centurion says to Jesus “Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my servant will be healed.”  With the change in the translation we are recapturing that biblical scene and personalizing the words. 

    Jesus was willing to go to the home of that centurion to heal that servant, but the centurion with all humility felt unworthy, uneasy, that Jesus should come into his house and even more had the faith that Jesus only had to “say the word” and his servant will be healed.  We know that Jesus wants to come into our “roofs” - into our body’s and souls as we receive His Body and Blood, soul and divinity in this Eucharist, to heal us and transform us.  We pray for that faith of that centurion believing that this is possible.   

CONCLUDING RITE:

One final time, the priest reminds the people that the Lord is with them (and the people remind the Priest that all that he has just lead them in and this final act is an act of the priesthood, not him personally as they say and with your spirit) and there’s a simpler dismissal “Go Forth, the Mass is ended” 

The word Mass in fact means “sending”  - we who have celebrated the Eucharist are called to go forth and fulfill God’s will in our daily lives, recalling Jesus’ words at the end of the Gospel of John “As the Father sent me, even so I send you.”

We are called to radiate his life and his love in the world – we are to bring for the mysteries of Christ into the darkness of the world around us.

THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT ENDING -- That's Good News!

Here is my homily for the FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT - November 27, 2011.  It’s a little shorter than usual for me since we were doing a “teaching Mass” explaining the new translation of the prayers and responses the Catholic Church in the English Speaking world is introducing today.    Thanks for reading and your comments and feedback - Fr. Jim

HOMILY:

    On this Thanksgiving weekend we come to Mass and are greeted with scriptures that talk about the end of time as we know it - the time when God comes to judge the world - the time when Jesus comes again.  When people hear or talk about the end times, they might think about that guy Harold Camping who predicted that day was coming, twice, this past year - first in May then on October 21... Some have Hollywood images of the rapture or that movie a couple years ago called “Left Behind:” and those images can be frightening. 
    A pastor a few years ago had an interesting take on the end of the world.  He asked “imagine how the media would deal with end of the world?”   He came up with a list of examples of different headlines he imagined different papers and magazines would have:
    USA Today - WE’RE DEAD;
    WSJ: Dow Jones plummets as world ends;
    Forbes magazine: 10 ways you can profit from the Apocalypse;
    Rolling Stone Magazine : The Grateful Dead Reunion Tour;
    Sports Illustrated: Game Over;
    Ladies Home Journal: Lose 10 pounds by Judgment day with our new Armageddon Diet -
    Discover Magazine: How will the extinction of all life as we know it affect the way we view the cosmos -
    PC Magazine: If you don’t experience the rapture, Download software patch rapt777.exe.

    Today’s readings don’t sound as comical - Isaiah describing the sun being darkened, the moon not giving light, the stars falling from the sky – the Gospel warning us you do not know when the Lord is coming... so Watch!” 

    But before we get ahead of ourselves focusing on the end of the world, maybe we should be asking ourselves why are we suppose to stay awake, what are we suppose to be watching for.  Are we looking for signs of the end times?  Because, in the past few years, we’ve had enough hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis; wars, terrorist attacks – all kinds of things that people believe that the sun has already darkened and the moon has refused to yield light. 

    Even in our own lives, we struggle and are overwhelmed by our own dark clouds - maybe you’re overwhelmed with problems at work, maybe there’s problems at home; maybe sickness or death has thrown you into a very dark place; maybe those sins, failures or temptations keep wearing you down lying to you convincing you that you will never be able to withstand them or be forgiven of them. 

    With all of that, it’s easy to want to simply want to zone out and “fall asleep?”  Which is why these scriptures invite us into a hopeful posture to wake up!    We are being reminded that we are not on our own - because otherwise the darkness would overwhelm us.  No the darkness around us or within us will not overcome us.  Jesus comes, light breaks through, and when He does here’s the Good News that  the world as we know it ends.  Each and every time the true light of Jesus shows itself the world as we know is ends and - that is what we have to keep awake and alert to - so that we don’t miss it! 

We see it happening:
    each and  every time  the hungry are fed;
    each and every time wrongs are righted;
    each and every time peace breaks out where war has raged;
    each and every time forgiveness allows a new beginning,
    each and every time death is faced down with serene faith;
    each and every time fractured families are reconciled... 
In all of those ways, and many more, we find that into our lives comes the Messiah Jesus who makes our lives complete and whole, who brings healing and liberation.     

May we welcome his coming into our homes and hearts and be attentive to his presence already here in our midst as he ushers us into a new day, a new age, a new world.

WHAT MAKES AMERICA GREAT - A Thanksgiving Reflection

This was an Opinion piece I wrote for FOX News a few years ago when I was a contributor to their website.  Have a wonderful 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.

WOULD JESUS OCCUPY WALL STREET?

Here is my homily for the feast of JESUS CHRIST, KING OF THE UNIVERSE - NOVEMBER 20, 2011.  The readings can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/112011.cfm - As always, thanks for reading and all your feedback.  God Bless (And Happy Thanksgiving!)
Fr. Jim

HOMILY:

    Since late September, there’s been wide-spread protests around the country - around the globe that has been dubbed by some as “the occupy movement.”  Here in the New York Metro-area, the local version of it has been called Occupy Wall Street, which has made famous a small park that not only tourists to the Big Apple had never heard of before, but probably many New Yorkers were unaware of as well - Zuccotti Park.   As with any protest movement, there’s been various claims and charges that depending upon your perspective either inspires you or enrages you.  There have been things said and done by some individuals associated with the movement that make it hard for anyone to want to be even remotely connected with them (like anti-Semitic sentiments) – to other things that would be hard for anyone to deny or argue against (high unemployment, corruption, the influence corporations have on all aspects of economic, political and cultural life)  It’s confused a lot of people because there’s no clear leader, nor has there been any list of specific demands.

    But if you’re able to get to the core of the movement, a common theme or a top reason so many are out there protesting, the reason you would hear given the most is that they are there to fight against “greed.”  The protestors argue that greed is the reason there’s so much unemployment, foreclosures, so many problems that affect a great majority of the people (they would claim 99% of the population) because of the excesses done by a few. 

    Whether you agree with all of their beliefs, their tactics, or their solutions or not; if we’re honest with ourselves, we have to recognize that greed does lead to destruction.  We can argue about the particulars and all, but even in our personal lives we know that to be true.  When I’m greedy - when my focus goes to what I alone want, immediately I’ve stopped considering what anybody else needs because my focus is on the pursuit of what I want.  When we imagine that on a greater level – corporations, governments, institutions – acting that way, we can see how this could affect even greater numbers of people.  So greed is an evil that impacts us not just here and now but poses a danger to our eternal souls...which is what we just heard in today’s Gospel.

    In fact today’s Gospel has been cited by some affiliated with the protests as evidence that Jesus would have been among the people in the crowds that are occupying Wall street.  The Washington Post in a recent article on the subject interviewed some religious scholars that seems to support this view: 

    “Jesus believed the whole system was corrupt,” says Bart Ehrman, a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina. “The people who ran things were empowered by the evil forces of the world, and his followers had to work against these powers by feeding the hungry, housing the homeless and caring for the sick.”

Interestingly with this story there was a picture of a guy dressed as Christ at one of the protests with a sign saying “I threw out the Moneylenders for a reason.” (I would say ‘yes Jesus did... care to know what it was? Because something tells me it’s not the same reason as yours...’) But before people use (or mis-use) Jesus, making him a Che’ Guevera to the occupy movement or some face of “revolution” it’s important for us to know there’s a fundamental difference.

    Yes Jesus is preaching against greed in all it’s forms.  Yes, today’s gospel is a warning that the fate of our eternal souls is dependent upon how we cared for our brothers and sisters in great need.   Did we even see them in need?  Did we even recognize them as brothers and sisters?      But that only works when we recognize that we have a common Father.  That only works when recognize Jesus Christ as King of the Universe who is the one giving us these commands.  And that living under his dominion, living under his reign, that there will come a day when we will be asked What did you do for me in your neighbor?


    That’s why, even though it can be easy to see common ground between Jesus and the protesters being “against Greed” - many of the parallels would end there.  Jesus isn’t going to favor capitalism over socialism or communism or any other economic system.  Jesus isn’t going to register as a Republican or a Democrat (that’s going to tick off both sides of my family) Jesus isn’t going to favor violence as a means to bring about his kingdom (or combat the things that threaten his kingdom) And while Jesus loves those in Zuccotti Park for their passion and their desire to address injustices done to the poor, the weak, the vulnerable – he also loves those in the board rooms, the traders, the financial people.  He loves the politicians, the media folks.  He loves the Catholic, the Jew, the Muslim.  He desires the salvation of everyone of the souls who live in his vast kingdom and continues to reach out to all of us that we will desire that as well.

    He wouldn’t differentiate groups of people between haves and have nots.  Or percentages like 99 % vs 1 %.    What we celebrate in today’s feast is that Jesus Christ is the eternal King of the Universe.  His kingship came not simply by being God’s son - which should have and could have been enough.  It was won by His death on the Cross and His Resurrection from the dead.  No other has cared so much for each one of us that they would lay down their lives for us.  It’s an often quoted statement, but it bares repeating: If you or I were the only person to ever have lived, Jesus would still have come down to earth, suffered and died on the Cross for us, for our sins, for our corrupted, sinful hearts.  That loving act has to matter to us.  It has to call us out of self-centeredness into selflessness.  It has to transform us to recognizing that my sins - whether it’s greed, or any other sin – doesn’t simply upset God because we’ve chosen not to listen to Him and follow him, but because it also affects others.  It affects the Kingdom of God in that some of our brothers and sisters are not living the fullness of life they’ve been promised by the Lord, because others of us haven’t been obedient to our King’s commands. 

    In the past few weeks, sadly the occupy movements have seen crime, disease and violence filter in.  And all of those things seem to have distracted or moved the discussion away from the important questions that were being asked, like: what responsibilities do I have to my fellow citizens?  What responsibilities do companies, businesses, government have to there workers, customers, citizens?  That loss of focus was going to eventually happen because Jesus Christ wasn’t their motivation, but was being used as an afterthought to build a larger alliance.  That doesn’t diminish the issues they’ve raised.  And it doesn’t mean that He doesn’t want us to do something about those issues – it’s clear that He does.  The caution we have to make is in assuming he would align himself with “Occupy wall Street” or “Occupy DC” or whatever city the protests have popped up.  That’s way too narrow for this King of the Universe, who comes to occupy our hearts.

NOTHING LIKE BEING LAST MINUTE!







Hi everyone here’s my homily for the 32nd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - November 6, 2011 - The readings can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/110611.cfm .  As always thanks for reading and all your feedback and comments - Fr. Jim

HOMILY:

    So let me tell you about a really good friend of mine from college – I’ll call her Allie – truly one of funniest, most random, crazy (in a ha ha; not an EEK way) people I’ve ever met. More simply she was a theatre major.  For those of you who are theatre majors, you know that’s totally not a slam – it’s meant to be descriptive.  You know what I mean, theatre majors seem to be dramatic on and off the stage.  That was Allie... I mean - she seriously could never take drugs or dink alcohol because of some health stuff that she took very seriously - so she was totally drug free and sober as can be - but you would be convinced she was on something.  She’d call me up at 3:00 in the morning singing Neil Diamond songs, for no reason.  And we were so cutting edge at DeSales University, our dorms had this new thing called “voice mail”.  So if I decided I didn’t want to deal with her 3 am serenades, and set it so that it would go straight to voice mail, she would leave 37 messages, fill up the entire voice mail box with her singing.  So that is Allie...

    Anyway, so the first time I really spoke to her was Freshman year... I was a bit introverted and somewhat shy the first couple of weeks (shocking I know).  I didn’t really know Allie... I mean I heard of her and definitely heard her in some of her more colorful moments in class, in the cafeteria.  I tended to stay away from the louder types.  We were both in Fr. O’Connor’s Introduction to Philosophy class.  It was the morning of our mid-terms - our first midterms as freshmen.  Fr. O’Connor was a brilliant, philosophical tormenter.  He gave us a week and a half before the exam with a list of 10 Essay Questions, from which he would pick 8 and you had to do 7 - so you could skip 2 questions altogether.  But basically you had to memorize and outline your answers to the other ones... So it would be something like “Explain the meaning of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave to Socrates final address – note three similarities, three contrasts and explain how its related to your college experience” .  So you had to basically write 8 mini-term papers- outline them - memorize them - oh and they had to be correct too - and then write them out the day of the exam.   So like I said, it was Freshman year, it was my first time going through that.  I had worked on this stupid review sheet for the whole week and a half.  Trying to memorize and remember it was torturous.  It caused me for the first time, ever, to have an “all-nighter”.  So it’s the morning of the test.  I’m pacing in the hall outside the class room, reading through my notes again -  waiting for the torture session to start (hoping that certain questions would be eliminated).

    That’s when I had my first conversation with Allie.  She came in, looking like she was shot out of a canon - hair was all a mess.  She doesn’t even know my name, comes up to me and says to me “Yeah - you look smart... you gotta help me... We have a test today? Right?  What’s going to be on it, I mean what do I need to know?”

    That was the first time in a week and a half that I felt reasonably sure I wasn’t going to do the worst on the exam.  I think I just looked at her and said something like “you’re joking right?”    That’s when she continued “ YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND – I WAS AT LABUDA ALL WEEK [that was the name of the theatre building]... PLEASE - YOU GOTTA HELP ME” That’s when Fr. O’Connor walked in - and she just turns her head and says “He’s a priest, he has to be nice.”  That’s when I said, “Yeah, I know his boss is pretty nice, and you know what, at this point, you’re better off talking to him, because Jesus is the only one who can help you now.”

    I remember the scowl, open mouth, stunned - angry/shocked look she had with a “Jim Chern I can’t believe you just said that” (wow, she did know my name). 

    Seriously though, while that story was comical - how unrealistic was that?  I mean even if I had considered cheating to help (at that point) crazy stranger - you can’t cheat on an essay exam.  And you sure as heck can’t learn all you needed to know  - a half of semesters of course work; a week and a half of researching, studying and memorizing things – in just a few minutes.  Even if I really wanted to at that point, it was way too late.  No charity, no desire on my part would’ve been able to help Allie miraculously learn what she needed to pass the exam.

    That’s the same point Jesus was making in today’s parable.  When we hear a parable, Jesus is trying to tell a story to convey some deep truth, some important information in a dramatic memorable way.  So this story about the five virgins why don’t they want to share oil with the five foolish ones - what’s up with that?  It seems like they’re just being petty doesn’t it?  We’re expecting Jesus to come down hard on the “wise” ones as being arrogant or selfish.  The thing was to give a little historical context - at the time, this was part of the custom of weddings.  Weddings were like “the event” of the year - the whole town would be buzzing about it.  But the bridegroom would come at an unexpected time to kind of surprise them.  So if you were prepared, you got in.  If not, you’re on the D list outside trying to beg the bouncer to let you in.   So Jesus’ initial audience would’ve realized that custom and the deeper meaning that Jesus was sharing to his immediate audience.   That Israel, the Jewish people were the ones invited to the Wedding Feast, and they should’ve been anticipating and awaiting the “groom” - The Messiah...

    For us who are Catholic Christian, hearing this tonight, we see Jesus as the Groom and the Church is her Bride.  So how does this parable speak to us?  As we await Jesus’ return at the end of all time, the oil in the lamps that we heard about in the parable represents something that cannot be shared.  The oil is our personal virtue.   One religious writer put it, The wise virgins “represent all those who possess the ensemble of virtues which characterize a complete Christian life.”  So when you look at the parable that way, you see how dramatic the differences between the wise and foolish maidens are.  The wise choose to live chastely rather than the foolish one to give into lust; the wisdom to have self-control and restraint rather than getting drunk or high.  It’s the difference between the charitable and the greedy; the hardworking versus the lazy; being patient rather than giving into rage; being kind rather than envious.  The wise who are humble rather than the foolish who’s pride and ego’s are way out of control.

    When we look at those virtues over vices we realize it’s just like my friend Allie the day of the exam - just like you can’t learn half a semester of material in an instant, we can’t move from being foolish to virtuous in an instant.  Those are choices, decisions, steps we make on a daily basis that moves us in one direction or the other.    We grow closer to the Lord or further from him in all the decisions we make.    Jesus shares this parable to illustrate the importance for us to be engaged in that battle to make those virtuous choices.  To be working always to fill our lanterns with the oil that has us burning bright to welcome the “bridegroom” who is Jesus Christ who wants to unite with us, in that grand wedding celebration of eternity.   The great thing is, for those of us who find our oil running a little low, we can begin right here, right now to change that.  A good confession, a change of heart, a step in the opposite direction can begin to fill our lanterns up to burn brightly the Light of Christ in our lives.  So, are you’re lanterns ready for a fill up?

ALL HOLY MEN AND WOMEN PRAY FOR US...

Happy Feast of All Saints!  The readings for today can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/110111.cfm Here’s my homily for the day.  Thanks for reading and your feedback!  Fr. Jim

HOMILY:

    Among the many things that sadly divide Christians - today’s feast is probably one of them: the Saints.  A lot of it comes from misunderstandings or misinterpretations.  There are some that some accuse Catholics of “worshiping” Saints; making them “gods” and saying “why do you pray to them... why don’t you just go to Jesus yourself with your prayers?”

    And whenever these debates or arguments come up, I usually say “we do go to Jesus ourselves with our prayers, but we also ask others to pray for us.  Why?  Well, because... the Bible tells us to do so.  St. Paul tells the Romans, the Galatians, the Ephesians to pray for Him... He also tells these communities that he’s praying for them.  So in scripture we see the Apostles knew of the importance and the power that came from people praying for one another.   That it unites us as the Body of Christ to “bear one another’s burdens” as Paul tells us in his letter to the Galatians. 

    So if we’re going to ask one another to pray for each other, who better to ask then the Saints?  Saint James in his letter says “the fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful” (James 5:16).  So it makes sense for us to ask the Saints not only to pray for us.  We ask those who’ve lived heroic, virtuous, holy lives to inspire us... to encourage us when life gets tough... when we’ve been tempted to sin (or even given into sin) to remember their stories which tells us of a God who never gave up on them and who never gives up on us.  That when we have our fears or worries or trials that cause us to doubt – we hear their stories, imagining how they faced similar fears or worries or trials or even worse ones.  Yet in those moments of struggle, they found the strength of the Holy Spirit within themselves to never give into despair, never believe the lies of the devil... They carried within themselves the truth that Jesus has conquered the ultimate thing that causes humanity to be afraid – death, and if we focus our lives on Him, like the Saints did, we are promised to live in eternity with Him, and all the saints...

    That’s why this Gospel is such a perfect one.  So often when we hear this passage, because it’s familiar we might not pay close attention.  But think about how relatable it is.  Just going through the list of Beattitudes- who here hasn’t mourned?  ; or been wronged and sought justice.   How often are you mocked because you even come to Mass?   More than likely, we can find a lot of things in these verses that seem familiar to our lives and things we’ve experienced. 

    What makes the saints Saints is that these countless numbers of men and women experienced those same realities in their own lives, but also found Jesus Christ was there in the midst through it all.  So even though they mourned, they knew to call out to God in their sorrow.  Even though they were persecuted or hungered and thirsted for righteousness, they didn’t whine, whimper of complain - but struggled for what was just, stood confident in their faith.  They were merciful and meek, not in just laying down and getting taken advantage of, but rather doing the more difficult thing – learning to forgive gross injustices, and in that, constantly     displayed the power of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ in every day and age.

    As we continue our life journey’s, we hope to share the same eternal reward that the Saints enjoy: an eternity in the Mansion our Heavenly Father has prepared for us that our Savior has promised us will be ours if we follow Him, follow these words of His.  In the meantime, may the Saints continue to pray for us that we will never waver in  pursuit of that eternal reward.

MATT MAHER SENTENCED TO JAIL???

Hi everyone, here's my homily for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 25, 2011.  The readings for today can be found here http://usccb.org/bible/readings/092511.cfm  Thanks as always for reading and your comments and feedback!

HOMILY:

    Some of you may have heard of the popular Catholic-Christian songwriter Matt Maher.  He’s written a number of albums that are religious in nature and seem to fit well both at Mass and just to listen on your iPod. Over the last couple of years of celebrating Mass on a college campus where we favor Christian contemporary music over traditional hymns, I’ve really become a fan of Maher’s.  So I was happy to hear a few weeks ago that he had a new album debuting.

    Trying to find out about it, I did what all you hip kids do, I went to google to find out when the new album was coming out.  As I typed Matt Maher in the search line, the auto-fill in and search results instantly popped a headline I didn’t expect “Matt Maher sentenced for manslaughter.”  Yeah, didn’t expect that headline to pop up.  So of course my curiosity was peaked and I clicked the link (is it any wonder my ADHD is out of control and I can’t get anyting done)

    Well as you might have guessed - it was a different person who happened to share the same name.  This Matt Maher had quite a different story. Just a little over 2 years ago, Matthew Maher had been drinking, got into a car, was driving home at a high rate of speed on the Atlantic City Expressway.   Matthew struck the vehicle of 55 year-old Hort Kap, husband and father of six children, who was pronounced dead at the scene.  Matt was arrested and charged with aggravated manslaughter.   He was eventually sentenced to 5 years 5 months in prison, in which he must serve 85 percent of his time. 

    Prior to going to prison, Matt presented the story of his life called,"I'm That Guy" to over 34 schools in three months reaching over 7,000 students.  In this powerful testimony of how “decisions determine destiny” Matt explains that he was "That Guy" who grew up achieving in every area of his life.  He was a role model, active in his community, excelled in academics and athletics, earned himself a full scholarship to Temple University, and eventually signed a professional contract as a soccer player.  Now he is "That Guy," a drunk driver, who killed an innocent man and who now resides in prison.

    It’s sad that such a tragedy had to make Matt Maher realize a truth that he should have known – that drunk driving kills innocent people... That it wrecks many lives and families.  It’s sad reading his website where there’s updates from jail.  Where he’s sitting in a cell every night.  And you know the depth of his remorse when he said in an interview "If they told me I could leave prison tomorrow, I would refuse because God is teaching me so much and I have more to learn."

    Watching videos, you see Matt breaking down as he apologizes to the family face to face in court.  You start to tear up as you see Mr. Kap’s son hug Matt in a sign of forgiveness. And as you read on his website, Matthew has said that he will dedicate himself to honoring the memory of his victim, by telling this story about choices, consequences and how our actions can change countless lives--for the good or bad. 

    In a similar way, Jesus is talking about the same thing - how our actions can change lives, specifically our own life – for the good and bad.  And not just for consequences that can wind up with someone being in jail, or hurt, or killed - but for all eternity. 

    In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells this brief story about two brothers are asked to do something.  The Father asks them to go take care of his vineyard.  The one says no, feels bad and then decides to go.  The other says yes and then decides not to.  Jesus uses this minor story to get to a bigger issue.  He is worried about the religious experts and their salvation.  Because after this brief story, he quickly refers to the fact that prostitutes and tax collectors (who were doing more than a civil service of collecting money for the government – they were helping the enemy Romans in suppressing their own people AND basically stealing from their own people by charging a little bit extra that they could pocket themselves) when they heard the word of God preached from John the Baptist, they made a radical change in their life.  They had a conversion of heart.  The religious experts didn’t.  They dismissed the teaching of John assuming they “knew” God well enough that they didn’t need his prophetic calls.  They were now having that same arrogant indifference towards not a prophet, but Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 

    So Jesus is worried that a great tragedy is unfolding.  That if they continue to chose to be blind to His presence, if they continue to be deaf to His words, they’re making a terrible choice that can result in a tragedy – them missing being a part of the Kingdom of Heaven. 

    You and I need to constantly be reminded that the call to repentance, the call to conversion, the call to turn away from sin is something we need to hear over and over because the devil is not going to cease trying to tempt us.  There’s never going to be a time where we have completely overcome them.  Jesus knows that - it’s why that parable is somewhat comforting, because neither son really acts appropriately.  The correct response to the Father’s command should have been “Yes Father” in word and in action.  Yet, Jesus moves past the failures on both of the sons parts to highlight the one who had the change of heart.

    For Matthew Maher, he can probably recall a number of bad choices that resulted in the tragedy he has to live with.  The decision to drive to wherever he was going to party, the decision to have that extra drink or two, that choice to get behind the car and drive home.  And as he replays those decisions and choices, he’s left with having responsibility for what he did, knowing that while he is doing something good now, he can’t change those choices and undo the damage he’s done to his life, or bring back the life that his actions killed.         

    For you and I, our story is still unfolding.  There are choices and decisions we are confronted with every day that will either bring us closer or further away from the Lord.  Jesus hasn’t given up on us.  Our Loving Father looks at us, His sons and daughters, hoping that we will learn this lesson, and avoid a tragedy in the making. 

"THE SITUATION" GOT YOUR ATTENTION?

Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the 25th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - September 18, 2011.  The readings for today can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/091811.cfm .  Thanks as always for reading and your feedback and comments.  God Bless  - Fr. Jim

HOMILY

    You have to feel bad for “The Situation.”  If you’re unaware, that’s a person.  Mike “the situation” whatever his last name... a cast member of the horrific “Jersey Shore.”  He and his cast mates over the summer were in a sense targeted  by the clothing chain Abercrombie and Fitch who offered them money to stop wearing their clothes in public because, they claimed, that the people from Jersey Shore are bad examples and they didn’t want to associate their brand with the antics of these individuals or this show.   Who can blame them?   Being Italian and from Jersey, I cringe at any association with them (even though, truth be told, I still haven’t watched an episode - this is all coming from watching the opening credits and getting disgusted once and reading about their antics).  

    Anyway, call me conspiracy minded, but something didn’t seem right about the whole story.  First off, as much as I think the show is trash, it is one of the most popular television programs for people aged 18-29 year olds - the exact group of people that Abercrombie and Fitch try to market to buying their clothes.  And in case anyone forgot, Abercrombie and Fitch just a few years ago had their own controversy when they were published a clothes catalog that had young men and women barely wearing any clothes.  So it’s not like they’ve seemed to be overly concerned about taking the high moral ground in terms of decency in recent years.


    Well sure enough, the NY Times did an article pointing out that this was a clever marketing technique to gain the public’s attention.  In an era where product placement in movies and TV has become a common an effective way of advertising products - clothes, sodas, whatever – the idea that Abercrombie and Fitch did – offering to pay someone to stop wearing the product was a completely different approach.   Now people, especially potential customers and fans of the show were asking “would the Situation take the deal?”   They would watch episodes (most of which were filmed months ago) looking to see if he wore that label or not.  There would be back and forth between company executives and the cast member in interviews on the topic.  Coincidently, all of which took place in August - a slow news month, what just so happens to be the time when people are heading to the shopping centers and malls for“Back to School” sales. 

    It’s safe to say that Abercrombie and Fitch simply wanted to get people’s attention.  Which they did in a very clever way. 

    It seems harder and harder to grab people’s attention.  Which is why today’s Gospel is so interesting.  2,000 years later, Jesus’ story, this parable he offers every time it’s proclaimed stirs people up and gets them talking.  Which is one of the main purposes of a parable.  To present something in a dramatic way that it captures your imagination to get to the deeper message. 

    So think about what we just heard - this landowner, he goes out hires people at the start of the day, then at 9:00, noon, three o’clock, and then at five o’clock and pays them all the same salary at quitting time, which is 6:00.  So just imagine that - imagine you got a job the last week of the summer.  You couldn’t or wouldn’t or weren’t able to find anything since May.  But that last week of August you did and you got paid the same amount as your friends who’ve worked since May.     If that happened to you, if say for example, Abercrombie and Fitch or Hollister did that, that would definitely get a lot of people’s attention.  And most likely many would be arguing about how fair this was or not. 

    In the example of the Gospel story, Jesus makes a valid point (shocking I know, that I’m going to agree with Jesus) - it’s the landowners money, it’s his right to do as he sees fit.... He’s not being unfair to one group over the other.  But we can’t shake it that it still feels like its unfair though, doesn’t it?  If you’re the one working since 6 am, and you see these people walking in at 5 pm and you both walk out at 6 pm with the same wage, wouldn’t you be slightly ticked off?

    The parable is doing what it’s designed to do – get our attention in a very dramatic way.  And what does Jesus want us to pay attention to?  A couple of things.  The first thing is that God is incredibly generous.  That His Love for us isn’t determined by the length of time we’re in His vineyard.  He simply offers that invitation to us to come.  And once we’re there, he treats us as if we had been there all along. 

    The second point is often missed as we argue over how employee relations would go-over in this story – but to me seems even more important, or beautiful.  And that is that God never stops looking for us.  He is constantly coming after us.  Longing for us to come and be a part of his vineyard.  In the parable it is the landowner who isn’t satisfied with going out once at the break of day... No, he keeps looking for late comers.  Going out to find people throughout the day who are finally ready to seek Him out.  What we learn is that the most important thing isn’t when we find him it’s  that we eventually do.

    Because in the parable, the people at the start of the day were seeking one thing - a job.  They wanted to work.  They wanted security.  They wanted to know they would be able to survive, provide for their loved ones.   And they are blessed to find that was readily available.  What was it that had prevented those who would come along later?  Who knows:  
    maybe they were lazy;
        maybe they looked for a job in the wrong place; 

    Maybe they believed lies about themselves and felt “no one would hire me” or “they’re going to hire someone else instead of me.” 

    Whatever it was – something prevented them from showing up earlier.   For them, the joy they must’ve experienced to realize that no, they weren’t too late... to see that the generous landowner was still hiring, was still interested in them, that he truly wanted them...

    What makes this even more beautiful is when we realize this is more than just a story about employment.  Those of us who were blessed to be born and raised Catholic-Christians, we can’t forget how blessed it is that we’ve known the truth of those words from the first reading to– seek the Lord while he may be found, call him while he is near.    Jesus wants us to see how we are renewed in those blessings when we find a newcomers has found their way here.   We are to rejoice when those who’ve wandered away come back.  And we should want to tell others, the landowner, the Loving Father hasn’t given up on those still lost, still afraid, still telling themselves lies like “God doesn’t want me” or “I can’t go there, I’m not holy enough” or the other opposite extreme “I don’t want to go there - they’re a bunch of hypocrites.”   Because the truth of the matter is all of us are blessed to be here, not because of anything we’ve done, but because God has sought us first. 

    Jesus had a way of getting peoples attention long before Abercrombie and Fitch and The Situation.  Now that he has it, are we willing to share it with those in desperate need of it themselves?