BLESSED ARE YOU... 'RUDY'


Hi everyone - here’s my homily for the FOURTH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME - Jan 30, 2011. The readings can be found at http://www.usccb.org/nab/013011.shtml - As always, thanks for reading and all of your feedback! Fr. Jim

HOMILY:

So how many of you have seen the movie Rudy?

A few weeks ago I saw it probably for only the second time ever. To be honest I had kind of forgotten about it, and had some reluctance to seeing it. Why? Well, two reasons really. First I’m not a huge football fan. I like football and enjoy watching it, but I’m not a huge fan (not like baseball - another time, another homily)

The second is that I’m the youngest brother, and when you’re two older brothers drill it into you the entire time you’re growing up that “we hate Notre Dame” - you just don’t question it. There’s no rationale, reason or logic behind the hatred. (Well, I’m sure if my brothers were here they could give you their lists of reasons) But honestly, they did a good job... I’m 37 years old, consider myself a somewhat sane, reasonable individual - but when I see the logo, the leprechaun guy, hear the Notre Dame song - it’s like pavolov’s experiment, they must’ve punched me or something because everytime “the Fighting Irish” comes up - I just have a natural aversion. Which is too bad because I had forgotten what an awesome movie this is.

For those of you who’ve seen it, (and if you haven’t - rent it today, it’s perfect a week before the Super Bowl and who wants to watch the Pro-Bowl) Rudy is based on a true story about a young man named Daniel ‘Rudy’ Rutieger..a young guy who’s only dream is to play football for Notre Dame. But there’s a few obvious problems which explain why his family and friends think he’s crazy to even have this thought. He has always too small to play football - whether it’s in the backyard with his brothers and neighbors growing up- or even as a young man trying to get into college. Physically he didn’t have the build to be a football player. Then there’s the fact that his grades in high school were abysmal. So not only did it appear to nearly everyone around him he would never even be considered for the football team. . . even getting into the University seemed impossible.

Kind of a terrible movie if it ended there? So we follow Rudy as he saves his own money working with his father and brothers in a factory. When Notre Dame turns him down after he just shows up one fall morning looking to register, one of the priests on campus encourages him to go to a local community college and get good grades, and re-apply, which he does... he works his tail off every semester, applying every semester and getting rejected every semester... He works as a groundskeeper (you guessed it, in Notre Dame’s stadium) just so he can be near the place where he ultimately wants to be. A bulk of the movie seems to follow Rudy studying, working, praying as well as training for football... Finally he gets into Notre Dame. His only shot at playing football is as a “walk on.” The “Fighting Irish” basically have scholarships and scouts to recruit ever member of their team (one reason that my oldest brother hates Notre Dame) So they have a few spots where a guy can try out to be on the “practice squad” so that the real team can practice against live bodies before a game. Against all odds, Rudy makes that squad and is so excited that he treats every practice like he’s prepping for the Super Bowl.

For Rudy to be considered an actual member of the team, to prove to his family and friends that he is an official member of the team, he must actually be able to suit up for a game, be on the official team roster and play one play. Often times the coaches would allow a senior who has been a “walk on” to have that honor. When it appears the new coach, who arrives Rudy’s senior year, is only interested in making sure Notre Dame wins and isn’t interested in that tradition, Rudy has a bit of a melt down as the last game approaches. He quits the squad before the last practice. He storms out of the locker room. He goes to the head groundskeeper, named “Fortune” who he had befriended over the years and tells Fortune that he has quit the team, how unfair this has been, that he’s done with Notre Dame and seems angry at himself that he had even chased this seemingly unattainable dream.

This leads to probably my favorite scenes in the film. Fortune says to Rudy You're 5 foot nothin', 100 and nothin', and you have nearly a speck of athletic ability. And you hung in there with the best college football team in the land for 2 years. And you're gonna walk outta here with a degree from the University of Notre Dame. In this life, you don't have to prove nothin' to nobody but yourself.

If only he said “Blessed are you Rudy” it would’ve been the perfect tie in to the Gospel today. But the scene still works - and for me, that could’ve been a great place to end the movie (but I’m not a director, so I won’t ruin it for you if you haven’t seen it)

Fortune is smacking Rudy in the head to have a shift in perspective and is saying as Rudy had fixated simply on one pipe-dream of a dream, he has missed some pretty spectacular things that have been going on around and in him. And if he doesn’t wake up, he’s going to be a bitter guy who throws all those blessings away because he can’t achieve simply one of his dreams, one of his desires, one of his goals.

In listening to Jesus in his famous Sermon on the Mount, which in the Gospel of Matthew is His first lengthy teaching, address - He is doing something similar. As Jesus lists all of those whom He considers “Blessed,” they don’t seem to be the individuals we’d think would fall into that category. For the most part, when people talk about themselves or characterize someone else that way - saying that they are blessed - it’s usually talking about something good, something great... something that other people would want - a state in life they wish they had.

Yet looking at the people Jesus labels as Blessed – well they seem to be the exact opposite of what the world tells us to aspire for - the poor in spirit (basically those who have nothing in this life but their faith in God); those who mourn (not just those who have experienced death, but those who struggle with sin in their lives and “mourn” over the fact that they struggle with that) the meek (those who seem powerless, insignificant to the world)...

In all of these categories, you could kind of mistake what Jesus is saying – seeing Him giving a type of pep-talk for his followers to refer to when we’re going through rough times. “BUCK UP BUCKAROO - YOU’RE BLESSED!” If that was the case, then Jesus is being insincere.

Instead, Jesus is trying to give us a smack in the head and change our perspectives about who God is and how He relates with us. What Jesus is trying to break through to us right at the start of his ministry is that God isn’t rewarding people with things, opportunities, experiences that most of us truly desire. So just because that guy won the lottery, or that woman is incredibly intelligent and has a great job, or that classmate seems to be able to get good grades with minimal work - none of that is saying that in God’s eyes those individuals rank any higher than any one else. In fact, those things can become a burden because those things can warp a persons perception of who they are and who God is. They can easily think that somehow they deserve God’s favor more than others. Or even sadder, that God has nothing to do with them... that their successes, their triumphs, their “blessings” is something they achieve and experience on their own.

In this sermon, with these Beatitudes, Jesus reveals his radical view of what it means to be a member of God’s family. The days of comparing ourselves to one another are over. The lies we tell ourselves that I’m better than this person or not as good as someone else because of what they have, what they do, or who I am are clearly over.

Jesus invites us to recognize that Blessed are you when even in the midst of all that is going on in your life, all the trials and tribulations you suffer and endure Blessed are you when you realize God hasn’t abandoned you. Blessed are you when you realize this isn’t some divine punishment - Blessed are you when you see He is there with you in the midst of it all. Blessed are you when you endure that with that confidence of faith knowing the love of God sustains you.

Too often we look for the Hollywood, movie-like ending in our own lives. We want the crowd chanting “Rudy” for us (well, with our names instead) - We desire that promotion. To win the powerball/mega millions jackpot. Thinking then, THEN we will be “blessed.” Imagine if we allow the love of God speaking to you and I right now in this Word to really possess our minds. Imagine if we allow the amazing love of Jesus Christ that he empties himself, becomes present in a stale host and some common wine so that we can consume Him - if that love consumed us... If we did, would there be any question how blessed we truly are?
We spent a good portion of our bus ride having students share how they drew closer to Jesus Christ over the weekend. Really beautiful testimonies. Wish I had recorded it.

Getting into MSU with plenty of time for 8:30 pm mass.

ANSWERING THE CALL


Hi everyone here’s my homily for the THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - January 23, 2010 - given at Montclair State University. We’ve just returned from the FOCUS National Conference in Baltimore Maryland, where the theme was “ANSWERING THE CALL”. Today’s Gospel reading seems perfectly suited to that theme. Thanks for reading - Fr Jim

HOMILY:

In the course of a day, try to imagine how many times you hear you’re name said... From questions people ask you to stories they want to share with you and everything in between. You probably hear your name a lot. So think about this question – When someone calls your name - how do you react? Do you respond out of fear, annoyance, anger? Maybe you respond out of obligation or respect. Do you respond sincerely, with genuineness, friendship or love? It depends. Thinking about that question, for some reason, memories from when I was a kid seemed to jump out in my mind... Maybe because in childhood the reactions and responses we have to our names being called seemed less complex, more immediate without as much thought about the consequences.

For example, as a little kid, getting home from school my brothers and I would be running around outside - and usually around 5:00 my Mother would scream our names “Chris, Craig... Jimmie” when she wanted us to come home for dinner. We knew she wanted us home, but there wasn’t a real sense of urgency in her voice, so we pretended not to hear Mom so we could play another inning, run another play or whatever just to extend our time outside a little linger. 10 minutes later when my Father would scream “CHRISTOPHER SCOTT, CRAIG RUSSELL and JAMES NICHOLAS” no other words were necessary. We usually bolted pretty quickly realizing that mom’s patience had worn out, she yelled at my father to yell for us...

My brothers could say my name in a very friendly way (almost too friendly like a salesman or something) when they wanted me to get them to do a favor... They also found ways to call my name that was extremely annoying,“Jim... Jim... Jim...Jim... Jim...” (Complete with poking) when I wouldn’t do whatever favor they wanted (until I would finally give in).

My friends Brett and Kevin could say “Hey Jim,” in such a matter of fact way that, I don’t know, I kind of thought they knew what they were talking about. They were my friends, and we always hung out together, so I never was concerned they were intentionally going to do something to hurt me (couldnt always say that about my brtohers). But Kevin and Brett, well I would just kind of go along with what they said. That’s part of being young, we cab all be kind of stupid... Like this one time...do you know what ‘caps’ are - those fire-works-type-things you’d put in a ‘cap gun’ to make a sound like a real gun? Well being the boy geniuses that we were, we discovered if you hit two at the same time it made a louder sound, so - more obviously equals better... so Kevin said“Hey Jim, hold this entire roll of 50 caps with your two thumbs” as Brett held a giant rock over his head. In a moment that would look great on Tosh.o - the rock came down, it made a huge bang with the caps (complete with a flames) and a scream where this little boy sounded like a little girl as Brett blew my thumb-nail right off...

In school, Mrs. Gagliardi could call on me in class “Jim???” And either it was a moment of triumph where I actually got the answer correct or tragedy when my not doing my homework or being prepared was revealed...

It’s interesting because when we think about all the people who call out our names for a variety of different reasons, in an assortment of situations – depending on the circumstances, the person doing the calling, your relationship with them all has a lot to do with your reaction.

Which is why this Gospel, which is considered the “start” of Jesus’ public ministry, when He is just beginning to preach his message of “good news” of God’s Love for His people is so fascinating to me. We just heard what is referred to as “the Call of the Disciples.” We read Jesus calling Simon (Peter) - the first Apostle and our first Pope, Peter’s brother Andrew, James and John... What’s so amazing to me is the immediacy of their actions. Peter and Andrew had their fishing business. All of their supplies, their nets are there. They had their lives with all of their goals, their plans. All things that up until this moment they probably thought were incredibly important. James and John were kind of in a similar situation– they are with their father - working with him - Zebedee and Sons fishing company. Yet Jesus simply walks along the seashore, calls their names and they leave it all behind. Peter and Andrew drop their nets - James and John leave their father. The Gospel says simply, but profoundly - “He called them, and immediately... they followed him.”

What was it about Jesus that when He called their name made them react in such a dramatic, life changing way? With such immediacy, dedication, sincerity? To drop everything and follow after him?

We don’t read Peter and Andrew stopping and saying “OK Jesus, that sounds possible... but we have to think about it, we have a business, we’ve built a life for ourselves. There’s things here we need to take care of first.” James and John don’t start looking for a way to ignore it, for some excuse – “what about our father? We can’t just leave him, can we? Maybe when he dies, Jesus?” They don’t even seem to stop to explain where they are going or why they are doing so. How is it that when Jesus’ called their name they respond, they react in such an unexpected way?

The answer is love. The eyes of Christ looking into their eyes. Hearing His voice saying their name something in that voice had to have been so different, so foreign yet strangely familiar revealing that Jesus knew more about each of these men then just their first names and professions... No he knew these men. He knew their potential. He knew their failures. He knew their doubts and fears. He knew their sinfulness. He knew their joys and what made them so uniquely themselves. Yes Jesus knew them deeply, intimately. And so as he calls them by name, they’re able to recognize that Jesus knows them, and they trust Him just with those few audible words.

Because they hear his voice in that special place each of us has deep within. They hear with the ears of the heart. And so heart speaks to heart... He calls their name and something within each of them realizes that nothing along the seashore, no big catch of fish, none of their plans or goals will ever touch that deep, intimate place that Jesus was able to speak to in their hearts. They found in their lives and they speak to us now telling us that the only way for the heart to find fulfillment is in following Him.

Despite countless stories of saints who attest to the truth of that – how in following Jesus they only fell deeper in love with Him as He led them in ways they never imagined - so many of us resist His gaze, dodge his invitation, don’t seem to hear his voice. Maybe we’re distracted by other voices calling our names, promising us easier ways to achieve happiness (and if you’re not “completely satisfied”, we’ll there’s probably a pill for that which you can get without a prescription). And for a variety of reasons, we’ve responded to those. Trapping ourselves in a cycle where one lie builds upon another lie – even to the point that we can actually hear Jesus’ voice in our own lives calling us by name and we don’t know how to respond. We can’t imagine the things he’s proposing are possible: “I can’t be a priest, or I can’t be a religious sister... I’m too sinful, I’m not holy enough...it’s nice that we have them and I hope we have priests and religious - but not me Lord.” -or - “I don’t think I want children when I get married, there’s too many things I want to do with my career...” “I know what the church says about sex, but we’ve been dating long enough and I don’t want to wait...”

Jesus isn't looking for perfection. He's not looking for debates or negotiations (if only the Church did such and such THEN... ) or any other type of excuse we can come up with. In calling us by name, he's calling to our hearts and asking that we trust him even slightly as much as he trusts us. As we heard Curtis Martin in his talk this morning (at the FOCUS Conference) explain - from the very foundation of the world, God imagined us into existence as a part of this vast creation. His son called each of us by name at our baptism, but that wasn't simply a one shot deal. The fact is he calls out to our hearts at every moment of our lives-- heart speaks to heart right now. And how does your heart react to that call? With love or with excuses?
Natives are restless waiting for the bus
12:30 am... Just finished hearing confessions with 30 other priests for over 3 hours. God is so, so good... Jesus loves us so, so much... Not much else to say other than it's still one of the most overwhelming and humbling experiences...

Greetings from Baltimore!

So it's hard to believe it's just about 24 hours we've been down here in Baltimore. As some of you may know we're at the FOCUS NATIONAL CONFERENCE 2011. Unlike in previous years where it was a 5day/4 night experience over Winter Break (Last year in Orlando Florida, two years before that in Dallas Texas), this year FOCUS split the conference into 4 different venues over 4 different weekends. So this is "stop 3" if you will after already holding conferences in Denver Colorado and St. Paul Minnesota. Next week they'll be in Nashville Tennessee.

The thought was that perhaps the larger conferences were too expensive and difficult for students to get that amount of time free during break. (For those who remember, last year it was a 22 hour bus trip from Montclair to Orlando and then back - so in effect, it was an entire week of Winter Break)

For us here at Montclair State we went from 23 students who attended to 40, so maybe they're onto something! In any event, we're all having a great time. The bus ride was a breeze in comparison to last year... The talks have been centered on the theme "ANSWERING THE CALL" - where we are challenged to discern what it is God is asking of each of us and then to do it!

Our students with our FOCUS missionaries designed our T-Shirts (which those of you who hail from the Garden State will appreciate!) With a quote on the back from Pope John Paul II that is our "motto" for this conference "Totus Tuus" - Totally Yours

Audrey Assad - Restless

Hey everyone - I meant to add that last night we also had a beautiful concert by an up and coming Contemporary Catholic Christian Musician... Check out this song...

Martin Sheen & Emilio Estevez


Tonight at FOCUS Conference, we were treated to a premiere of Emilio Estevez's New Movie called "THE WAY" starring his father, Martin Sheen. At the end of the movie, they took questions and answers from the audience.

The first one came from none other than PATRICK CASKEY our New MSU FOCUS Missionary. If I did this right - you can hear his question and the response:

Pics from the Iphone getting on the bus


This is kind of cool. Have gotten to meet and shake MARTIN SHEEN and EMILIO ESTEVEZ'S hands three times tonight. They're premiering a movie that Emilio ( yeah were on a first name basis now) wrote and directed starring his father Martin called "THE WAY" - how cool is that?
Scenes from the bus! Were closing in on baltimore. Just finished praying the rosary for everyone going to conference and for our MONTCLAIR STATE UNIVERSITY campus
And the wheels on the bus go round and round. Well not yet! Were boarding and the snow has delayed a few things. But that's alright. as matt Higgins would say: EVERYTHINGS GOING TO BE OKAY.
Well we're a little delayed but our bus driver is going 90 mph so we should make up time

AMERICAN IDOL & WHAT ARE YOU BORN TO DO?


Hi everyone - this is my homily for the 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time - January 16, 2010. The readings for today’s Mass can be found at http://www.usccb.org/nab/011611.shtml. Thanks as always for reading and your feedback. Have a great week! Fr. Jim



HOMILY:
So many are eager with anticipation... wondering how’s it going to be.... how are things going to be different or change... Will it be better or worse... of course, I’m talking about the new season of American Idol. Yes after months of hype, anticipation, and it seems like non-stop commercials and reports about it - Idol will be back but now without the infamous Simon, the bizarre (at least to me) Paula, the other one who took her place... instead - newcomers pop-music star Jennifer Lopez. Steven Tyler from Aerosmith joining Randy Jackson as the judges of basically this talent-show/competition where the winner becomes a new pop-music star. I’m not a fan, I never watch the show, because honestly I cannot stand it. The fact that I know as much as I do about the show though says something...Well, it says a couple of things- I watched way too much television while being sick over Christmas break that had commercials non stop for this show... but also how much of an effect this one program has had on our culture:

- It’s the first show to have been the most-watched TV series in history for an unprecedented 6 years in a row (surpassing All in the Family and The Cosby Show, which had been the previous record holders).

- It has launched successful musical careers for almost every one of their winners or finalists including Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Chris Daughtry, Josh Gracin (country music star that I like, and didn’t realize was even on American Idol)...

- Towards the end of 2009, American Idol alumni had sold a total of over 46 million albums and 56 million downloaded tracks in the U.S., and 66 million albums worldwide. By last year, four idols each had more than a million radio spins, with Kelly Clarkson leading the field with over four million spins... (I knew Wikipedia was good for something)

With all of that success, I realize I’m in the minority in saying I can’t stand the show. I have never watched a full episode once. Never wanted to. Would rather watch a repeat of Everybody Loves Raymond or Seinfeld for the 88th time... One reason I dislike it is that it’s like a bad high school talent show without the teachers telling you to be nice and not to laugh at the bad acts. In fact, the question now is how will the show survive without Simon mocking the awful acts (Already there’s been reports or warnings depending on your perspective that “the show is warmer or nicer”)

Because for every "American Idol" that’s crowned, there’s been a trail of individuals who have been shattered, humiliated, and left devastated. Sure some people come on the show to be goofs, to get a laugh, and just wanted to be funny on national television (Like that “Pants on the ground” guy from last year) - but there are some you can tell were truly let down. Not to make fun of some of them, but in some cases it was obvious - God didn’t give them the gift of singing...

In one news article I read a few years ago, I’ll never forget this failed contestant saying she was devastated because as she put it"I know that this is what I was born to do." If that’s the case, if in fact she had all through her life imagined that she was going to be a singer and felt that American Idol was her only real shot to fulfill this life’s ambition- I could imagine that would be earth-shattering. If you think this was what you were born to do and you were told by three people on national television before millions of people that you’re not... that would have to leave you somewhat lost. (Heck, as the song American Idol has for that too - You had bad day...)

One reason that American Idol has become a ratings juggernaut for 10 seasons is people enjoy seeing someone discovering that they have found the answer to that question “What was I born to do.” (And in the television world, its conveniently packaged into a 12-14 week season) Especially for people who are in the 18-34 age group its no wonder that they’re the biggest part of that audience - they’re drawn to that show because they’re constantly trying to figure that out for themselves - "What was I born to do?"

The readings today speak about that, reflecting on what is it that we are born to do. God has created each and every one of us for a special purpose. Each and every one of us has a role to play. Each and every one of us God looks at and says "I NEED YOU TO DO THIS TO HELP BRING MY GRACE TO LIFE TO THIS WORLD." Look at these readings again - In that first reading from Isaiah we hear this quote -(and just imagine yourself saying this): The Lord said to me You are my servant....through whom I will show my glory. Now the Lord has spoken who formed me as his servant from the womb. Before we were born, while we were in our Mother’s wombs, God knew us - God Loved us - God had a plan for us. . Isaiah is reflecting on that, how God created him - and his example reminds us that God created us with a specific role to play as well.

Which is why we sang "Here I am Lord I come to do your will” as the psalmist sang thousands of years ago. That song, that psalm affirms that the only way we will find joy and fulfillment in life is when we do what God created us to do - when we cooperate with HIS plan (not our plan) when we take all these passions, desires, talents we have and say "OK God, what do YOU want me to do with these great things?"

Which led into that second reading. Paul’s very brief excerpt from his letter to the Corinthians says that we have been sanctified in Christ Jesus called to be holy – which again tells us, that you and I are indeed special and unique in God’s eyes - that we each have a part to play in God’s creation... But he goes on and says that we are called to be holy with all those everywhere who call upon the name of the Lord. So Paul’s hitting us with the "don’t get a big head" warning. Yes we are called, yes we are special, yes we are unique - but so is everyone else (even some of those people you don’t particularly like)

Yes God has called us to something - but we are apart of something bigger than ourselves as individuals. And that there’s one person who is the center of the universe (and no it’s not us)

Enter John the Baptist in the Gospel who tells us who the center of the Universe is "John the Baptist saw JESUS coming toward him and said ‘Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." There is no greater gift that God could give us than to take away the sin of the world. There is no other way for us to figure out our purposes than if we too are amazed as John was at Jesus’ presence - and if we Behold his presence here among us today.

What are YOU Born to do????

You and I are born to somehow make Jesus known to this world around you. You and I are to make Jesus present to our workplaces, our schools, our homes who desperately needs him. To say to the world that He is the answer to your questions, He is the way out of your sins, He is the way to peace and salvation.

It’s hard to figure all of this out. With the daily responsibilities and challenges all of us face - family, friends, co-workers have all kinds of expectations. And there’s enough judgments being passed on how well we do that on a daily basis - whether it’s a grade in a class, an evaluation from the boss - a friend’s remark a family member’s comment - whatever. Wehave more than your share of Simon’s, Randy’s and Jennifer Lopez’s or Steve Tylers judging you.

Jesus is inviting us to something greater than all of those things that can weigh us down. He’s saying to us - You are someone very, very special - My Father made you with a unique fire, something that makes you different from anyone who has come before or will ever come again. All out of my father’s love for you. Will you help me share that good news with the world? Will you help my Church in proclaiming that message? Will you do what you were truly born to do?

NEW YEARS RESOLUTIONS & STARGAZING


Hi everyone! Happy New Year. This is my homily for the FEAST OF THE EPIPHANY - January 2, 2011. The readings can be found at http://www.usccb.org/nab/010211.shtml. Thanks for reading! Fr. Jim

[if you haven't checked already - take a look at our new website! www.MSUNEWMAN.com ]

HOMILY:
So what New Year’s Resolutions have you decided to make this year?

According to one survey, over 60% of Americans make them, seeing January 1st as an opportunity to make a new start. To set new goals for the coming 12 months to change their lives in dramatic and significant ways. You can guess what the top resolutions are just by looking at all the commercials promising you they will help you succeed in actualizing the change you want:

-Jenny Craig, Nutri-System, Weight Watchers all are announcing new, innovative plans guaranteeing better results than ever before - with new menus, new programs, new meetings to help people lose weight.
-For those wanting to quit smoking - there are gums, patches, tapes, counselors who promise they will be able to help people quit that addiction once and for all.
-And it seems every sports club and fitness center is trying to entice people to get into that perfect shape they’ve always wanted with membership fees waved, free consultations or training sessions and other incentives to get people to join their gym.

All of those different marketing techniques are successful these first days and weeks of 2011 because they speak to that desire within us that desires change. To move away from something destructive, something unhealthy, something we simply want to be rid of for something better, fulfilling, even life-changing. Despite the defeatist notion many have that “New Years Resolutions are made to be broken,” its obvious that all of these different products or systems have been helpful to people, otherwise they would have been gone by now.

The thing is, as anyone who’s tried these things in the past can tell you, a person can’t just sign up for Weight Watchers and lose 40 lbs or buy a pack of Nicorrette Gum and never pick up a cigarette after doing so for 20 years or become a member of a gym, take a tour and work out three times and be ready for a photo shoot for a fitness magazine. All of those initial steps are just that, initial steps. The change will only come about when we keep responding, keep faithful to the promises, resolutions, the changes we desire to seek. The change becomes real when people resist the temptation to go back – to have just one more cigarette - cheat on that diet - skip the gym today and go tomorrow.

In today’s Gospel for this feast of the Epiphany, these magi, or kings, or wisemen – whatever you want to call them – we read that they “saw a star” and set out to follow it, searching for this newborn king. Something within themselves was desiring change. Something made them look for something new. And the light from this star spoke to that desire. Because they were attentive, they were looking... they set out to see what was it about this sight that was so attractive to them.

That’s the thing, a star is visible to everyone. No doubt there were people that first Christmas that were waiting, longing, hoping for a the same things that these magi were. But maybe they weren’t paying attention, or they didn’t look, or they were too busy to notice how even creation itself was responding to God being born into the human family... how the cosmos itself were reacting to the light of the world coming in Jesus birth with this new light, this new star rising in the dark night.

But the thing is, its not enough just to go and see... It’s not enough to be looking, desiring and experiencing that initial encounter. Upon following that star, and finding the baby Jesus, we read that they were “overjoyed” at the sight - they prostrate themselves, they pay him homage... But here’s the difference... we read “having been warned in a dream...they departed for their country by another way.”

For the magi, the new born king that they find after following this star wasn’t simply a sight to marvel at like a Fourth of July fireworks display – something awesome to look at and then simply go about to life as usual on the 5th of July as you did on the 3rd. They noticed the potential for their lives to change when they first set out to meet Jesus Christ, and after that encounter, they realize for that potential to become realized, they can never go back to the life they lived before... That’s the message that the wise men from the Epiphany speak to us.... That Jesus Christ can only effectively change lives if someone commits to the change they experience once they’ve met him.. What makes the Epiphany memorable is that they progress in a new direction that they’ve been set out on... They can never go back the same way they came.

The same can be true for us. With each New Year that comes, with each resolution we make, we give voice to a desire within us for something new for something to change in our lives. And for many, there’s an unspoken, yet real desire for change and newness in ways other than those noble goals of healthier physical lives. That the things they are doing are not bringing them peace or joy. That the direction their life is going is not fulfilling.

The star, shedding the light of Christ in the darkness of the world still calls out to those who seek a change in their lives – both here and now and in eternity. Just like those changes we seek each New Year, there’s no quick, easy fix for those changes to be actualized. The Peace, the Joy, the fullness of life isn’t going to happen simply by our being here at a single Sunday Mass. It will only occur when we too encounter Jesus Christ here, and chose to be faithful to hearing the voice and following the direction of our King who calls out to us not to make some new resolution but to renew our baptismal promises of living a new life, follow his new course, not just on New Years, but each and every day. May the wise men’s example be our story as well, that upon our meeting Jesus Christ, we find that we can never go back the same way we came.

HOW WAS YOUR CHRISTMAS?

A friend called me yesterday and asked an innocent enough question, perfectly suited for the time of year – “So how was your Christmas?” The honesty of my feelings at the moment got the best of me as I said “It sucked.” Reading that right now, I know how harsh that sounds – and how incredibly untrue for a lot of different reasons that statement is. But he got me at a vulnerable moment. Just reflecting on a few of many random things: Being kind of knocked out by a stubborn virus for close to two weeks (which resulted in having to cancel tons of get-togethers with family and friends that I had been planning for weeks during this semester break, not to mention sidelined me from celebrating Sunday Mass for two weeks and unable to fulfill some pastoral duties I felt a deep responsibility to be attentive to); missing my Grandfather (who died this past May at the obviously blessed age of 94); talking to four friends who all lost their Mother’s in the days leading up to or immediately after Christmas; a blizzard that wreaked havoc on the entire area for the whole of Christmas week (and seemed to take a lot of “Christmas Cheer” out of the air) Yeah, his phone call, mid-coughing attack, got me at a bad moment that I would say such a harsh thing, that I really regretted moments after.

Because after close to 12 years of priesthood and seeing people who’ve endured far worse and been much more grateful than I was feeling, not to mention spending my own share of Christmases with family situations that were much more precarious, I would’ve hoped that I would have been able to answer the “How was your Christmas” question with a more mature answer than “it sucked.” I mean reflecting on all the work my family did for meals; all the love and generosity I experienced from so many people I love – it would seem much healthier for me to reflect on those things than on all the things that were bringing me down.

It was with those mixed thoughts and a tad of guilt at my complaining that I went into the chapel with and started asking myself why – Why wasn’t I able to kind of just look on the brighter side of things? I think because as much as I know the true meaning of the season, it’s still easy to get sucked into the hype. That things are supposed to be perfect at Christmas. That it’s a season of joy, happiness, peace… You know, "Silent night, holy night; all is calm; all is bright."

But that’s not really the truth. A more accurate look at Christmas tells us that Jesus was born into this world - the real world. Things were far from calm and bright. Everything that we wish to escape from was there then. Mary was initially frightened by having a child outside of the norm (talk about understatements). Joseph, had his own share of confusion, embarrassment, perhaps even anger learning that his fiancee was pregnant. The couple's families must have been ashamed. You know, the neighbors gossiped.

There was no room at the inn. In all likelihood, the stable was not the quaint spot that we portray in our little manger scenes, but a dark, damp, dirty cave. And if the animals were quiet, the baby wasn't for long. Before the couple could gain their composure, they were surrounded by smelly shepherds and strange astrologers presenting, among other things, myrrh, a spice used for embalming the dead.

King Herod would lash out in rage, threatening Jesus' life and slaughtering the children in the region, which resulted in one woman named Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they were no more.

That was the scene of the first Christmas. Life with it=s unexpected turns, its unfairness, it=s even sometimes just seeming to be cruel. It was very much the same back then as it is now. With one important difference for Mary and Joseph and for me complaining at my less than perfect Christmas. A difference that is our comfort. A difference that is our hope.

That in the midst of the unexpected turns, the unfairness, and even the sometimes cruel moments B God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son ..." He came down to be with us through it all and to remind us that he loves us. But it doesn’t end there… Jesus is not God's only gift to us. We can Paraphrase those Christmas words:
God loved the world so much that he gave us life.
God loved the world so much that he has given us all that is necessary to sustain life.
God so loved the world that he has given us meaning and purpose.

None of these thoughts I’m offering are “original.” Indeed more eloquent writers, preachers have heralded these faith-realities to countless generations since God first revealed them to humanity. Yet as much as we’ve heard these things before, it’s amazing the difference between knowing and really believing them. Particularly when you do feel “down” because you’ve gotten knocked down by the somewhat crazy turns life can take.

I’m feeling somewhat better today, hoping that this stubborn virus is finally on its way out (been tricked before over the last two weeks!) – and while things have been less than ideal for me these reflections really helped me to see past some of the disappointments I’ve felt about how things have gone and truly reflect on the one constant in my life, which is the reason no Christmas can ever “suck.” That love that God has for me. And for you… May our 2011’s be brightened with a constant awareness of that love and multiplied in our sharing it. HAPPY NEW YEAR!