LEARNING HOW TO LOVE

Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER - MAY 29, 2011.  The readings can be found at http://www.usccb.org/nab/052911.shtml.  Thanks as always for reading and your feedback - Fr. Jim

HOMILY:

    About a week ago, I was able to celebrate a wedding at the parish I had been assigned to for 7 years.   And what makes weddings like these even more special was being able to see so many people I had worked with, ministered to, served as a priest for those years.  Kids that were altar servers now in college or graduated and working.  Young couples who I had helped prepare for marriage sitting in the congregation with 2 or 3 children of their own who I was fortunate to baptize.  It was hard for me not to look out and see all their faces and get a little bit choked up.  Not that I get overly-sentimental.  What hit me is that the Lord really has blessed me.  To be a priest, to try to be His presence at those different monumental moments in their lives, sometimes I can forget how fortunate I am to be a priest.

    Over the days leading up to the wedding, between the rehearsal and some other random encounters, I kept bumping into people from this time of my life.  And a couple in a sense “stayed” with me.  After the excitement at seeing them, I asked the customary “How are you guys doing?”  And I got the head shake with “Yeah... Fine.... Fine...”  The one woman who said that to me I just looked at and said “you’re as good a liar as I am.”  She kind of laughed and pulled me aside and just said “Father, it’s nothing... I know it’s me... I’m over reacting... He’s a good guy.  But I just don’t know, it’s been 7 years now and I feel like we are going through the motions. We argue over nothing.  I don’t want to say I’m not in love with him anymore, because I don’t believe that.  But it just doesn’t feel the same anymore and I’m just scared.”

    Talking with her, it didn’t seem like there was anything of major concern going on - like a major problem of abuse or infidelity or something.  It sounded more like the excitement, the anticipation, the newness that young couples experience, when they first meet, when they get engaged - the planning the wedding – and the afterglow of being newlyweds, buying a new home, having two beautiful new children... nothing seemed “new” anymore.  It started to seem like a routine or even somewhat boring.  Which can be scary.  Because if we judge our relationships, if we judge our commitments based solely on feelings then it can spell trouble.  And sometimes we can forget that love is more than just a feeling...

    That’s what came to mind looking at these readings.  In today’s Gospel we have a flashback to the Upper room, to Holy Thursday’s Last Supper.  Jesus is speaking to his apostles before His Passion, His Death and His Resurrection and he gives them a lengthy speech.  Throughout it, we hear this recurring theme -  if you love me, you will keep my commandment – the greatest of which, the one which encompasses all others - to love one another as I have loved you. 

    So often we can have this tendency to look at this Gospel reading as poetic words that Jesus was sharing with his closest friends.  Yet we can forget he invites us to be his closest friends too.  The Gospel is meant for all of us.  Jesus is speaking not just spoke in a historic scene one night 2,000 years ago that we’re just recalling, like we’re watching a re-run on television.  He’s speaking to all of us - Priest, married people , single people. 

    And what Jesus is saying is important - He defines love – He’s saying the key to being in relationship with others, is first being in relationship with Him.  To know that we have been created out of nothingness, saved from our self-centeredness and sin and are sustained the by love of our triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Once we know that, we are commanded that the only way to truly experience the fullness of life and love is when we love each other as Jesus loves- by laying down our lives for each other. 

    That is essential.  We can’t walk around that. That is the definition of love.  To lay down your life for another.  That is where love finds meaning.  Sadly there’s so many of us who settle for a very saccharine, quasi-looks-like-feels-like something-nice-that-makes-me-feel-good form of love, that inevitably reveals itself to be fleeting or empty.

    This real form of love is meant to be the definition for all of our relationships... not just something we hear and think about at Mass.  So to that couple that was feeling a bit “stuck”, laying down their lives might not be as horrific as being nailed to a cross - but maybe, just maybe, she will put up with his being forgetful, he will put up with her nagging, they will forgive each other’s insensitivities not because “I have to”, or to keep the peace, or to avoid another fight...  but that’s going to be a way they serve each other – that’s a way they love Jesus Christ.  It’s a way they lay down their lives for Him...

    That can translate no matter where we are in our lives.  At the workplace - imagine loving that annoying coworker by doing them a favor, helping them on a project and realizing we’re doing that for Jesus Christ.  Or refraining from gossiping about them, even though we know it’s juicy, probably true and might even make us look better.  But refraining from doing that out of love for Christ.  There’s probably countless ways we can come up with “laying our lives down” for one another, loving one another that sure doesn’t look “romantic” and most likely isn’t easy, but brings our hearts into alignment with the heart of Christ.

    For you and I, who are drawn to this place, drawn to hear His word and receive His Body and Blood at this altar, we’ve already begun to experience His love for us.   We know that Jesus has loved us and called us in our baptisms to be His.  And so the Gospel calls us to go even deeper in that love.  To look for ways, to welcome the opportunities we can serve one another, lay down our lives for one another, knowing that He is the one we’re ultimately doing all that for.  Then perhaps we will not only move away from a “feeling” driven notion of love, but begin to experience Jesus’ presence throughout our days, throughout our lives.  And then find that far from leaving us orphan, He has remained the constant companion He promised us to be.

POST-RAPTURE HOMILY

HI EVERYONE!
 A short homily this week, since I'm actually not "assigned" to preach this weekend and have been a little under the weather.  The readings for today's Mass - the FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER - MAY 22, 2011 can be found at http://www.usccb.org/nab/052211.shtml .  Thanks for reading and your feedback, as always is appreciated!  God Bless- Fr Jim

HOMILY:
So we’re still here.

May 21 came and went.  There was no catastrophic earthquakes striking around the world at 6PM in each time zone bringing about the beginning of the end times.  Thank God...

And isn’t that what’s been lost in all of this hoopla, this quasi-hysteria about the Rapture?  Instead of focusing on Thanking God, which should be our daily prayer - the world has focused it’s attention on the rambling’s of one terribly misguided and end-of-times obsessed individual.

The millions of dollars in advertisements taking out warning people in a sense opened the followers of the apocalypse up for skepticism.  There were Front page covers around the world with mocking headlines.  The NY Daily News gave the entire front page to the words  “Buy This Paper!  If it’s the last thing you do” - the Star Ledger used over 3/4 of it’s top of the fold paper for a graphic “THE END IS HERE *or maybe not”.  I was even invited to a “Post-Rapture looting party” on Facebook.

One preacher, and his followers were able to get this type of world-wide attention (only now to fade into oblivion once the post-non-Rapture stories are boring and we’re intrigued by the next great media-creation) Some observers maintain that because of the rough economy, the numerous instability throughout the world that the belief that the world is coming to an end doesn’t seem that far fetched that this preacher, this message was able to gain momentum.

I don’t know.   The sad thing to me and the irony is that all of that over-emphasis on a mis-reading of the bible that no credible theologian or Church gave any credence too has been played to death and only helped add additional levels of skepticism, sarcasm, and doubt to some people’s fragile faith lives.  Helping them to discount the Gospel as unreal as the predictions of the rapture were.

Which is beyond sad, particularly hearing this Gospel.  Because if the realities that are affecting all of us which caused some of this fear-preaching, how much more do all of us need to hear the words our Savior speaks to us, lovingly saying:
Do not let your hearts be troubled.
You have faith in God; have faith also in me.
In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.
If there were not,
would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?
And if I go and prepare a place for you,
I will come back again and take you to myself,
so that where I am you also may be.
Where I am going you know the way.


Yes, there will be an end times.  An end of the world.  An end to our own time on this world - which will come first, is the Lord’s calculation - not a radio preachers or anyone elses.  But Jesus has proven in this Easter Season with his rising from the dead - which validates every other promise he has ever made - that those end times do not need to bring us fear, or trouble our hearts.  If we do one thing - have Faith in God and Faith in Him. 

For 2,000 years, since Jesus first left His Church to His Apostles with the promise he would return, we’ve joyfully awaited that day.  In the meantime He commissioned us to go and spread His Good News...That is good news.  That if we reject all the other material gods that manipulate our time, distract us from Him, confuse and frighten us.  If we turn away from the false prophets who preach gospels of their own creation or manipulations and distortions of His true word.  If we turn away from that, and simply look to Him as the way, the truth and the life, and commit to that – then we won’t have fear today, tomorrow (if it should come) or the next time a rapture is said to be coming.

THIS IS YOUR LIFE -- IN ABUNDANCE...

Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER - MAY 15, 2011 (readings: http://www.usccb.org/nab/051511.shtml) - Thanks as always for reading and your emails, replies and responses... I also want to thank everyone who “shares” this/posts the link/etc.  I just checked the “stat counter” and was shocked how many people visit here in a week.  Thanks so much.  It’s all for God’s glory... I’m happy to be one of His instruments.  Peace,
Fr. Jim


HOMILY:

    I wonder how many of the younger folks out here know of the television program This is your life.   The only reason I remember it is from watching re-run episode of it when I would be home sick from school or on a snow day since it was a show from way before my time... It started on radio in the 1940's and then was a hit television program for almost a decade in the 1950's.  For those who aren’t familiar with it, the show was something like a documentary/reality TV/ game show.  A person would be brought to the TV studios under some false pretense, surprised to learn that they would be the focus of an hour-long retrospective on their lives with people from their past – many of whom they hadn’t seen or heard from in years – surprising them.  That’s why I’m not sure if the program could work nowadays.  With facebook, twitter people are at least more familiar and can keep tabs on one another to a much greater extent than back then.  Part of the drama of the program was to see the honoree hearing a voice of a friend or someone influential in their lives who they hadn’t seen or heard from in decades; you watched the expressions, the excitement, the flood of memories that would overwhelm the guests of honor as they recognized those voices.

    It was interesting to learn how the show started.  The creator and host of This is your Life,  Ralph Edwards was working on another program for NBC radio called Truth or Consequences.   At the time, he was approached by some people from the United States Army and asked if he could “do something” for soldiers who were paraplegic in a hospital and were dealing with major depression as a result of their injuries.  Edwards went and visited them and found one soldier who was particularly despondent.  So he came up with the idea of presenting the man’s life on air.  Rather than focusing solely on where he was at that point, he wanted to integrate happier times from his past.  So he brought in his former track coach, military officials he knew, and so on.  Two years later to the day that this episode aired, the soldier, now rehabilitated, wheeled into Edward’s studio by his new bride for one of the most emotional scenes in a career that had many high emotions.  As the soldier was wheeled in, Edwards said "I told him, 'Here's your year's rent, and here's your key. Come and get it.' And the young soldier who just two years earlier was imprisoned by the wreckage he viewed his life as, got up and walked to the mike. Edwards continued “It was the greatest thrill I ever had. The crowd stood up and cheered..”  Edwards recognized that the key to helping the soldier to move out of his depression and begin his rehab and start a new life was to bring back memories, through the voices of those who knew him of a happier past, to  help the young man see that there was still hope for a happier future.

    Throughout the Easter season, as we’ve heard the Gospel narratives, you might have noticed that even though Jesus’ friends keep hearing news of the empty tomb, angelic visitors announcing that Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead - but the news itself isn’t enough to relieve the fear, the terror, the sadness that the first followers were experiencing from Good Friday.  The realization that among those closest to Jesus, they had rejected, betrayed and abandoned him  – the images from Good Friday of His torturous, brutal, gruesome death had left them devastated.  Last week we heard that as the two disciples were heading out of town to Emmaus even though they had heard the “good news”... Mary Magdalene upon seeing the empty tomb fears that there’s been another insult to Jesus, someone stealing His body – and when she first sees Him, she thinks he’s a gardener and asks him did he steal the body and where did he put it...

    What is it that is able to transform the “good news” of Jesus’ victory over death from something they’ve heard to something they experience?   Hearing the voice of Jesus...  In hearing that voice - they were reminded of all that Jesus had taught them.... all that he spoke of how God had never and would never abandon his people... and how that had been definitively, eternally demonstrated in His being risen from the dead, never to die again.  And with that, their hope for a happier future would resurrect as well.

    All of this leads us to today’s Gospel.   Jesus refers to himself as “the Good Shepherd,” which is a popular, known image, but needs a bit of an explanation to those of us who don’t have a lot of experience with sheep.  Sheep have a connection with the shepherd. The Shepherd knows every one of his sheep- the one with the strange looking ear, that one with the cute face - the other one who’s bigger and fuller than the rest- He knows all of them - he knows when one out of 100 of them are missing. At night, during Jesus' time, there would be three or four shepherds who’d put all of their sheep together in a pen while one of the shepherds would watch all of them, protecting them from thieves, or wild animals; and in the morning, the shepherds would call, and the flocks would split and follow their respective shepherd. They knew which voice to follow in order to find direction in life.  They recognized the voice of their shepherd. 

    As our Good Shepherd, Jesus tells us in this Gospel that if we but listen to His voice and follow Him, we will have life in abundance.  That we will be saved.  That death will have no power over us.   But That “good news” doesn’t seem to be enough to wipe out the fears, the doubts, the anxiety that so many of us endure.   We know that there are many of our families and friends who have experienced painful, difficult things.  We ourselves may be weighed down by legitimate anxieties – are experiencing sickness, death in our own lives.  And those experiences can makes us feel abandoned... lost... hopeless. 

    We may hear the good news of the resurrection - and be like the disciples on the road to Emmaus on the way out of town, unable to truly believe it; or like Mary Magdalene, unable to recognize Jesus Christ standing right in front of her; or like that soldier who’s a paraplegic, thinking that his future was a limited one of despair and pain. 

    Which is why we come today and need to hear the voice of the shepherd.  Listening to the voice of the Shepherd, we hear him reminding us of God’s promises, how He has fulfilled those promises and has never, and will never abandon His People.  Listening to the voice of the Shepherd, we hear Him inviting us to follow Him, even as we walk through our own dark nights with things that terrorize us.  Listening to the voice of the Shepherd, we too can have our hopes for a happier future restored.  If we are able to listen and hear that voice, follow that voice, we’re reminded that despite the unpleasant chapters we have to endure, the ending to our own episodes of this is your life has a promise of eternal, abundant conclusion.

POST A SECRET. . .CRYING FOR HELP

                   Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER - MAY 8, 2011.  The readings can be found at http://www.usccb.org/nab/050811.shtml.  Thanks as always for reading and your feedback and comments!  Fr. Jim

HOMILY:

    This past week in the basement of the Student Center of Montclair State University, students were invited to “post a secret.”  Aside from a few rules there was not any real limitations to what people could write on the post-it-notes that were stuck on the wall of glass windows for the whole week.  There must’ve been hundreds of these handwritten notes on various pieces of paper all in different colors up and down that hallway.  And college kids being college kids they ran the gamut of emotion, there were some secrets that were funny:

    “I care way too much about the San Francisco Giants”
    “I am afraid of Cats” (maybe that wasn’t meant to be funny...)
    “I HEART BATMAN”

    Considering the time of year, some decided to vent about Montclair State or college life in general that not too judge them - they didn’t seem to be so secretive.  You can hear these comments all over campus:

    “MSU Parking makes me want to transfer” (no doubt someone had a difficult morning trying to find a parking space)
    “Finals are killing me”
    “I wish major requirements didn’t change every semester”
    “Life after college both terrifies and excites me”

    And then, you saw some pretty serious ones.  Ones that you couldn’t help but look at, pray that they don’t just post these things on a wall of windows, but that they talk to someone.  Things ranging from dealing with painful things in their pasts, revealing fears about who they are, talking about being abused, or used.  There they were - all on a small post it note, asking passerbys to see, to take notice of the private pain they’ve been holding secret from the world:

    “I wish my mother loved me”
    “When a relationship requires depth and work, I’m out”
    “ I’ve used alcohol to self-medicate anxiety”
    “I’m afraid because I don’t know how to love myself, no one else will”



    Those definitely got attention from a host of people - administrators, chaplains - yet, these were all anonymous postings.  What could they do?  How could they reach out to them?  Especially when there was some postings that were especially troubling.  Earlier in the week where one student wrote - “I feel so alone, so unloved, I wish I was dead.” 

   Somewhat spontaneously students started posting other notes right on that one -“please call me, I’ve felt like that before and I want to help ” with their phone number written on it;  or a few simple notes like: “You are Loved!” “please don’t give up” among several others.  On Thursday, there was a new post, right where the original one had been.  It said: I’ve been struggling worse then ever with the most important part of my life.  Last week I posted my secret and today I got the replies people posted on it.  They made me cry and have faith again.  Thank you so much.  Thank you all for sharing... No one has to be alone.

    I couldn’t help but think about all of this reading this Gospel this week.    This is one of my favorite Gospel accounts of the Easter experience.  We hear about two of Jesus’ disciples who’ve experienced the worst event they could’ve imagined - witnessing the one they had come to believe in, the one that gave them hope of a God that was intimately interested in them, the one that they had come to love . . .in the course of a few days they’ve seen Jesus go from being welcomed into Jerusalem where the followers imagined he would begin to “reign” as a new King to being betrayed, abandoned, rejected and dead on a cross.  Quite a dramatic change of events.   So much so, they don’t know what to do anymore.  They are lost.  Frightened.  Scared.  Even though they had each other, the absence of Christ and the pain they had all experienced left a void that they didn’t know how to fill.   They’re hopes and dreams and images of who God was seemed to have come to an end on the cross.  And so they were devastated.  

    So devastated that, here it is three days later, they’ve heard this news of an empty tomb; angelic witnesses telling the women of his being risen from the dead– news which should’ve been enough to at least keep them around to see what was going on.  But where were they?  They were on their way out of town.  The story seemed too good to be true while the pain was all too real.  So wrapped up in their pain and fear, that they don’t recognize the risen Jesus Christ when he starts to walk and talk with them on their way to Emmaus.  We read they were looking “downcast” - meaning they were so depressed, they were blind to Him.  Look at what Jesus does. He walks with them.  He talks with them. 


    He starts to remind them of how God has always loved His people.  How God has never abandoned His people.  As he gently reminds them of all these things, their hopes which were as dead as Jesus was on the Cross a few days earlier, start to become alive again, just as alive as He was, speaking and walking with them.  “STAY WITH US” They beg... which he does.  And what does he do?  He doesn’t just keep talking - He shares the Eucharist - In the breaking of the bread, He gives them Himself - His very body and blood, reminding Him of His everlasting presence in the midst of the Church.   In that, they come to understand how Jesus has come to tell all humanity that “No one has to be alone.”  They run all the way back to Jerusalem to share the good news with the others recounting how they came to see him alive in the breaking of the bread.

    What strikes me is that in looking at that wall of postings in the student center is how many people seem to be walking along their paths of life, extremely“downcast” themselves.  There’s real suffering here.  There’s real suffering all around us, isn’t there?  In our families - we know of loved ones who are hanging by a thread.  In our work places, there’s that guy who’s sitting alone desperately counting the minutes going by so they can go home and do the same...The visual that this wall of post-it-notes gave was a patchwork of pain, of people who feel unloved, unwanted - of people who feel alone.

    The story of Emmaus, tells us, those of us privileged to be able to approach this altar and consume Jesus’ Body and Blood that this isn’t just a gift that is given to us to make us feel better about ourselves.  We have a duty when we take that Body of Christ:  We are to be that presence of Christ walking, and talking with our brothers and sisters who are “downcast.”  We are to be Jesus Christ who “Stays with” them to help lift those weary dreary hearts to start “burning” within as they hear how Jesus Christ has changed our lives.  That in our coming to know Him, we have been saved.  Our sins and failures don’t have to define us and limit us.  Our fears will ultimately be proven to be unfounded.  That yes, truly we have been given a promise of an eternity where we will experience the same glorious triumph Jesus did of a new life, if we will only cling to him as we endure our own Good Friday’s.

    The one young person recognized in the love of strangers reaching out to him that “no one has to be alone” .  As Jesus’ disciples, it is inexcusable that 2,000 years of preaching the Gospel that people go around not knowing that.  That Jesus would  remain hidden from the downcast eyes of those suffering pain, and fear.  As we are invited to this table, may our hearts burn within us with the love of the Risen Jesus Christ so intensely that our only option is to share it with a world in such dire need of it.