A VERY MAYAN CHRISTMAS

MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!  Here is my homily for the feast of the Nativity of the Lord, December 25, 2012 .  The readings come from “The Mass during the Day” - http://usccb.org/bible/readings/122512-mass-during-the-day.cfm .  Thanks for your sharing the blog post and all your feedback and comments. 

My prayers and best wishes to you and yours for a Blessed Christmas.

HOMILY

           “Who are the Mayans anyway?” That was a question I posed to one college student who was joining in with a bunch of his friends, discussing the widely spread “theory” that this past Friday – December 21st 2012 was going to be the end of the world. People (I don’t know exactly who these people are since I can’t say I was overly interested in their theory . . . but I digress), people had based this theory on interpretations that a calendar, from an ancient group of people, had come to its final day and, therefore, was predicting this “final fate.”

           It kind of surprised me how little these guys knew about who the Mayans were. Not to give credence to old stereotypes, but I must admit, they are members of a fraternity that I advise, so perhaps this wasn’t the best pool of people to interview. But most of them didn’t know where the Mayans were from, or anything of significance about the people, the culture, the beliefs of the Mayans in general. But, somehow, the message that Dec. 21 was going to be the end of the world did get to them. They knew about that . . .
          
    Some of them simply mocked it - here we go, another wacky prediction that won’t come true! Some joked about it . . . One guy said, “I’m asking for an extension on my term papers and not going to start working on till I see if we’re still here on December 22nd” – wonder how that worked out for him. While none of these guys took it seriously, there were some who did. Some people lived in great fear or anxiety over this speculation that this was going to be the end of the world.  Reporters showed people from all across the world visiting Mayan temples (or if they couldn’t afford the airfare to Mexico, they found themselves at other ancient ruins, like a group of people in France who flocked to some mountainous site).  Others were anxiously trying to imagine ways to “save themselves” and built bunkers for themselves and their families that would protect them from this history-ending event, complete with stockpiles of supplies and food  (how a bunker would somehow protect you if the entire world is “ending” -don’t ask me).  It was obvious that some people heard this message and responded in fear to the news.
          
    Which is why these predictions of the end of the world always annoy me.   They take a reality of something and twist it in such a way that simply brings about fear for some that ultimately leaves them feeling humiliated, embarrassed and thinking they can’t trust anyone. Often times these “predictions” are based on a mis-interpretations of people’s beliefs (for example, some speculate that the Mayans weren’t predicting the end of the world. They had simply made a “calendar” and this past Dec 21, 2012 would be like Dec 31 on our yearly calendar. They would start a new calendar on Dec 22, 2012 . . . it was simply an “end of an era,” not the end of a world)

    What’s worse is when these predictions arise from people with ulterior and somewhat malicious motives.  Some leader will preach things in such a way, twisting scriptures and playing on people’s fears to gain followers (like a couple of ministers have done over the last decade or so). When these predictions pass by without being actualized, the rest of the world that didn’t get swayed by the doomsayers often laugh at it, mock it, ridicule it and dismiss it as foolishness.

           But the thing is, while this mis-interpretation of the Mayans, or other doomsday predictions, have been proven false time and time again, we’d be foolish to laugh, to mock, to ridicule, to dismiss the reality that there will be an end time. There will be an end of the world. We just don’t know which will come first – the ending for us personally at death or collectively for human history.

           Falalalala... I know.
 
           But seriously, the reason these theories gain traction, fascination and attention  is that on some level, even the most dismissive and irreligious person knows this truth. The question is – What do we do with that reality, though? How do we deal with it?
          
    Do we try to live in ignorance of this reality?  Hoping that if we just pretend it’s not going to happen, it won’t?  Some people attempt to do that. But that fades pretty quickly in the face of examples of horrific evil in our midst.  Just hearing the words Newton, Connecticut, and remembering the people who’ve suffered unimaginable horrors shatters, whatever blissful ignorance people try to hide behind. We know all too well the reality that death does indeed exist with terrifying, demonstrative ways.  Even outside of such horrific examples, we can’t ignore at our own tables this Christmas that there will be someone who’s not at table with us that was at an earlier time. So trying to ignore this reality doesn’t seem to be a really effective option, despite how many of us try it.

     Do we live in fear?

    Buying into one far-fetched theory after another. . . anxiously moving through life expecting the worst to happen? It’s obvious that a lot of people do this, as well. Which is why, more than likely, a year or so from now, memories of Mayans will disappear as someone new will emerge with new evidence pointing to a new approaching end date.   And a group of people will invest a lot of time, energy, attention into whatever scenario that is. Just take a glance on television, right now there’s another reality show that highlights people consumed by this fear. I think it’s called “Doomsday Preppers,” or something like that (on second thought, don’t check that out).

    We come together today and celebrate a third option. An option that doesn’t dismiss harsh realities, in fact, one that confronts them head on. An option that doesn’t stoke fear, but gives birth to Hope. The Gospel that we just heard doesn’t recount the beautiful nativity story of Mary, Joseph and the infant Jesus in a manger. But rather comes from the Gospel of John who proclaims the reason for Christmas with these hope-filled words:
            The light shines in the darkness,
               and the darkness has not overcome it.
 

    God looks at the brokenness that human beings experience . . .
Brokenness as a result of sin, and bad choices . . .
Brokenness that causes us to hurt ourselves, hurt those around us.
Brokenness that causes us to experience things like sickness, poverty, injustice, death.
Brokenness that makes the darkness seem very real - almost too real - that we can even forget there’s light.

 Brokenness that wasn’t a part of His original plan.
Brokenness He promised to save us from by entering into a covenant with by offering us 10 commandments to living in relationship with Him, a way to live in “the light.”
Brokenness that he kept trying to save humanity from by sending prophets as messengers of hope and correction when human beings kept straying from those 10 commandments . . .

Brokenness that could only ultimately be healed by Him becoming one of us.
Entering into this mess, entering into the darkness of our world, the darkness of our lives in order to conquer it for all eternity.    But in order for us to experience the healing of this brokenness, personally, we can’t treat Christmas as the birth of some super man who is born fix everything. If we want to experience the healing, then we have to know, then we have to love Jesus, personally. That’s what the Gospel is getting at when John says
           
    To those who did accept him
          He gave power to become children of God.

    Jesus Christ the Word became flesh [who] made his dwelling among us – God comes among us as one of us – but are we open to seeing Him in our midst?  Jesus comes as the fulfillment and answer to that brokenness that is still all too present in our midst – will we accept Him? Because it’s only in our seeing Him, accepting Him that the eyes of faith are able to move away from the darkness, as we behold  His glory, the glory as of the Father's only Son, full of grace and truth.
    Somewhat buried in the hype last week about an impending Mayan Apocalypse, one reporter interviewed people of Mayan descent.  They shared that a vast majority of modern day Mayans have become Roman Catholic and, as such, were completely dismissive of the spectacle that people were making of their “ancestors prediction.” One woman simply said, “Only God knows . . .”

    Would that all who followed the hysteria – who were swept into fascination, consumed by fear of the dreaded December deadline, would take these words to heart: 'Only God knows'
 - only God knows the depth of our suffering, our aloneness, our, at times, 'quiet desperation'
- only He hears our whispered midnight prayers, not just here in this holy place, on this Holy Night [day], but in the darkness of our own rooms, and of our own hearts.
Only He can know the pain we suffer - either by our own doing, or as a result of evil around us - and only He can save us from our own, personal imprisonment and lead us into the world of Light, the Light of His only begotten Son, a Light that (to borrow from an older translation), shines in the darkness, and the darkness grasps it not.

    Only God can keep us out of the grasp of evil - the evil in our world, and the evil that, at times, we are tempted to do, in the secrecy of our own hearts.  Whether our world ends in a day, a week, or 80 years from tonight [today], may we always live with that Light within us, shining for all to see.  Let us walk out of this church tonight [today] and into the new year we have been given as if it literally were a 'grace period,' a bonus, a second-chance to enter into (or re-enter into) a loving relationship with God, and the Son He sent into our world.

    Then , and only then, will we truly will have a Merry Christmas and a Blessed and Happy New Year

WHAT SHOULD WE DO? - NEWTOWN CT 3rd ADVENT

Hi everyone, here is my homily for the THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT - December 16, 2012.  The readings for today can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/121612.cfm .  As we remain in shock at the horrific attacks on the school children in Newtown, Connecticut - may we look for opportunities to bring Christ to birth to this world that so desperately needs Him once again.
Fr Jim

HOMILY:

    'What should we do?'
    This week, while reflecting on this Gospel, I felt drawn to that question that we hear asked three times of John the Baptist, by three different people in this Gospel.  Then came Friday.  At first, hearing the reports of a school shooting, I couldn’t even listen to it on the radio . . . Especially as the true horror of it was being transmitted almost simultaneously with the tragedy itself – little kids, boys and girls, 6-10 years old . . . their teacher, their principal . . . All horrifically killed.  I turned off the radio, hoping it was just a nightmare that would disappear, which, sadly it did not.

     'What should we do?'
    There comes a point where random massacres don't seem to even shock us anymore.  A mass murder at a mall, at a movie theater  – they’ve become tragic occurrences that we talk about, about how badly we feel when these things happen - like we would if a hurricane or tornado visits a town and upends it without any warning.  And that’s it.  A part of life. For too many of us, as the news closes with images from memorial sites and funerals for the victims of this tragedy or that tragedy, we wipe our tears and move along too quickly. We’ve gotten to a point of almost accepting these acts of evil and  violence.
    But you could feel it, all day Friday.  That this time, where all these innocent ones were all simply doing what they should be doing - sitting in their kindergarten class, using safety scissors, coloring - that, this time, there is no acceptance . . . There is only shock.   Disbelief.

    'What should we do?' 
    There’s already been a variety of predictable initial answers to that question:
    - Argue over gun control:  One side arguing to get rid of every single gun, the other wanting every person trained to carry their own.
    - Debate the affects of graphic violence in television, movies, media, video games: People not just wanting to see scary movies anymore, but wanting sick depravity - and,perhaps,  a chance to play along as well.
    - Ponder how our overly-saturated-social-network-connected world has dehumanized people, rendering them as faceless, nameless entities, lacking empathy and sensitivity for one another

    Within just a couple hours of Friday’s brutality, these sorts of things started to be said as we tried to wrap our minds around such evil in our midst.  And there’s a part of that which is understandable.  It makes us feel some sort of control in the face of helplessness and chaos.

    But, at the same time, it contributes to the acceptance of evil in our midst.  Which is what we’re dealing with here.  And the more we try to label it or put it solely into a category of a sociological, psychological thing that we have to study and explore – the more experts we have come in explaining that if we do this (fill-in-the-blank to your own, personal agenda) - the more we end up addressing symptoms, we more we continue to dodge the bigger issue – the acceptance of evil in our midst.
    Which is why we can relate to the question asked of John the Baptist – the question that sums it all up perfectly:

    'What should we do?'
    Just like the people who first asked that, we recognize something’s not right.  Something is very, very off.   Just like the people who first asked that - we see horrible things that are classified as “the new normal” - and we feel powerless, collectively, to stop them from becoming such.

    'What should we do?'
    John the Baptist continues to proclaim good news that God comes to His people.  It’s understandable that, after Friday, that doesn’t seem possible to us, right now.  As a knee jerk response, some might even blame God for letting this happen - or express the hope that when God does come again He will exact justice for this and all the other brutalities of humanity (or, should I say, of inhumanity?).  But, again, those are distractions.  John is announcing that God comes to His people.  John, as the forrerunner to Jesus Christ, doesn’t allow us to get away with blaming this new normal on a collective “we”; shrugging our shoulders at the accepted evil; and, shirking our own responsibility, blame the Blameless, blame God for man's iniquity.

    'What should we do?' 
We can’t get distracted by the devil trying to give us a new theory, or new excuse, for such horror.  We have to be clear and keep it simple, identifying that this was an evil.

    'What should we do?'
Well, for starters, stop looking for scapegoats.  We stop looking for someone else to blame, or someone else to “fix” things.  It’s up to each and every one of us . . . Each and every one of us has to find that place within us that is sickened, troubled, disturbed, angry – whatever the emotion you initially felt on Friday  –  we need to see this brokenness inside us and recognize that we, as individuals, need to do something.  And that something can begin with us investing ourselves with wanting to change the “new normal.”

      'What should we do?' 
    John gives it to us simply:  Live according to God’s commands - share what we have with those who have nothing - don’t abuse, don’t take advantage of others.  Live in the ways that God expects us to live.  Break out of the routines, patterns and bad habits of the world – and then we begin to make space for the Holy Spirit to enter in, then we can begin to experience what it means to be saved by the God who created us - who loves us and desires our ultimate happiness - Who wishes for our happiness and our salvation even more than we do.

    May you and I have the resolve to actively do what we should, in our own world, in our own lives, in order to welcome Jesus Christ into our midst this Christmas . . . and in the meantime, pray for God’s mercy and healing for ever accepting, or tolerating, or even contributing to evil growing this comfortable, this bold, this brazen in our midst that such a horror could ever have occurred.   

THE LAST PERSON ANYONE WOULD PICK

Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT - December 9, 2012 the readings for today can be found at:  http://usccb.org/bible/readings/120912.cfm .  Thanks as always for your comments, feedback and sharing the blog post.  It’s much appreciated.  Fr Jim

HOMILY:

    It was fourth grade. I was in Gym class and we were playing baseball. Our teacher, Mr. Hanson, picked two kids - Frankie and John, both of whom were Little League All Stars - to be the 'coaches' and asked them to pick, from the rest of the class, the members of their teams (I’m sure this scenario isn't unique just to those of us that went to Frank K. Hehnly Elementary School); and, so, you can imagine, the drama began.

    Of all the people that were 'chosen' to make up teams, the real drama was for two groups of people:  those who were picked first - and for those who were picked last. For the 'coach', this selection process is important - does he go with friendship and pick one of his closest, best friends? Or will his competitive nature win out, with him picking one of the best, fastest or all-around top athletes, regardless of friendship or loyalty?

    In the cut-throat world of elementary sports, those two moguls of the sports world went with the best. Frankie picked Joe - probably one of the best Little League pitchers - and John, well, he went with Tom, who even in 4th grade was a huge kid who could connect for some monster hits (now that I think about him, I wonder where he is right now). As the baseball draft continued, the anxiety level rose. My anxiety level rose. Standing on that gymnasium floor, watching as each pick was being made, after a little while I stopped hoping I'd be on the team with the most number of my friends on it and simply had one hope, one wish – that I wouldn't be the last person picked.

    Now, being chubby, out of shape and painfully un-athletic (oh, my brothers could tell you stories - painfully embarrassing, but highly entertaining stories about how un-athletic I was - for example, one time I did sit down in the outfield and start picking grass), THE POINT IS I can look back now and, reasonably, I really shouldn’t be surprised that I was the last kid to be picked. 29 years later and after some therapy, those wounds have healed - I have made peace with that, and in fact, I can even understand it.

    If you want to win, if you want to be the best; you look for the best; you pick the best. And so as all line-up picks go - you start with those who would seem to be the All-Stars, the future Hall-of-Famers. As you finish making your selections, you try to limit your damages as best you can when you’re looking at the last person anyone would pick.

    Today’s Gospel is interesting because it seems to turn this playground principle on its head - we see the reverse of that happening here. God has something important to tell the entire world. Something, no rather, Someone big is coming. Remember this is way before Twitter, Facebook or the internet.


    So, how is God going to get His message out? In the passage we hear from St. Luke today, it begins by recounting a couple of names that will be familiar (or rather infamous) - Pilate, Herod, Annas and Caiaphas. Yeah - those guys - the same ones who will figure prominently in Jesus’ passion and death.

    Knowing the story as we do, it's understandable that they might not be high on our list of favorites. But if you’re God and you've got something, Someone important to share you have very important information that you want to get out to the greatest number of people - we can’t just dismiss these people. Because these were the political and religious leaders of their day.

    They commanded power, and had authority over their people. They wielded major influence. It might have been a difficult decision, which one to choose – the religious or the political leader? But, again, this is God, so couldn’t He use both? In any event, one of these leaders (or a combination of them) would seem to be a logical choice, would seem to make the most sense.

    Yet, Luke paints this scene where we hear that of all those who might have been considered the best 'players' to chose, the best options for success were ignored and, instead, Luke says very beautifully that the word of God came to John . . . in the desert. Definitely the last place you would think of to broadcast a message of universal and eternal importance. Surprisingly, the word of God came to the last person anyone would pick, Zechariah's loony son, living off of locusts and honey in the boondocks.

    God seemed to know what he was doing (surprised?). All those other leaders, who knows, maybe they would have tried to use God to advance their own agendas. Maybe God had tried, but found they were too preoccupied with themselves, and with what they thought was essential, to busy themselves with Him.

    John had nothing. And, because of that, John proved to be a perfect messenger announcing the coming of Jesus to a world that desperately needed Him then (desperately needs Him now) a world waiting for its own salvation, but not prepared to receive it. John, despite his lack of power, authority, position or influence, despite his austere surroundings, He was open to the Word of God. He received it and was consumed by it to the point that he would spend the rest of his life bearing witness to the fact that GOD IS COMING TO HIS PEOPLE, and telling anyone and everyone who would hear him, PREPARE THE WAY OF THE LORD.

    Luke's story is more than just a retelling of a historical episode. The Word of God is still alive. The Word of God is still active. The Word of God is coming to us right here, right now looking for us to announce to a world that desperately needs him, that Jesus Christ still comes to us. The Word of God comes to us to proclaim to the world to PREPARE THE WAY OF THE LORD. And as I say those words, I can already see people putting up walls; “Yeah, not to me,” “Oh, I hope he’s not talking to me,” “Does this mean I’m going to have to join a committee or something?” or even things like, “I’m not worthy,” “I’m not holy enough,” “There are other people who are better qualified, better speakers, better people," "God certainly doesn't want me."

    John the Baptist shakes us up and tells us to GET OVER OURSELVES. Our sins are not that original (and definitely not unforgivable - John’s cousin Jesus will prove that). What is more important? What could we be too busy doing that this call isn’t consuming us, like it consumed John?

    Valleys can be filled in, mountains can be leveled at the command of The Word of God - nothing can stop His coming to us - except ourselves - our being closed to His word. our being closed to His Action and His Love, here and now.

    The Word of God came to John. The Word of God is coming to me and to you, for a reason. Can we stop looking at our faults, at our imperfections, at our 'unworthiness' and, instead, see our value in the Eyes of God? Can we stop seeing ourselves as 'the last person that anyone would pick'?

NYPD TRUE: "COME LORD JESUS"

Hi everyone and Happy New Year - New “Church” Year that is.  As we celebrate today the FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT - December 2, 2012, we begin a new “liturgical year” where we will be hearing from (for the most part) from  the Gospel of Luke.    Today’s readings can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/120212.cfm .  Thanks as always for reading, for your comments and for sharing this blog with others.  God Bless You! 
Fr. Jim


HOMILY:

    Facebook has this thing called a “news feed” which has this constant stream of articles, statuses, posts that runs on the right side of the computer screen... For someone like me who’s very easily distracted it’s one of the worst additions they’ve made to the site.  And yes, I know, you can disable it... but now I’m kind of addicted to it and can’t bring myself to getting rid of it, although I probably should. But I was grateful for the news feed on Tuesday night.  That time, this picture flipped by that had caught my attention that I had shared it myself.  It was of a New York City Police Officer, and there he was squatting down next to a homeless man sitting on the street with his bare feet and legs exposed.    There was a short description of the picture provided by the individuals who caught it with their smart phone:  Jennifer Foster of Florence, AZ was visiting Times Square with her husband Nov. 14 when they saw a shoeless man asking for change. She writes, “Right when I was about to approach, one of your officers came up behind him. The officer said, ‘I have these size 12 boots for you, they are all-weather. Let’s put them on and take care of you.’ The officer squatted down on the ground and proceeded to put socks and the new boots on this man. The officer expected NOTHING in return and did not know I was watching. I have been in law enforcement for 17 years. I was never so impressed in my life. I did not get the officer’s name.

    The story went viral for several days online to the point that within two days over a million people had seen and shared the story on facebook.  At that, the curiosity of the press to verify if this was indeed a true story, and even more who was the anonymous police officer who did this generous act got their attention.  By late Thursday night they had confirmed that the encounter was completely authentic.  Police Officer Lawrence DePrimo had been working a counter-terrorism patrol on 44th Street and Broadway.  It was a bone chilling 20 degrees when the officer happened to observe some people laughing and joking at this poor man who had no socks or shoes on.  The police officer went up to him and asked “where’s your shoes?” and the poor man said “it’s okay Officer, I never had a pair of shoes.”  At that, Officer DePrimo went into a shoe store a couple doors down, said “I want to buy a pair of socks and boots - something that’s going to last awhile.”  He put out $75 of his own money purchased them - went outside, knelt down and put them on him as the homeless man... The guy was  overwhelmed by the unexpected act of kindness and generosity which made him smile ear to ear.  The officer helped the man stand up, and invited him to have some coffee to get something to eat - which the man simply said “God Bless You - Be safe... I love the police.”

    Officer DePrimo didn’t even notice that the entire episode had been captured by the tourist on their iPhone... that it had been shared two weeks later on Facebook and then becoming an internet sensation.  And there’s a part of him that wishes his actions had remained anonymous.  As he was being interviewed about this story on Friday, I hated to disagree with this hero as with all humility he contends that “he was just doing his job as a police officer.”   Because while its true police departments look for men and women of good solid moral character, I’m doubtful that part of a persons training to become a cop includes noticing a homeless person on the street; there certainly isn’t an expectation that you would take your own money and buy that person a pair of socks and boots, help him to put them on and then go back to patrolling the streets.    

    But for us as Christians - that is essential to our “job”, our duty, our responsibility in being a follower, a disciple of Jesus Christ.   Which is why the timing of the story is perfect as we begin this four week season of Advent.    In these weeks, the Church focuses on the words:  COME LORD JESUS.  It won’t be until the days before Christmas that we will reflecting on the historic, first coming of Jesus into the world in a manger in Bethlehem.  These earlier weeks of Advent causes us to reflect on the reality that we are people waiting for the end of the world, the end of all time, as well as the end of our individual lives (whichever comes first).  Rather than live in fear of that or anxiety over that, that’s meant to make us long for Christ, to desire Christ and Him alone.  In that the Advent them becomes words of prayerful longing– COME LORD JESUS .  That’s what this Gospel is talking about.  That especially when we see frightening things that cause us fear, cause us doubt, cause us anxiety... Jesus tells us to be steadfast in our faith “STAND ERECT - RAISE YOUR HEADS.”   So in that experience, that prophetic declaration becomes a call, a hope filled prayer from the hearts of his disciples: COME LORD JESUS!

    But there’s a third dimension that this Gospel uncovers for us that is very much at the center of the season of Advent which is meant to be a refresher or a reminder for us.  Which is in recognizing how the LORD JESUS has already COME into our lives here and now.   We hear His word as these readings are being proclaimed anew to us here and now.   We receive His actual Body and Blood in the Eucharist - where we are to invite the Lord Jesus to come into our hearts, into our lives physically & spiritually and to stay there.  Those realities ought to make us look at this Gospel with a greater sense of urgency. 

    In this Gospel, Jesus says to “beware that your hearts do not become drowsy... and to be vigilant at all times.”  How do we do that?  By living selflessly, generously, lovingly always... at all times.    So often we can lose sight of that on a daily basis.  Yes, when Hurricane Sandy devastates our community, people respond incredibly generously to the crisis.  Or with the Christmas season approaching (no despite the insanity of Black Friday or Black Thanksgiving it’s not here yet) - people will participate in Toys for Tots, Giving Trees, giving donations to charity - which are all good things to do... But acts of selflessness and love are to be apart of our daily lives, our daily routines.  That is what makes Officer DePrimo such a great example.  Even though he’s become this celebrity for the moment (thankfully the media has someone else to fixate on rather than Lindsay Lohan) what was remarkable was what was captured seemed so unremarkable, so routine to the Officer DePrimo. 

    We too are called to live us people who know the LORD JESUS COMES to us here and now...With that knowledge, we are to attune our eyes, our ears, our hearts to the everyday opportunities that present themselves where we bring the LORD JESUS into the lives of those who are longing for His COMing right now.  Who is it in our workplaces that we can see are struggling (but we dare not ask) - who is it in our dorms, our classes that we see look sad or stressed or are alone – who is it in our lives that is longing for someone to bring to life the care, the presence, the love they desire that can only be found when the LORD JESUS COMES?

MITT OR OBAMA - DOESNT MATTER: CHRIST IS OUR KING



Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the SOLEMNITY OF JESUS CHRIST THE KING, Sunday, November 25, 2012 -The readings for today can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/112512.cfm.  As always, thanks for reading, for sharing this blog, and all your feedback and comments.  God Bless You, Fr. Jim


HOMILY:

           The other morning I saw an article that kind of surprised me. Every 4 years we are accustomed to the American ritual of electing a new president. Each time we hear it’s more negative, more polarizing and more divisive than ever before, but I must admit, this was the first time I remember seeing a story like this. The article was about how families who have people of different political ideologies, parties, etc are dealing with coming together so soon after this year's election for Thanksgiving, the national holiday that is known for bringing families together to give thanks to God for the blessings we have received – both in our own personal lives, as well as collectively as a nation.

           Some families reported that they were simply going to continue the contentious discussions they had on facebook in person.  One guy seemed a bit anxious about it realizing that people had some strong views and heated conversations, now being face to face and adding some wine to the mix was only going to “amplify it.”   Things have gotten so tense over politics between one fellow by the name of Brian Davidson, and his father, that they changed their plans completely, deciding not to even come together for Thanksgiving. “We’re not even going,” says Brian.  After sharing who he voted for and being somewhat sharp in his characterization of his father’s ideology he ended his conversation with the reporter saying, “Better to skip this one than suffer ‘a non-recoverable blowup.’“

           I’m sure that some probably opted not to discuss politics at all - realizing how strongly people believe in their positions and wanting to be able to be together in some relative peace. I know that’s kind of where me and my family have fallen.  Part of the reason is we’re Italian, so things can get loud just over whether the turkey is ready or not. But I think part of the problem is that elections, campaigns have become almost like a sporting event.  People have chosen their sides, fight to win and then you have a “winner” and a “loser.”

           Rather than thinking about what is right, what is just, instead of acting for the good of all the self interests of politicians and lobbyists for different groups or constituencies seems to rule the day.  The notion of compromise isn’t about people coming together to forge a solution on something but rather what individuals do to their values just so they can win. It’s no wonder that so many become frustrated and disgusted with the whole thing that rather than become engaged in issues some become apathetic. The number of people who are eligible to vote but actually turn out on election day still hovers around 50-60%.  And when pollsters talk to those who actually do cast ballots, often times people say they doubt that even the person they voted for will actually do anything to improve things.

           A bit discouraging isn’t it? With such polarization and more and more people becoming either extreme in their views or apathetic (and sometimes ignorant) to them, you’re left with two sides who are absolutely convinced that they are right - that they speak the truth and that the other side is completely wrong. In the process the one thing that both sides seem convinced that they possess, “the truth” is actually discarded..
 
           That’s what’s happening in the Gospel today. Jesus is dragged before Pilate. His own people, fellow Jews have had it with Him - what he’s saying - what he’s doing. These same individuals hate the Romans for occupying their land, for making them second class citizens in their own country, but they hate Jesus even more, so much so that they want Him gone. They don’t simply want him imprisoned, they want him crucified.

           Now Pilate has no love for the people he is responsible to govern. So he tries some politics - Jesus violated Jewish rules not Roman laws, why are you bringing him to me? OK, you people want him killed - it’s Passover and it’s Roman custom to release a prisoner sentenced to death - you want me to release a crazed, convicted murderer named Barrabas or do you want this guy who basically you are bringing here because you find him annoying, Jesus?

           We know what happens.  The Jewish leaders got louder and louder; Pilate, despite knowing in his heart of hearts that Jesus was an innocent man compromises his values and allows a murderer to go free and Jesus to be crucified. And, the truth is discarded once again.  In this case, the embodiment of “the truth” - Jesus Christ, God’s Son - is crucified.

           It’s kind of peculiar for us to focus on this gospel, and this reality on a feast we celebrate called CHRIST THE KING.  Yet, the Church in her wisdom uses that contradiction as a call to humility and a call to reality.

           The world has always and will always reject Jesus Christ. His radical call of selfless, sacrificial love isn’t as popular in a world, in a culture looking for people to pick sides of an issue, be counted on to support a certain ideology or candidate. God’s kingdom could never be run by humanity because quite simply humanity always has to deal with original sin.  Original sin isn't simply about Adam and Eve eating some fruit they were told to stay away from in a Garden... Original sin at it’s core is self-centeredness: Who needs God when we can be gods ourselves?

           Jesus is brought before Pilate in the Gospel and questioned, “Are you the King of the Jews?” From the scene that’s before Pilate with Jesus’ own people turning Him in to a hated occupying force, the evidence would appear to be pretty obvious to any observer - “Ah, no”. Yet Pilate asks the question anyway. Perhaps recognizing that despite the loud and conflicting voices, there was something royal about this man before him. Perhaps seeing truth within this man, but still unwilling to sacrifice himself to stand up for the truth.

           For you and I Pilate’s question resonates thousands of years later in our own day and our own age.  As a contentious, polarizing campaign has ended with people backing different politicians, we’re not being polled or asked to vote for someone, but to answer that question –  Do we recognize Jesus Christ as our King?    Whatever our answer, it’s worth noting that this loving King reigns for all eternity and His Kingdom already outlasted the Roman empire and every subsequent human government that has risen and faded into the history books.  Should we truly wish to be apart of His kingdom, our good citizenship isn’t verified by our physical residency, taxes paid or any of the usual normal duties expected but rather a willingness and desire  to move beyond our own opinions, our politics, our wants, our desires to truly serve, to follow, to love the embodiment of “truth”– Jesus Christ our King.

JESUS YOUR DRIVERS ED INSTRUCTOR

Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the THIRTY FIRST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - November 4, 2012.  The readings for today can be found at http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/110412.cfm. 

Please excuse what I’m sure are numerous grammatical errors and some “rough edges”.  Thanks to Hurricane Sandy, the Newman Center has been without power since Monday and so this was written the old fashioned way on paper and pen - transcribed on computer with limited battery life, etc... you get the idea.   Keep all of us in this region, particularly those who’ve lost loved ones, their homes or seen serious damage done to their property (especially along the Jersey Shore) in your prayers.






And as always, thanks for your comments, shares and feedback on the homily,  Fr. Jim


Special announcement, before the homily:  With election day two days away, I hope you'll check out a blog I wrote for FOCUS (the Fellowship of Catholic University Students) entitled WHY I AM A SINGLE ISSUE VOTER - that can be found here:http://www.focus.org/blog/posts/why-i-am-a-single-issue-voter.html  Thanks and don't forget to VOTE - it's a life and death issue... seriously...
HOMILY:

    Do you remember Drivers Ed?  For some of you it was probably just a couple of years ago... Not sure how much has changed, because for me it’s now 23 years ago (wow that’s not a fun revelation) but back then, there were two parts of it in one semester.  The first marking period we would be in a classroom talking about driving.  We had a book from the NJ Department of Motor Vehicles (that looked like it had been written in the 60's) with all kinds of rules, laws about driving.  We had videos, – oh those videos! About how to drive.  Again, mostly 60's films (remember ladies and gents, this was right when VHS was the “new” electronic equipment, so we actually had movie projectors, with the films, etc) There were women in beehives and these poodle skirts, guys in shirts and ties demonstrating how to drive.  The one exception was a much more current film showing the effects of drunk driving (I think it was called “Death Highway” or something... I just remember it was pretty horrific - making the point of how horrific drunk driving was). 

    This part of drivers ed was designed to give you the theories behind the practice.  I remember them giving us “the rule of thumb” for highway driveway (or as they called it “on the speedway” or “the Motor-highway”) for every 10 mph you drove, you should be 1 car length away from the car in front of you (so at 40 MPH, you should be back 4 car lengths - that you’d measure by thumb in front of you...)  One guy in my class raised his hand and said “Mrs. Ratched, I thought we were supposed to keep both hands on the wheel, how are we supposed to use our thumbs to count car lengths.”  She threw him out of our class.  Anyway.

    The second half of that semester, after we had completed the theory part was when we were finally put in a car with another drivers ed teacher and actually went out on the road.  And it was amazing - because as excited as you were to finally get behind the wheel and drive, there was a great amount of fear.  The one student that I was paired up with got behind the wheel first... and when one of the gym teachers (who we nicknamed “Gumby”) who was our instructor said to her “So what do you do first?”  She froze.  As I chimed in “put the key in the ignition” she said “adjust the mirrors” then I countered back“buckle your seatbelt.”  To be honest, I forget what the correct answer was, I just remember Gumby yelling at us telling us how stupid we were and how did we pass the first marking period. 

    There are a lot of rules and laws to driving that are all there for important, various reasons.  But there’s a day when after studying them, you gotta get behind the wheel, and start to drive, start to put it into practice, start to realize that - yeah there’s wisdom to the “rule of the thumb” if you have to stop suddenly to give you enough space to hit the brakes - but that becomes a bit of a drivers instinct that you develop (and at least here in this heavy congested area, rarely will you have room to give 6 car lengths to the person in front of you on the Garden State Parkway, so you compromise on that and try to at least not be right on top of someone).  When you’ve seen, or had an experience of what a drunk driver has done - usually that rule, that law becomes sinks in why there is no compromise on that -if you have any alcohol or any drug that can affect your abilities to react, to be alert - you don’t drive. 

    The theories, the laws move into practice and they are validated in a way that you couldn’t appreciate before... The hierarchy of importance to them becomes apparent to you just as you get behind the wheel and start to drive.

    Today’s Gospel is an example of moving from theory to practice; moving from studying to doing; moving from head to heart and soul... This time with the rules, the laws of God.  We just heard Jesus’ encounter with yet another Scribe - someone who has been studying the Law probably for most of his adult life - among a group of people who’ve been doing the same thing as well....  They were good at theorizing, debating, arguing with one another, and with other groups of Jewish leaders:  what laws are  most important to God? how do you interpret them? When did someone violate them and what do we do in those instances?   how did one law fit in among the others? 

    But in someways, these leaders, these scribes could end up so stuck in the theories, the studies, the particulars, it’s like they took the drivers ed class, but have yet to get behind the wheel of the car.  Because as Jesus approaches them, here they were encountering the Fulfillment  of the Law (as well as the fulfillment of the Prophets and the whole of the Hebrew Scriptures) yet they don’t recognize him as such.  Rather, they perceive him as a threat.  In the verses before this passage, they had been putting forth all kinds of law-related questions all in attempt to box Jesus into a corner to discredit him. 

    As this scribe though comes forth, there’s something different.  He asks a question which is an important one, one that no doubt his fellow scribes, Jewish leaders had all argued over as well - Which is the first of all commandments – now mind you, he’s not asking the order of the 10 Commandments.  Jesus’ response is incredibly revolutionary to his hearers... Because he puts the Love of God on an equal pairing with the Love of your neighbor (as yourself).  A safe answer to this crowd would’ve been Love of God alone.  Because “love” could have left it somewhat general enough (and some could have argued that love of neighbors falls in that anyway)  But by Jesus equating love of neighbor, He’s commanding them to get behind the wheel - to start living in loving ways.  He’s telling them that their love of the one true God alone is only validated, only affirmed, only actualized when we actually go out and love others.

    One great homilist pointed it out that we have clear examples today of what happens when we don’t listen to Jesus’ command and his insistence that both Love of God and Love of Neighbor are on an equal pairing.  For those who chose simply to Love God, we see so-called Christians holding up signs saying “God Hates” and then insert a group of people who they have written off as sinners.  For those who chose simply to Love God, that’s where terrorists who drive planes into buildings rationalize their actions saying they are doing that to glorify God.  On the other side, for those who simply chose to Love neighbor, you see the birth of secularism... where people will rightly stand up for certain social-justice causes that are important, while ignoring some essential causes that are important as well coming from God’s law and scripture (Dismissing them primarily because they come from scripture).  Thats how you have someone argue that they are dedicated to care of the poor and then use Abortion as an example of one way to help people out of poverty.

    It is in putting Love of God and Neighbor on an equal pairing that avoids the extremes, and puts things into right balance.  So yes, in our Love for God, we are called to turn away from sinful behaviors - we’re not to encourage them - but we have to do that in an encouraging way recognizing our own failures and our need to work together as brothers and sisters in avoiding temptation.  Yes, in our Love for one another, we are called to be our brothers and sisters keeper - but not at the expense of recognizing who it is that made us brothers and sisters, and having reverence for Him and the Law that he has given us.

    Jesus promises that he will be our constant companion on this difficult road of life we are all on.  If we listen to Him, follow his direction, we will find it is possible to take the wheel and drive.

Reminder again, now that you've made it to the end of the homily:  With election day two days away, I hope you'll check out a blog I wrote for FOCUS (the Fellowship of Catholic University Students) entitled WHY I AM A SINGLE ISSUE VOTER - that can be found here:http://www.focus.org/blog/posts/why-i-am-a-single-issue-voter.html  Thanks and don't forget to VOTE - it's a life and death issue... seriously...

YOU CAN'T NOT KNOW WHAT YOU KNOW

Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the 28th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - October 14, 2012.  The readings for the day can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/101412.cfm.  As always, thanks for sharing the blog, for your feedback and your comments.  They are much appreciated!  Fr. Jim

HOMILY:

           Have you ever had the experience where you see something and want to find out how it's done, but after you do, you're kind of disappointed; because you “can’t not know what you know?” I know how atrocious that sentence sounds (and can’t not know that I know that) - but just think about it:

           I remember seeing so-called “magicians” - more accurately they’re illusionists - who did all kinds of amazing feats and was always curious about how they did what they did. Whether it was a rabbit magically appearing out of a hat; a guy with a deck of cards who picks yours out of all of them, even after shuffling them, cutting the deck, he will still always be able to flip two cards over to reveal yours;  a magician being shackled and tightly secured and restrained by police officers but within a few moments “presto-wamo” being completely free .You witness those feats and see them and your mind is blown and you wonder how did they do that.

           If you’re curiosity gets the better of you, thanks to 1000 channels on TV and google, you can find “Magicians secrets finally revealed" and quickly learn how the rabbit in the hat trick works; how you can do the same card trick that the illusionist do that amazed you; and how you can rest secured the next time you see some serial murderer being escorted to jail that he’s not going to be able to slip out of the handcuffs, as David Blane is able too. I’m not going to ruin those for you, because if you want to go to a Magic show and just experience the wonders of that without it being ruined by the “magicians” secrets being shared you’re not going to be able to, after I tell you. Once you see a special like that, or hear the explanations to those “feats”, you can’t not know what you know.

           That idea or premise is true not just with revealing an illusionist's “trick” but on more profound things about life.  Especially something true, something profound, something essential to life both here and now and for all eternity - something like coming to meet, coming to know Jesus Christ. Which is what’s just happened in this gospel. The “Rich Young Man” as he’s referred to, whose story is shared in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke.

    For a long time now, being a guy without a lot of riches or possessions, and feeling reasonably confident that I’ve given up everything and followed Christ, I kind of had a self-righteousness when this Gospel came up, feeling like this wasn’t addressed to me. (The many reasons that I was so completely wrong, arrogant, and foolish about that could take way too long to explain here - suffice it to say I spent plenty of time talking to my Spiritual Director and in the confessional about that...) But, this story is not relegated to the “1%” as some would like to portray it... It’s for 100% of us and we have to break it up to get to the heart of that... Look at the sequence of events:

           First off, the Rich Young Man - he’s already a good man.... He’s no doubt grappled with sin and temptation in his own life - because he knows the 10 commandments... He knows that being in relationship with God requires something on his part - to live in obedience with those commandments... And how perfectly or not he’s done that, well that’s between God and the Rich Young Man.  But his goodness is already clear in that he has reverence and respect for the commandments and no doubt has spent much of his life trying to observe them. He’s not there like the Pharisees asking Jesus about loopholes around the 10 commandments, throwing out extreme examples designed to polarize one person from another… The Rich Young Man already loves God, has loved His law and tried to live that law. Which he knows has brought him into a deeper relationship with God.  That knowledge is something that has brought joy, purpose, direction... He can’t not know what he knows...

    And that knowledge, that relationship has opened him up to the Holy Spirit. God inspires this good man to become greater... to come into an even deeper relationship with God.  Because, as good as his relationship is already, as radically different as living according to that law and letting that law define both earthly and heavenly relationships can make life for people…He wants to grow deeper, grow closer to God. And the more he lives in that relationship, the more in love he grows with God, he has a greater desire for the Lord, and he becomes more passionate about it, for it. Which is what drives him to, as we heard, run (and kneel) before Jesus. Those aren’t the actions of a casual, curious observer.... That’s a passionate response. That’s the reaction of someone in a relationship with God who recognizes in Jesus Christ the depth he’s after.

    And so he runs to Jesus, he kneels before Jesus and has this conversation with Jesus, which validates everything that he’s known...  Yes, Jesus affirms - doing all those things are essential for eternal life... But the young man presses... He desires the secret... He desires the fullness that has eluded him... His heart is telling him that this is all that ultimately, truly matters - being one with God both now and for all eternity - so he presses by saying “these I’ve observed from my youth.” Meaning Jesus, I know these things, and I know that there’s still something more.

    It is there that Jesus offers him the secret. “Sell what you have, give to the poor... come, follow me.” And we hear “his face fell, he went away sad because he had many possessions.”  The young man had found the secret, he had learned the truth of what would bring him ultimate satisfaction, ultimate fulfillment - Jesus, and Him alone - yet the things he was holding onto, he wasn’t ready to give those up.  His sadness is that now, after such truth has been spoken to him, he can’t not know what he knows... He’s always going to realize that those things, those possessions which probably weren’t bad things in and of themselves - but had, somehow, become more important than they ever should’ve been - were holding him back from fully embracing God.

    When we realize that all of us, especially as Americans, are “rich," and have a variety of “possessions” - what the Gospel confronts us with is - which of those things have we become more passionate about, more desirous of than Jesus Christ?

    Think of it, many of us have no problem blocking out hours of time, staying up into the wee hours of the night to watch the Yankees in the playoffs –  Families will run from practice to practice, sport to sport, music class to art class... College students will overload in classes - double, triple majoring in stuff; be a part of ten different organizations...  All of us find things that we become possessive of that do enrich us in a variety of ways... and then we look at Mass as something we need to just squeeze in (if at all) - we look at learning about our faith as something we don’t have time for.  Yet, something tugs on us, calling us to look at that. To realize the added stress, the added pursuit of all these other things (while not bad in themselves) hasn't brought us the fulfillment, the Peace, the Love that the deepest part of our hearts and souls ultimately desire. We all know that... and we can’t not know what we know now.

    What’s so frustrating about this passage is we don’t get to hear whatever happened to the Rich young man.  Did this truth about where he was and what he ultimately desired – like the magicians secrets being revealed – take away the illusion they had created for him?

    But perhaps that’s the genius of the Gospels and the Word of God - the future of this young man, like the future of ourselves - is left undecided, as something that is proclaimed anew for each of us, each time we hear it.  As we bring ourselves, and are confronted by the reality that for each and everyone of us – from myself, who has given his life to Jesus Christ and His Church in the priesthood – to each of you in the seats here, who find themselves here today... We know that the Lord is pursuing us.  And our story is not yet over.  We know that He has loved us to the point of suffering death on the Cross to make eternal life a reality for each of us. We know that He has put on our hearts a desire to seek Him and to find Him here in the Word and in His Body and Blood in the Eucharist.  We know that if we continue to embrace that Word and that Sacramental presence it will change our lives... and that change is going to demand changes in our lives as well. Are we ready for that?  It’s all there in our minds, and in our hearts - the invitation is always there... Jesus is always waiting for us to embrace him and his call.  We all know that, and we know that, ultimately, what has to change, where the movement needs to come from, is from within. We know that. And... we can no longer not know what we know now.

ON LOOPHOLES & DIVORCE

Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the 27th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - October 7, 2012.  The readings for today can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/100712.cfm .   As always, thanks for all your comments, feedback and all those who share through Facebook and twitter this blog.  I’m humbled to get so many visitors from all around the globe!  Fr. Jim

HOMILY:

           A friend who’s a police officer a few months ago posted on his facebook wall this story along with some of his own editorial comments that I don’t feel are appropriate to mention in a Church (or outside of a Church for that matter)that expressed his justifiable anger over the story. The article said that there was this guy who had been arrested for drunk driving three different times.   This last, third time he was arrested he happened to have his 5 year old son in the car, while he was driving a snow plow which he ended up crashing into some woman’s house.  On the two previous times he had been found passed out in his car in a school parking lot and the other time he was involved in a hit and run accident. 

           Well in Massachusetts were this took place, they have a three strikes and your out rule that says he loses his drivers license. But a judge ruled that even though the defendant refused to take a Breathalyzer test (which is one way they consider you admitting your guilt) and even confessed that he was drunk (as if the snow plow going through the house wasn’t evidence enough), because this didn’t take place on a public street, the judge agreed with his lawyer, that technically he couldn’t be convicted for drunk driving, so he got his drivers license back.

           Now you know why my cop-friend ranted as much as he did! We hear a story like that and it’s infuriating isn’t it?  Rational, sane individuals can see that the man has proven that he is ill equipped to responsibly utilize the privilege of driving. Why would the courts legally give him another chance to prove that? Because they determined that this woman’s private property wasn’t a public street? That’s just insane...

           These types of stories rightly shock and upset.   We know that the reason that lawmakers came up with the three strikes rule was in the interest of public safety and assumed that getting arrested for drunk driving one time is bad enough and should be a wake up call; your found guilty twice, you gotta be kidding – three times, well obviously you’re not only immature, your dangerous.  But sadly we know there’s lots of examples of courts and other corners of society that seem to be constantly looking for a loophole to escape responsibility for their selfish, self-centered behavior.  And so in this case, because the court looked at precise language rather than the relationship of this individual to the rest of society  – Because of a silly loophole, this thrice arrested drunk driver was allowed the privilege to drive again.

           Today’s Gospel for a lot of reasons makes people uncomfortable. With statistics saying somewhere in the 40% range of marriages ending in divorce (it’s actually not as high as 50% as is often cited) when we hear the question posed in the Gospel  “is it lawful for a husband to divorce a wife?” with Jesus’ emphatic answer saying “what God has joined together, no human being must separate” seems to end the discussion.  Is Jesus saying then, that in cases where there’s domestic or verbal or mental abuse they have to simply “tough it out?” Is he really saying that the bond must remain intact when someone is an incurable addict, an unrepentant philanderer? 

           This is another example of where the context of the Gospel is so important. Because Jesus is really addressing the ridiculous “loopholes” people had created for themselves that made a mockery of the institution of Marriage. In Jesus’ time, the ability for a husband to divorce his wife had gotten so simple to the point that if he found an “indecency” he could sever their bond.  Indecency could be anything from a bad meal, a raised voice, or meeting someone who was deemed more attractive than his current wife.  And on the flip side, women, who were often treated like property of the husband, had a much more difficult time getting a divorce. 

          So in responding to the pharisees question, Jesus is speaking to all of the loopholes that the Pharisees had created for themselves that permitted (if not encouraged) selfish behavior on their part and completely undermined the institution of Marriage, destroying God’s intentions for Marriage. Jesus’ prohibition against divorce was intended to prohibit self-centeredness and to come back to the origin of what this beautiful institution was made for:  That when a husband and a wife lay down their lives for each other, serving each other, making their life’s goal for the rest of their earthly lives to help the other to get heaven - when people enter into that type of relationship, the thought of looking for an escape hatch, or a loophole doesn’t exist. 

           It’s true that there are times when divorce is a sad reality that takes place and can be for a number of understandable reasons.  What Jesus continues to challenge all of us, married or unmarried, is to see where are we being self-centered, self-focused and unloving. How are we not reflecting Jesus giving His life for us, the Church (where the image of Jesus being the bride groom and the Church is his bride comes from)

           May you and I not be confused or misled by the loopholes, the faulty logic, the ridiculous technicalities that so often govern, so often excuse behavior we know is wrong in the world around us to mislead us in our relationship with Jesus Christ. He expects better of us. He knows we’re better than that.  Because He has come to bring us into ultimate union with God the Father. He has come to fulfill the Father’s plan for us and all creation - and has gifted us with the Holy Spirit to know, to discern; to follow that plan. The question is, will we remain attentive, steadfast and courageous to be led by Him or wonder is there some loophole we can use to get out of that challenge? 

MARRIAGE; "SAME-SEX MARRIAGE" & WHY IT MATTERS

Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the 26th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - September 30, 2012.  The readings can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/093012.cfm.  Thanks as always for reading and your feedback, comments and sharing this with others.  God Bless You - Fr. Jim


HOMILY:

    It’s hard to imagine a world without text messaging, isn’t it? The jury is probably still out whether that’s a good thing or not - but the reality is that, in a short period of time, we’ve moved from just being curious about a new method of communication - getting a mini-email on your phones - to seeing it as an essential form of daily communication. With each new device, as each smart phone becomes “smarter” -  texting becomes even more a part of our routine.  So much so we need reminders, warnings, even laws about when to stop texting.   There are commercials on television warning of the dangers; as well as laws being passed banning “texting while driving.” Studies are being conducted about the effect texting has on stress levels, people's sleep habits, etc.   There even was a discussion, not too long ago, about passing a law against texting while walking in New York City.

    It seems silly that we're at this point, doesn’t it? I mean, you’d think people would recognize the danger of driving on the Garden State Parkway at 65 miles per hour and texting simultaneously. Crossing an intersection in New York City is life-threatening enough without your attention being diverted by text messaging.  Yet, a recent story in the news shows that the message still hasn’t set in.  An Alaskan woman was walking around her house, which sits on a cliff. As she finished her cigarette, and prepared to get rid of it, she was texting, so she didn’t realize how close to the edge of the cliff she really was, until she slipped, and fell 60 feet, getting stuck between rocks and boulders. Despite the risk and difficulty involved in the mission, she was eventually (thankfully) rescued.

    Obviously, logic and common sense don’t always seem to “do the job” for us. One would think we’d know how to use text messaging in the way it was intended. But it’s become more obvious -since the woman fell off the cliff - that we need voices, we need direction to point out when we’re doing something that’s not healthy, or helpful, or downright dangerous. So laws need to be passed (and enforced); advertisements need to influence people to (at least, try to) make better decisions.

    Which is one of the essential things Jesus is getting at in today’s Gospel. Of all the things that we’ve been blessed with, one of the most precious gifts given to us by God is the gift of Freedom. We have the choice, the freedom, to choose to love God - or not. To live in relationship with Him - or not. He doesn’t force us or coerce us.  He loves us, pursues us and desires us to choose to live in relationship with Him. But, ultimately, that's a decision that every individual makes - one soul at a time.   It’s hard enough for you and I to deal with our own sinfulness, our own failures on a daily basis. So what fires Jesus up in this Gospel today is the misuse of freedom, the responsibility we face when we mislead others. When we confuse them about what is true and not true.  What is and what is not a sin. When we disregard logic and common sense to advance things contrary to God’s will.  When we misuse God’s word for purposes of our own.  He uses dramatic imagery to point out that we should be extremely vigilant in not leading others astray.

    In the last few years, throughout the United States, there has been a debate going on over what has been described as “same-sex marriage,” and whether such relationships should legally be recognized as “marriage.”  Perhaps it’s too charitable to say it’s been a “debate.”  Because debate usually implies that there are two sides that present their arguments, question one another on the validity of those arguments, and help people ultimately come to an understanding or a consensus on a particular issue.  It is true that, in this case,  there have been people on both sides who have been outrageous, horrendous in their characterizations of their 'opposition.'  So much so, it’s a bit nerve-wracking even mentioning the topic – which is why I think so often we avoid talking about it.

    It is disgusting to see “hate preachers” holding signs saying “God hates” and then using an atrocious term to fill in the blank, a term that is meant to demean and degrade people with same-sex attractions. Hearing people shout at a group of their fellow citizens, telling them they are “going to hell” is equally deplorable. We don’t believe in a God who hates people... any people, of any orientation. He who knows us, who created us in His image and likeness, sees the beauty of his handiwork. He knows our potential.  He knows our weaknesses. He knows how we struggle between the two - which is why he sent Jesus Christ, in the first place, to save us from our weaknesses, save us when we fall into sin, and to offer us new life in Him - both now and in eternity.  God doesn’t hate people – gay or straight.   And He never gives up on us. He would never simply dismiss an entire demographic to “go to hell.”  Jesus died specifically to save us from that nightmare. He always holds out hope for us, for all of us. That has always been the teaching of the Church - to the point that while the Church has always said that, yes, we do believe that Hell exists – none of us can say for certain that a particular villain (even one of the most infamous, notorious of human beings ever to have lived) is there now.

    But it’s also true that there’s been equally unfair things said and done from those who support same-sex marriage who have bullied their opposition to the point that -sadly - the Church hasn’t explained her teaching nearly as clearly as she needs to.

    Which is why this past week, our Archbishop John J. Myers, the Archbishop of Newark issued what is called a “pastoral letter.”  (you can read his letter here: http://www.rcan.org/archbish/jjm_letters/wtbo.pdf; )  For the most part, I think, Catholics think the Bishop’s job is to confirm people or to run the diocese. And while those are important, one of the chief responsibilities entrusted to the Bishop by the Lord at His ordination is to be the shepherd of the local Church that he is sent to.  So, in this 16 page letter, entitled, “When two become one: A pastoral teaching on the definition, purpose and sanctity of marriage,” the Archbishop explains the foundations of this institution that has been understood between one man and one women from the beginnings of civilization. The origins of marriage come from the reality that when a husband and wife had a sexual relationship - often times, that resulted in a child.  Those children, it was understood, depended upon these two parents who were so essential to their creation, to continue to love, care and provide for them, after they were born.  So, this relationship which had a physical, emotional (and, later, spiritual) aspect to them which was understood to be different from any other relationship on this earth.

    Our Archbishop issued this letter because he knows we are living in difficult and, often, confusing times. The pain of divorce has touched far too many lives. The lie that “no one can make a life-long commitment” has been told and believed by too many. And the beauty, the meaning, the purpose of marriage seems to be lost to countless numbers of people.   When you have a celebrity (if you can call her that, I still don’t know what she does) like Kim Kardashian gaining the eyes and ears of the world as she was married for what, 15 minutes, to whats his name - it’s more and more obvious that many people just don’t know what they are doing within the institution of marriage.

    And now we’re living in an unprecedented time in which there’s greater demand - by a small, but vocal group of people and politicians - to pass laws that further undermine the meaning and definition of marriage.  Instead of the idea of this physical, emotional and spiritual relationship which results in new life being born into the world, instead of this being the very foundation of marriage - people are now proposing that all that matters is love– who do you choose to love. 

    So, the argument goes, it wouldn't matter if the union is between two men, two women or a man and a woman - all that would matter is their love for one another. Despite the denials of those who support this re-definition, if we accept that premise, what’s to stop three people or more from wishing to be “married?” (Or, as I wrote in a blog earlier this summer, what's to stop a single woman who wishes to marry herself from doing so? – you can read that here:  http://www.focus.org/blog/posts/can-you-marry-yourself.html ) Who’s to say that two cousins who really love each other can't get married?  If “love” is the criteria, where is the line - and who can draw it?  Thats not being said to be inflammatory - that’s using logic to ask questions regarding an important issue (Which use to be the standard way we made laws)

    It sounds extreme, I know . . . and ridiculous.  But, 10 years ago, the thought that marriage would be understood as anything other than the permanent, exclusive, life-long commitment of one man and one woman seemed extreme and ridiculous, as well.    

    So, our Archbishop Myers has issued this pastoral letter in which he asks us, the people he has been entrusted to lead, to think about these things.  To read his letter, to use our hearts and minds and engage this topic with hearts and minds open to hearing why what the Church teaches is so important.  To recognize the specialness of the institution of marriage, and the need for us to hear the voice of the Lord through the Church, instructing us on how to use it properly. Pointing out how somethings  that are being done - or proposed - are not healthy, or helpful but downright dangerous - not just to the institution of marriage, but to society as a whole.  To ask us to reflect on this, especially in an election year, so that laws will continue to be passed which will influence people to make better decisions.

    This can all be hard to hear, I know.  Especially as so many of us have friends and relatives we care deeply about, who identify themselves as gay or lesbian, and are, themselves, truly seeking love in their own lives - a true love, which we all hope they find.  And because of the explosive nature of this topic and the way it has been discussed by both sides, it saddens me that some feel unwelcome or loved by the Church, by Christ.   We need to do better with that - to minister and outreach to those who for whatever reason have felt disconnected to know that the Church wants to help each and every person find and experience the Love of Christ in their lives now and for eternity.    But, from the Catholic standpoint, same-sex marriage is not the answer to that search.  Marriage's purpose is new life, and its meaning is love.  Those two cannot be divorced, one from the other.  That is, and always has been our church's teaching.

    Let us, at least, be clear about that, in our own minds and hearts, and as we - calmly and civilly - speak to others about our beliefs, and - as Christ was so passionate about in today's gospel - let us guard against leading others astray, others who may, in all good faith, be looking to us for clarification about what a Catholic truly believes. Doing so with the same love of Christ who encountered difficult issues, spoke truth to them, but always did so with authentic, genuine, true love that He wants each and every one of us to know and experience in our own lives.

LIFE LESSONS FROM CHARLIE BROWN

Hi everyone, here is my homily for the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 23, 2012.  The readings for the day can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/092312.cfm.  Thanks as always for reading, all the “shares” of this blog on Facebook and Twitter (kind of shocked each week when I see the numbers of people who visit everyweek...it’s so humbling!) and for your comments and feedback.  God Bless you!  Fr. Jim

HOMILY:

           Any visitor to my office or apartment would probably be able to get an idea of some of my interests with just a quick look around. Among obviously some religious articles and family portraits, there’s some Yankees paraphernalia, a couple bobble-heads from the TV show “The Office” (and no, I don’t care what you say, I don’t think I look like Toby) and a variety of things from the comic strip “Peanuts” (mostly of my favorite character, Snoopy). 

    Ever since I was in grammar school, I was a big fan of Peanuts... reading the comic strip daily in the paper, collecting books of old comic strips, watching every TV special of it.  I can still remember the day President Ronald Reagan was shot in an assassination attempt - not because of the tragic history of the day, but because it pre-empted a Peanuts special that was going to be on that night (cut me some slack, I was only 7 years old and in second grade and this was before VCR’s). 

    When I was in fourth grade, we were allowed to write a biography on anyone we chose. That was an easy decision - I read a book on Charles Schulz the creator of “Peanuts” and wrote a biography about him.  I decided, once our teacher had graded and returned the report, to mail it to Mr. Schulz (particularly since I had drawn a picture of Charlie Brown and Snoopy on the cover that was pretty good) .  Of course, in a manner worthy of Charlie Brown, I was out sledding after school one day when his office called our house.  The secretary explained she had misplaced my address and that Charles Schulz had read my biography (and pointed out that my teacher had incorrectly “fixed” the spelling of his name - I had it right, there was no “T” in Schulz, take that Mrs. Katchen).   Anyway, he was so appreciative, he wanted to send me a personalized picture of Snoopy, which I still have framed in my bedroom.

            I’m still not quite sure what it was that made me such a fan of Peanuts growing up.   I mean compared with the comic-book characters that my friends liked - whether it was one of the super heroes, like Superman or Spiderman, or someone without super powers but 'super,' nonetheless, like GI Joe - Charlie Brown is this LOSER.  A lovable loser, but, seriously:  

    -the kid never gets to kick the football,
    -never receives a Valentine or a Christmas Card.
    -Heck for some reason on Halloween while everyone else gets candy, he is given rocks (?). 
    -Even when he flies a kite, there’s a “kite eating tree” out there to devour it.
    -Even his dog, Snoopy, “Man’s best Friend” right, the one who has to depend on Charlie Brown to feed and care for him, even Snoopy can’t remember Charlie Brown’s referring to him as that “Big round-headed kid.”

           It’s an interesting thing to try to do a psycho-analysis of a comic strip character and try to pinpoint what it is that resonates with me and millions (billions?) of fans. If I’m honest it’s because I could relate to Charlie Brown, a lot,  especially as a kid…I was not great at athletics, at all...   not popular, at all…  I was not feeling like I was “super” at anything that I could relate to GI Joe or Superman (if anything, I could’ve used their help on more than one occasion on the playground... ) - yeah, I could identify with Charlie Brown’s struggles.

           But what makes Charlie Brown so endearing, is that you never really hear a jealous word out of his mouth.   The most frustration he utters is an AAUGH or Good Grief (see, he even is able to see something good in grief!).   One of his often quoted sayings is “Happiness is...” as he lists all the small things like “finding a pencil” or a “warm puppy” that brings joy into his life. 

    Charlie Brown  is a hope-filled character, who even though 10,000 times Lucy will pull the football away from him, that 10,001st time he still wants to believe it will be different -   or maybe, just maybe one day the Little Red Haired Girl might notice him... He embodies faith, hope and love in the midst of a sometimes mean world when so many others would give into despair or depression.

           What is so distressing to the Jesus in this Gospel today is that these, his closest followers, his apostles have forgotten what “lovable losers” they really are – lovable in God’s eyes, but nonetheless losers in the eyes of the world - and instead of remembering that fact, have started to believe more in themselves than in Jesus, who was doing all those wondrous things in the first place.
           They’ve seen his miracles.
    They’ve witnessed massive transformations in human beings.
    They’ve even participated in that mission – being sent to heal people in Jesus name.
    They’ve just witnessed the transfiguration, (that’s where they were journeying from at the beginning of this gospel passage) that amazing day when  Jesus is transformed right in front of them, and converses with Moses and Elijah and they hear the voice of God revealing “This is my Beloved Son.”  
    They see how people are coming to Jesus in multitudes and have felt the excitement of being on a winning team, and all that has gone to their heads. So much so that they forget their lowliness, their weaknesses.  That’s what is going on as Jesus, explains how he is going to allow himself to enter into the Passion, the Crucifixion… listen to that again - Jesus is going to chose to allow himself to enter into that - He could have prevented it if he really wanted to...but He choses to still do that because he understands that the most common thing everyone of us goes through is that we all will have our Charlie Brown moments (if not worse) - everyone of us experiences suffering, experiences pain, experiences loneliness.. No human being is immune to these things happening at some point.

           So Jesus shares with these men, who’ve experienced all of those things themselves, His revolutionary, new plan.  He’s saying:   Yes, I can work miracles... I can bring people back from the dead... but I’m going to enter into this experience to give people a reason to have Hope in the midst of all those experiences  – if they chose to have Faith in me and live in that love they will find me there…  And what do the disciples do? They forget all their lowliness, their own weakness– the exact places where Jesus first met them, in their ‘loser’ moments  and instead start arguing about which of them is the greatest!
            Good grief.

            Honestly, though, I don’t think Jesus minds the fact that the disciples want to be great disciples anymore than we would 'mind' that Charlie Brown wants to kick that football. But in that desire, they’ve allowed their human ambition to blind them from God’s direction, God’s will, God’s plan. Jesus’ reign, His kingdom will be established, one heart at a time.  
    As one person lays down his life for another.

    As one person lets go of their ego, is no longer threatened by others, but is happy, just that the other is there. 

    As one person realizes that my lifting up of someone else, my helping someone else find their gifts and their greatness to offer back to God and the world doesn’t diminish me but helps me to achieve a deeper level of greatness that is tied into eternity…

           Jesus turns it all around on them:  “You love me?” he asks. “You want to be great? “ he challenges.  Then be great by following my example.  Serve.  Take care of each other. Help those who are weak and in need, like little children.   Because that’s what greatness in Jesus’ world is all about.   When we are able to put our own desires aside, for His sake, as we help others.

           Difficult to imagine?  Not really.  Difficult to accomplish.  Definitely. It involves a lot of hard work, namely, giving of ourselves.   But Jesus imagines and believes in you and me enough to know that it is possible  We can, despite how we look to the world, be 'winners' in the sense that when we serve each other, everyone wins.  When we do that in His name, it transforms us into something else, something more; it makes us into the men and women of God that He always intended us to be, people who find our greatness in service, our bigness in how we treat even the littlest of this world, and a never-ending Love hidden under the unlikely guise of sacrifice.  When we do that, we begin to experience, to know, the truth is – to paraphrase good ol’ Charlie Brown, that true, authentic, eternal “Happiness is” when we are Jesus’ faithful disciple. 

I'M GETTING A DOG

Hi everyone!  This is my homily for the 24th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - September 16, 2012 - the readings can be found here: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/091612.cfm.   Thanks as always for reading, and your comments (even the lady who last week said “you’re a jerk” on my facebook page regarding my homily... would’ve liked that she expanded on why I was a jerk, but alas, I appreciated that she took the time to react - haha)    God Bless- Fr. Jim

HOMILY
    “I’m getting a dog.

    You know how many times those 4 words have been in my head getting serious consideration? How often people have encouraged me to just do it? I’ve tossed the idea around somewhat seriously for the last 6 years since theoretically I could have a dog since I’m not living in a rectory where I’d have to worry about him bothering the other priests or parish staff - but in an apartment at the Newman Center - with college students constantly encouraging me to do it... promising me they’ll help take care of him... highlighting all the positive qualities a dog would bring to the Newman Center.

     I’ve even gone so far as to look at the pet-adoption website pet-finders - just to look... and find myself weakening each time I do it. Last week I went through this quarterly self-torture process and found one- “Petey” a boxer/hound mix who’s description went:  Petey is the sweetest boy in the world; he is a total love bug who gets along with everyone he meets.  This gorgeous angel is truly a rare find and will be an awesome addition to any family lucky enough to adopt him. Petey is four months old and currently weighs 29 lbs. We estimate him to weigh about 70 lbs when fully grown.  Petey was rescued literally hours before he was slatted to be killed in an animal control facility in Ga. I'm so glad that one of our one volunteers was there to save him because he truly is one of those rare finds.                    

    Not only was he incredibly cute - but he was almost killed! How could I not get Petey! I’m getting that dog.

    As much as there’s a part of me that really wants to do it - to meet and adopt Petey, something stops me from really saying “I’m getting a dog.”  The idea sounds great.  But if I say I’m getting a dog (and do so) I know that it will dramatically change my life. I learned that just from dog-sitting my furry nephew named “Buff” for probably close to 6 months over the last ten years.   I know that dogs require a great deal of love and attention; there’s a lot of responsibilities attached to ownership. Petey is going to need me to take him out several times a day (possibly early in the morning) and want to go for walks. He’s going to rely on me to feed him. If I’m out late with students at an event or a program, will there come a time where I’d say “I gotta go, it’s been a few hours and Petey needs to go out.”  Getting a dog is a BIG deal - so If I say those 4 words, that “I’m getting a dog,” then I have to realize that I’m going to be making a serious commitment that will change my life dramatically.

    Some have said to me I’m “overthinking this” but honestly I don’t think so - I think too many of us “underthink” when we say some things - or do some things.    Because as much as this idea of getting a dog is a fun one, and I’ve been encouraged by a lot of people to do it, there’s a part of me that’s not ready to say those 4 words because I don’t know if I am prepared to have my life changed - to making that commitment.

     I wonder if St Peter realized how big a deal his four words were going to be. How prepared was he to say what he said. Think about it, he had spent years with Jesus... and over that time, something clicked.  There was a recognition deep within as he moved from meeting Jesus, to hearing Jesus preach, to witnessing Jesus’ miraculous activity and then to ultimately knowing who Jesus was. This one day wasn’t the first time Peter - or the other disciples for that matter - had thought about who Jesus was.  That had to have been a question that was front and center the first time they met him up until this very day, this very encounter. So when Jesus changes the question from, “Who do people say that I am?” to “Who do you say that I am,” he is moving beyond some theoretical, philosophical discussion.  He is acknowledging that there are a variety of perceptions people had (perceptions people still have, today), all of which associated him with some of the greatest men of Jewish history – John the Baptist, Elijah, a great teacher, a good prophet – but now he turns though to these, his closest friends, his loyalest followers, his disciples and says – you’ve left everything behind, you’ve left your lives, your livelihoods, after all this time, after all you’ve seen and heard - who do you say that I am?

    For Peter, this is a moment of decision. Does he dare utter something that has been unsaid, unspoken, that would be considered heretical to many?  Does he give voice to the hopes and dreams of humanity that there is a God who loves us so intimately, so definitively, that he has becomes one of us?  Does he realize the commitment, the dramatic change of life he would experience in uttering those four words – YOU ARE THE CHRIST?

    Almost immediately, the weight of saying that and meaning that are clearly seen. Peter is forever changed in that utterance. He has stood out from all other disciples, all other apostles.  This declaration, this realization brings greater responsibility, which becomes clear almost instantly. His declarative words recognizing Jesus as not just a great man, but as the Christ - carry an enormity with them.  Jesus is the son of God.  And when you recognize that, and say that, it changes everything.

    Because just saying that is more than just a factual utterance, a declarative sentence. It’s not like someone looking at me and saying, “You’re a white man.”  This is saying something with the eyes of faith. This realization means that Peter has to live differently now. Which is why the “smack down” he experiences just a few moments later is so swift and necessary.  On the surface we look at it and see Peter pleading as a good friend, hearing about an awful thing about to occur ;“No, it’s going to be alright, I’ll be there....we’ll be there... we won’t let something like that happen to you.” But Jesus, being the Christ, means He is God. And if Jesus is the Christ, then he doesn’t need someone - well intentioned or otherwise - distracting him from his true purpose. To save Humanity from sin and death. To take on the suffering of the entire world in order to redeem the whole world. He doesn't need a friend reiterating the devil's own temptation.

    Peter has seen that Jesus isn’t just a a great man saying and doing some really great things. He’s not just some lowly prophet. Rather, He is to the only man who ultimately matters in the history of all humanity. And so Peter’s recognition of who Jesus is, his declaration of Jesus being the Christ, demands that he (and we) follow Jesus even more whole-heartedly, recognizing there is no one else worthy of his attention, his dedication . . . so that, ultimately, Peter will be able to lead others to the Christ as well.
   
    Jesus poses to you and I the same question and the same challenge. Who do we say that He is? Are we ready, willing, able to make the commitment that is tied to declaring those four life-changing, life-giving words?  Not just by our words, here at Mass, but by our everyday lives, by lives filled with so much love, so much grace, so much kindness and empathy and forgiveness for others (and for our own weaknesses) that everything about us proclaims our faith, everything about us proclaims the kingdom, everything about us proclaims those four words about Jesus that matter the most: You are the Christ.