A LESSON FROM WHITNEY HOUSTON'S DEATH

Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the SEVENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - February 19, 2012.  The readings for today’s Mass can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/021912.cfm   As always, thanks for taking the time to read and sharing your comments and feedback.  God Bless you and have a great Lent!  Fr. Jim

++++ For those on campus, Just a reminder that our Ash Wednesday Schedule is Masses: 12:15, 3:00, 5:00 & 8:00 PM - Confessions heard: 11:30-12 N; 2:00-2:45; 4:00-4:45 & 6:30-7:45 PM - All in the Student Center Ballroom A (on the main level of the Student Center) Join us! +++++++++++++


HOMILY:

    Of all of your good friends, how many of them are really good friends?

    As much as I consider myself somewhat in touch with the culture – what’s hot/what’s not – one thing I’ve never been able to wrap my mind around is obsession around celebrities.  That we have news programs dedicated simply to telling us that Natalie Portman was spotted eating a McDonalds cheeseburger in Los Angeles or that Channing Tatum took a break from shooting his latest movie to play basketball – it just seems to be the ultimate in “wastes of time.”  Yet the fact that there’s multiple psuedo-news programs, magazines, websites dedicated to just those things I suppose shows that there’s obviously a major demand for this so-called “news” and that perhaps I’m not as in touch with the culture as I think (which might not be a bad thing).

    For the most part I don’t give celebrity-news media much thought.  But whenever there’s a celebrity death, particularly when it’s a relatively young person (which sadly seems to happen with regularity) theres this bizarre  intersection between “celebrity news” and “real news” that you can’t help but hear all about it.  So in the past week, whether you were into celebrities or not; whether you were in my generation who remember Whitney Houston as a major superstar or to the younger generation who ask “Whitney who?” - you could not escape wall-to-wall coverage over the death of the 48 year old singer.  Front page stories on a daily basis talked about the New Jersey native with roots not 10 miles from where we are sitting tonight.  The funeral, as much as the family tried to keep it as a private moment for them to grieve spun out of control.  Speculation about whether her former husband would attend; who would be invited, who would sing, how close could “fans” get to the Church all made this sad story even sadder as, once again, the world seemed to forget that this was a person, this was a woman with a Mother, a daughter, family who loved her and were not looking to make this an event like a Movie premiere or a record dropping party.

    In the midst of the wall-to-wall coverage though, something stood out that for the most part has remained unspoken or perhaps I missed it in the avalanche of stories.  But it’s something that has really bothered me all week.  And that is that this woman died a few feet from a room full of people that Ms. Houston probably considered “friends” and it seemed like no one even knew.    And that even in her last days other “friends” spent time with her, partied with her and even after her death some of them continued to “cover” for her saying “she was fine.” 

    I’m not to place the blame on them.  There’s an autopsy that’s been done, that sadly we’ll all get to hear about and consume on TMZ or Entertainment Tonight which will tell us if it was a drug overdose or something along those lines.  And yes she was a 48 year old woman who had her own free-will and made her own decisions.  But the thing of it is - as she gave into her demons and temptations once again; as she had visible signs of not being “fine;” as she collapses in her bathroom behind one of those thin, hotel room bathroom doors - a difficult question kept coming to mind -  were any of her “good friends” a good friend to her?  And as commentators this past week were looking at the many “teachable moments” to gleam from this tragedy, one good question for each of us to ask ourselves is of all of our good friends, how many of them are really good friends?  How many of them are life-giving, loving people - helping us to become our best selves?  Encouraging us, challenging us in that special - non threatening, non judgmental way that only a friend can?

    Because in today’s Gospel we have the epitome of what good friends are.  Thanks to the leper who was healed in last weeks Gospel, and then ignored Jesus’ order not to tell anyone what he did for him – he told EVERYONE so - Jesus’ fame is at a fever pitch.   The crush of crowds trying to get at Jesus, who’s been publicized as this miracle worker who completely eradicated one of the deadliest and most feared diseases of that day and age with a simple touch has gotten beyond crazy.  So much so that people couldn’t get near the house where Jesus was speaking today. 

    These four friends though, they have a friend who’s in a bad way, a really bad way – He’s paralyzed.  But think about it, they’re not looking to find Jesus because of any of their own personal, pressing needs.  They’re moved completely out of love out of concern for their friend.  In their hearts they’re worried about him.  They care about him.  They CARRY him...

    They’ve heard about Jesus, or perhaps have seen him in action.  And so they’re single minded in their focus about what they need to do.  They need to get their friend to Jesus.  And they will do anything –  anything to make that happen.  Seeing the crowds, fearing they might not be able to get him to Jesus, they improvise, and rip open the roof of the house where Jesus was staying, and the lower the guy in. 

    Of all the good friends this guy has, and they were really good friends, the paralytic, nor his four roof rippers didn’t realize the great friend they were about to meet.  Jesus - like we saw last week -moves beyond the mere cure of the specific ailment, the illness that troubled the poor guy.  Jesus sees past that handicap and shows a care, a concern for his innermost being.  In focusing on the thing that can doom him for all eternity – sin – and relieving his soul from that by offering His forgiveness, Jesus demonstrates a deep love that probably none of the people who had gathered in that place had anticipated.  And in that experience, the paralysis of people’s hearts and minds in their understanding of who God is was cured just as the physical paralysis of this one man.  They began to appreciate the awesomeness of a God who cares even more good than the “good-est” of our most “good” friends for each and every one of us (I know how horribly atrocious that sentence was, somewhere my English teachers are wailing)    We have a God who so desperately loves us, He continues to send His Son Jesus Christ to us in the Word, the Body and Blood in the Eucharist, in our witness and care for one another...to proclaim that intimacy he desires to have with us.

    Which brings us back to our friendships  – Our relationships... Have we really taken a stock of where these relationships are - where they are going?  Perhaps we’re fortunate enough that there’s not a life-threatening or destructive behavior going on around us, like with Whitney Houston, but if they were (or are happening) do we care enough to speak up, to do something about it?    Even more, do we love one another enough to even point out the things – the sins – that we observe that we know are destructive to each others souls?  We’re quick to invite people to join us to a movie, to a game or something; would we ever think to invite a friend to come with us to Mass or to be a part of this community?   Or are we too timid to share that, afraid “what will they think if I say something?”   The four men in the gospel cared and loved their friend so much, they wouldn’t stop until they found a way to bring them to Jesus Christ, the ultimate of good friends... even going so far as ripping off the roof of the place to get him to Jesus.  Fortunately we don’t need to do the same (so don’t go near the roof of the Newman center please).  We just have to get over ourselves and go out of ourselves, and be bold in sharing this precious gift we have here with the world around us.

    So, of all the good friends you have, how many of them are good friends? How good a friend are you and I being? Are we helping to lead one another to Jesus Christ?

TRUSTING JESUS, WITH OR WITHOUT A CURE

Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the SIXTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - February 12, 2012.  The readings for today can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/021212.cfm .  As always, thanks for reading and your feedback.  God Bless!   Fr. Jim

HOMILY:

    How comfortable are we in putting our lives in God’s hands?  To laying down our lives, our hopes, our dreams, our wishes to Him?  That’s one of the hardest things that we as Christians struggle with and is essential to this Gospel passage we just heard.  Because the poor man struck with leprosy is able to recognize who Jesus is and surrender to Jesus’ will - whether he performed this miraculous cure or not.   But we’ll come back to that. 

    Until I saw the film The Human Experience (quick plug, once again – brilliant film by the way) I didn’t know that there are still people who suffer from this gruesome illness of leprosy. In biblical times, lepers would have had to have lived in isolation - often times in filth and poverty as the disease is extremely contagious.  Aside from the health concerns, the poor people who suffer from this aren’t just in wretched pain.   The bacteria produces paralysis, deformities throughout the body as fingers, skin, waste away - so there’s pain from the illness, coupled with embarrassment at how they look.    Most of the victims find that the people who mean the most to them, their family and friends could not be near them (and in some cases, don’t want to) because of how contagious the disease was.    In many ways, leprosy was one of the worst of worst case scenarios.  Even more, this guy in the gospel most likely would have to wear a bell around his neck to announce to people that a leper was approaching so they would avoid him – can you imagine how humiliating that must’ve felt. 

    Despite all of those realities that the leper experienced though, the leper must have heard Jesus or perhaps saw Jesus from a distance, and something within him is changed.  He senses, perceives,  recognizes something very different in Jesus than he has from any other person – including his closest family members and best friends.  So much so that he abandons whatever embarrassment he felt over of his physical appearance, he ignores the rules that society had imposed on him forcing him into isolation to protect those who were clean and disease free and look at what he does: He throws himself on his knees in front of Jesus and makes a prayer from deep within his soul - with faith, with trust, with confidence and humility...  He says to Jesus:   “IF YOU WISH, YOU CAN MAKE ME CLEAN.”  Not - can you do this for me? – Not I’ve heard about you, you’re the miracle guy, right, can you help a leper out?   In his heart and soul he recognizes that in Jesus all things are possible.  That Jesus desires our wholeness, our healing, our connectedness.  He recognizes that Jesus can heal him, can clean him, restore him...

    But that recognition precedes the miracle.  Which is somewhat miraculous itself.  And had Jesus not performed that miraculous cure, the leper’s recognition of who Jesus was wouldn’t have changed.  In going to Jesus with that prayer, he was putting himself, putting his life in God’s hands - realizing that were the leprosy to remain, that didn’t mean that Jesus didn’t care for him, didn’t know what was burdening him.  No it would have meant that God was working in his life in some other way that might not have been as immediately obvious as this instant cure that takes place. 

    I think that’s the biggest difficulty we face in our prayer lives.  We often come with a list of requests, wishes, concerns - which is a great thing for us to do in our prayer.  But more than likely, we also have our answers to them.  Jesus I’ve been out of work for so long, I know you can do all things – so when I have my interview this week - well, you know what to do... thanks.  Jesus, my parents and I are fighting all the time - I KNOW YOU WANT ME TO DO THIS, so if you could convince them I’d appreciate it...  Jesus, I know I didn’t study all semester or do any work, and now I’m failing, so if you love me, you’ll hear my prayer and send that Holy Spirit in my brain to magically make the answers appear and I’ll ace all my exams – (that one was from personal experience, a prayer not answered)

    We know that we are to go to Jesus. We know that Jesus loves us.  But we can fall into the trap of believing that if he loves us, he will answer prayers in the way we want them to be, when we want them to be answered.  And If that’s the case, then Jesus isn’t our Savior, he’s our “genie in the lamp” doling out wishes to our demands.    Which is why I think Jesus orders the leper not to tell anyone about what he’s done for him...  The leper recognized Jesus for who he was not what he could do for him.  It’s not that Jesus doesn’t care about people suffering from leprosy or that he doesn’t care about any of the things that we’re struggling with and bring to him.   And in His own way, through each of us, God still does amazing things.  But what’s at the forefront, what weighs on God’s heart and mind, that he is concerned about is the illness that all humanity is suffering from - sin.  And that sin can lead to death.  He wants us to desire to be set free of that first and foremost and he readily, happily - no lovingly, offers to cure each and every one of us from that illness right now.  So he didn’t want people to get hung up and absorbed on an illness being cured, multiplications of loaves and fishes, walking on water or any other spectacular miracle.

    Jesus is more interested in our eternal salvation... wanting us to draw closer to Him as “the way, the truth, the life” that leads to that destination.  His love for us isn’t revealed in whether we get what we want when we want it.  It was made real on the cross as he lays out his arms and offers his very life for me and you. 

    To the real illness, the leprosy of our souls – sin, Jesus comes to offer himself as the antidote as the cure.  And that is made present in the most precious miracle we experience at every Mass, that  in the Eucharist as bread and wine become his very body and blood promising that as we eat and drink it, we have Eternal life within us.   In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, in going to confession, where we acknowledge our sins, we find ourselves going to our knees, placing our lives in God’s hands and recognizing where we have not followed His will, His plan, His desires for us...

    To you and I tonight He says – I do will it, be made clean – will we embrace the lepers faith and be willing to accept the gift?

THE POWER OF A MIRACLE

Hi everyone, here’s my homily for FEBRUARY 5, 2012 - FIFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.  The readings for today’s Mass can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/020512.cfm.  As always - thanks for reading and your comments and feedback are always appreciated, Fr. Jim


HOMILY:

    Two weeks ago in the midst of an Inbox of 55 unread messages, there’s one email that I’ve read, and re-read several times:   

    Hey Fr. Jim -
    So on Friday I was having lunch with a friend and I was feeling miserable and she told me I should let you and the Newman Center know.
[I usually worry when an email starts like that] A few years ago when I was still a student I participated in a drive that the Newman Center was doing to have individuals sign up to be on the [Bone] Marrow Registry. I had completely forgotten about it until a representative from the NY Blood Center called me in late October letting me know that I was a potential match for one of their patients and wanted to know if I was still willing to donate. I said sure and started the process (which by the way is pretty long between further testing to make sure you're a perfect match and then health testing to make sure you're healthy enough to donate).  Friday morning I started the last step, which is getting injections each day for the 5 days before donating to build up white blood cells in your body, which the side effects make you feel pretty miserable (which is where my statement above comes from- I'm not actually miserable!), and I will officially be donating tomorrow.  And in talking we wondered how many people who do match let you all know that your drive did lead to a match if any at all. So I wanted to formally let you (and Newman!) know that at least one match was made and I am fully going on to donate tomorrow, and hopefully in a year as long as all was successful I get to meet the recipient. It has been a wonderful experience for me - everyone involved in the process has been extremely kind and I'm really grateful for the opportunity. I wanted to really say thank you for providing this opportunity to me and so many others.
    While reading this, that something we’ve done has been instrumental in helping others is significant, awesome in and of itself – there was a whole other part of the story that this young lady didn’t even realize that made me just marvel at how God continues to work miracles through all of us.   About 5 years ago, my god-daughter, Lizzie, at the age of 9 months old had been diagnosed with Leukemia.  And after suffering the devastating effects of chemotherapy which were unsuccessful in controlling the cancer, the doctors said Lizzie’s best shot was to have a bone-marrow transplant. 

    When someone you love is sick, you will do anything, anything to help them... so of course we were all tested, hoping we could be a match.  But, adding more devastating news to already devastating news - none of us were.  The doctors began a world-wide search to see if a potential donor could be found.  And thank God, (which I do every day) they were able to find a woman, (I believe she’s from Eastern Europe) who was a match, underwent the procedure and was key in saving my niece’s life.

    Some people when they hear stories like that, there’s a part of them that is extremely skeptical.  They might dismiss it being a miracle thinking “It was just good luck...”   It’s hard for some people to see the miraculous, to appreciate the healing especially when we see others still suffering... or even wondering “well the miracle wouldn’t have been necessary if people didn’t get sick in the first place.”  

    The reality is that we’re still in this spiritual battle of good versus evil.  There are still awful things that unravel us, cause us to wonder where is God in all of this.   There’s no question that Jesus has already won this war against evil- dealing a definitive blow to the devil with his resurrection from the dead... but for you and I, who are still enduring these ongoing battles, we need to make our choice whether we are truly going to follow Jesus Christ or not.  Whether we see him as our Hope – in this life and for all eternity.

    Which is why these healing stories are so important and so powerful to us.     In today’s Gospel, we hear more miraculous healings including one about St. Peter’s Mother in law (yes the first pope was married!) who was suffering with this fever.  You gotta realize that back then a fever was a big deal - it wasn’t pop two Advil or get an antibiotic and you’ll be fine in a few hours.  This could be extremely deadly.  More than likely she had heard about Jesus from Peter.  But in her hour of need, Jesus grabs her by the hand and instantly recovers... not just the fever goes away but she is rejuvenated, transformed.  2,000 years later, we still remember this miraculous story thanks to scripture.  But think about it, the fact remains the woman eventually died.  Eventually there was a fever or some other illness that must’ve come along and there wasn’t a miracle experienced.   But aside from this day where a cure was experienced, what made this day so memorable was from that day on, she knew who to trust, she knew who to follow, she no longer feared death.  She knew deep in her heart from her own experience that we have a Heavenly Father who looks at us as His Children.   And that he has sent his Son Jesus Christ to destroy evil.    The miracle only meant to proclaim the good news that in Jesus Christ, the world has been made new.

    When I got that email about the bone marrow donor, I was just overwhelmed to see how one of the most terrifying things my family has faced  – my niece’s battle with Leukemia – 5 years later could bring about so many unexpected blessings.  That what to me was a miracle that she experienced has multiplied countless times over... that this experience could have affected me so deeply, that when students at the Newman Center at MSU learned about it - it would touch their hearts and motivate them to work so hard to make this bone marrow drive a reality on this campus for three years in a row, and then would bring together two complete strangers into another life-changing, hope-filled experience where another potential miracle is unfolding .  That’s not just luck.  That’s not just a coincidence.   Not by a long shot.  It’s just another beautifully creative wonder of our ever-surprising, glorious God - who invites us to be a part of His story.  To seek Him in the midst of our illnesses and moments of horror, and trust that whether there’s a miraculous healing like a fever leaving with a touch – or through the selflessness displayed through the generosity of loving people, God continues to move with and in and through each of us.

    Today, this Gospel reminds us to be attentive to the blessings, the miracles that we experience, that we bring to others.  Knowing that when we do, our faith in the one who comes to save us is renewed and proclaimed anew in our day and age.