ROME - CITY OF WITNESSES

Hi everyone, here is my homily for the FIFTH SUNDAY OF LENT - March 25, 2012.  The readings for today can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/032512-fifth-sunday-of-lent.cfm .  As always, thanks for reading and your feedback.

Fr. Jim Chern

HOMILY:

           So I’ve been pretty out of sorts this past week. Just returning from Rome - which was not only my first time going to the eternal city, but the first time I’ve ever left the country (!!!) Whenever someone asked “how was it?” I couldn’t seem to put it into words all week. Not that pictures would make it any easier to express what this whole experience meant to me (I took over 1,000 pics on my iphone). I kind of got to the point of saying to some family and friends that the best description for me was that I had “Spiritual Whiplash.”  There was just this avalanche of sights, sounds, stories, history, art surrounding our Catholic-Christian faith for most of the week I just kept saying it was “mind blowing.”

           Praying though with this Gospel all week brought some things together for me in an important way that made me realize why this Roman Pilgrimage was more than just a trip or vacation...  Here we are nearing the end of the season of Lent... Next Sunday is Palm Sunday, where the Church will turn it’s focus on the Passion and Death of Jesus Christ in anticipation of the triumph of Easter where we celebrate Jesus’ Resurrection.  So today’ the Church proclaims this Gospel which is almost a “Prelude to the Passion.” In terms of chronology, it’s a little out of sequence.  This passage takes place right after the excitement of Palm Sunday crowds greeting Jesus in Jerusalem took place.  The crowds were coming to see this man who some were claiming was the Messiah - the guy who was performing these fantastical miracles. So they’re excited. Would this be the beginning of the end of the Roman oppression on the Jews.  Would Jesus begin establishing his “reign” by raising up an army to take over Jerusalem? What amazing, miraculous displays were in store?

           Instead Jesus gives this speech, indicating what was coming.  Something far less immediate in its results (like an instant healing) - and rather than miraculous, what the people will witness - Jesus being “lifted up” on the cross - will be scandalous to behold.    Jesus is trying to prepare them for all of this, which is about to happen, as he says, “Unless a grain of wheat shall fall upon the ground and die, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.  Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.”

           As Catholic Christians, we know that the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ - His pouring out of His life for humanity... this is central to our faith.    But the thing that struck me in such a deep way on this whole Roman Lenten Pilgrimage was that everywhere we went, it bore witness to the truth of this Gospel. That Jesus’ earliest followers, did the same thing as Christ did - laid down their lives - in order for us to receive this Good News, 2,000 years later:

           - We went on what is called the “Scavi Tour” - where you saw the excavations of what was underneath the Vatican which finished with seeing the actual bones of St. Peter, our first Pope. Here we were, staring at the remains of the man Jesus declared would be “the rock” upon which he would build the Church. One of the tour guides reminded us how St. Peter had laid down his life by being crucified upsides down (since he didn’t think he deserved to die the same way Jesus did), and that after the Romans killed him he was buried in the potters field of the time, a poor man’s grave. The Romans of the time, thought quite simply they were throwing out trash.  Yet, Peters life, laid down for Jesus Christ and His Church was a “grain of wheat”  it was a seed and to this day you can see what has grown - both physically and spiritually out of that very tomb...as you see the spectacular richness of the magnificent St. Peters Basilica - just a visible expression of the richness of our faith...

            - Visiting the Catacombs, the burial place of some of our early brothers and sisters in the faith, who were persecuted, martyred in the hundreds of thousands simply because they would not stop talking about this Jesus, they would not offer worship to the Emperor, they would worship Christ alone... So we stood in the spot where Pope Sixtus II was beheaded by Roman Soldiers as he celebrated Mass at those catacombs.  Then you turned your head and saw where St. Cecilia was entombed after her martyrdom.  Trying to imagine how for all these thousands upon thousands of individuals, who went to their deaths for their faith – did they even imagine at the time that anyone would know or care about their sacrifce?  Or did they feel as insignificant as a seed or grain of wheat.  Yet as pilgrims visiting today, we know how their blood fertilized the faith that was growing in Pagan Rome... and within just a few hundred years of their deaths, Christianity would become the official religion of the entire Roman empire - all that was incredible to consider.

           -Moving away from death – just seeing the works of some of the greatest artists - Carvaggio, Raphael, and especially Michaelangelo who gave their lives in different ways – Michaelangelo spending 4 years painting the Sistine Chapel; and the very last 14 years of his life, not in retirement as he had planned, but rather working as an architect designing and supervising the building of that magnificent dome in the middle of St. Peters Basilica (till the day he died at the age of 88) all for the glory of God.  (14 years!  I find it hard to remain focused on something for 14 minutes)  These individuals have created breathtaking sights that lift our hearts and minds and souls to imagine the beauty of God by pouring out their lives to those tasks.

            It just seemed that from every corner of the city you had reminders, testimonies, witnesses of people who had followed Jesus - who had laid down their lives to wholeheartedly live for Him alone and it continues to this very day – as we toured the City at the same time you saw lay catechists volunteering their time to teach tons of  children the faith at these holy sites (talk about CCD field trips!) to seeing a young sister (from Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity) kneeling down and attending to a poor woman on the street – all the way to seeing our current Holy Father, the successor to Peter, Pope Benedict at the age of 85 still emptying his entire life to follow Jesus Christ and to share that to the entire world (traveling all the way to Mexico and Cuba this weekend - I’ve been moaning about jet lag all week - at 85 I don’t know how he does what he does – well I do actually) -  the whole week just helped reshift or rather renew my focus or perspective to recognize that these words of this Gospel passage are living words... And that Jesus isn’t simply giving us a flowery, poetic way to deal with the drama that will ensue with the Passion.  Jesus is laying out the heavy burdens of discipleship - that to follow Him costs us everything.

    We might not be asked to lay down our physical lives as St Peter and those buried in the catacombs did (maybe not, considering the days we're living in) Seeing the work of the artists of the past might intimidate us to thinking “we can never do that.”  But we’re not being asked to get into some competition with those from the past.   All of their witnesses are meant to encourage us, that when we face a persecution or a minor martyrdom in our day and age - that when we sacrifice of ourselves for the Lord and His people in seemingly small ways, then we too follow the examples of our ancestors by living these challenging words of the Gospel and contribute as members of the family of believers in using our lives to glorify God.  May we never waver in laying down our lives and becoming “grains of wheat” that produce the fruit that still nourishes our world with the saving Gospel message of Christ.

JOHN 3:16

Hi everyone – Just getting back from Rome last night, so this week’s homily is written in a bit of a haze that seems to make sense to me, but if there’s some major grammatical mistakes or incomplete thoughts, please excuse them as part of my jet-lagged condition :) 

We are celebrating the FOURTH SUNDAY OF LENT - March 18, 2012.  The readings can be found at - http://usccb.org/bible/readings/031812-fourth-sunday-of-lent.cfm

Thanks for reading and all of you who followed my blog during the trip.  I was so happy to see and read all your comments and glad that you could enjoy my sharing.  Hope to have a “wrap up” posted some point this week.  Keep me in your prayers that the jet-lag doesn’t hit in the middle of Mass tonight here on campus!  God Bless -   Fr. Jim

HOMILY:

    John 3:16

    You see that on signs at football games all the time... usually the guy with the Clown wig on his head.  Or on bumper stickers.  Or T-shirts... People do these things hoping that when others see that, it will inspire them to pick up their bibles (or actually GET a bible) and discover what that quote says.

    If you’re one of those individuals with a short attention span or an ADD type (like myself) who might have intended to do that and then was fascinated by the play on the field you saw right after you saw that sign or right after you saw the John 3:16 T-shirt you were filled with wrathe after you saw a hateful Boston Red Sox T-shirt and forgot about it or after you saw the John 3:16 bumper sticker, you got cut off by the car that had some bizarre bumper sticker that said something like “My kid can beat up your kid who made the honor roll...” Well, if any of those things happened that made you forget what it was you were supposed to look up, then today’s you’re lucky day.

    Because we just heard John 3:16.

    If you missed it - here it is again:
 

    For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him might not perish, but might have eternal life
    The reason why people put John 3:16 on al these things is because that sentence is too long to fit on a sign.  But more seriously, the reason is because that sentence reveals to us the heart of God, the mission of Jesus Christ and the greatest of hopes that you and I have as Christians.

    -That we don’t believe in some pagan-type of god, who acts arbitrarily for their own amusement...that we need to make some bizarre sacrifices too in the hopes of appeasing it so it won’t smote us or disfavor us.

    - That we don’t have a god who threw this creation into existence, sort of like a “Big Bang Theory” god - and then he has nothing more to say or do with us.

    - That we don’t have a god that we must live in fear of or feel unworthy of approaching...

    In Jesus Christ all of those theories, those beliefs are forever shattered.  Because God so loved the world... God so loved you and me... God so loved everyone of us who lives and moves (which make sense, since He made us all) that he is constantly rooting for us, reaching out to us, seeking us, coming to us in His son Jesus Christ all with that deeply rooted hope and desire in His Heart (just pause there - that we’re hitting the deepest desire of the Heart of God) that after seeing all the illusions, the passing fads, the broken promises of a world that offers us “happiness” that at best is fleeting (and at worst makes us anything BUT happy) we will make that essential, life-altering, life-giving decision to Believe in Him.... to Follow Him... in the here and now as we’re constantly challenged with decisions and choices that reflect whether we’re truly living for him or someone else all the way into spending an eternity with Him.

    No wonder the people who put John 3:16 on signs at football games, on their T-shirts, on their bumper stickers do so.  They realize how blessed they are to receive this good news they want to make sure that everyone of their brothers and sisters (that’s all of us – if we believe God is our Father, then we’re all brothers and sisters) aren’t just “aware” of it - but are reminded of this passage and come to see why the Gospel of Jesus Christ is called “good news.” 

    As good as all of those marketing techniques are, an even more effective way of sharing this message is if the message of John 3:16 becomes inscribed on our hearts, communicated by our lives - drawing the rest of the world to know the love of God that’s been given in Jesus Christ.  That’s not just good marketing, it reveals a people who know how radically they are loved by God, and can’t help but communicate it with their very lives.

Arriverderci Roma

Just got back from my final visit to St Peters for some time with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament in adoration and visiting Bl John Paul IIs tomb one last time... For now... Because I most definitely will be back and it won't take 38 years for the next visit

Final hours in Roma... :(

It's hard to believe this is the last day in Rome. Today was another whirlwind of a day. First I got to celebrate our final mass of the Pilgrimage at the "Popes Cathedral" - St John Lateran which is the Cathedral of the Diocese Of Rome. The Mass was in a chapel adjacent to relics of the Last Supper. After that we participated in a devotional of climbing "La Scala Sacra" -- the Sacred Stairs where Jesus was sentenced to die by Pilate. (the stairs were brought from Jerusalem by St Helena in the 4th Century) you "climb" them on your knees - the perfect Frida, Lenten devotional. After that we saw the Church with relics of the Passion of Jesus Christ.

Ran to the Vatican to say hello to a friend, Msgr Tom Powers, who works in the Congregation of Bishops Office. Followed by an almost 4 hour tour ( walking 3 miles) through the Vatican Mueseum which we were flying through just to get a taste of it all. The last stop on that visit was to take in the Sistine Chapel.

Can't begin to do all that justice. Here's a few pics before I take a power nap before the evening events.

The "ides of March"

Bizarre to be passing the place were Caesars friends stabbed him in the back (literally!!) today. Makes you realize the depth of history here. They also have some pretty good food. Oh and the Trevi Fountain... Yeah- Just another night in Rome

Another whirlwind of a day

This has been a incredibly busy day - traveling to some sites on the other side of Rome. This morning took us to St Susanna parish - the American Parish in Rome; another Church where we got to see some Carvaggio paintings ( with a funny picture of me below - yes I did see the sign/was being disobedient) then to The Spanish Steps; St Paul's outside the walls (where St Paul is burried - an amazing experience to pray at his tomb) and then offering Mass at San Sabina -one of the oldest Churches in Rome where Catholics have celebrated the Eucharist since the 400s (and Pope Benedict just did on Ash Wednesda) exhausting but exhilarating.

Getting ready for another legendary dinner at Abruzzi

Oh and I was this close to a Michaelangelo work

I forgot - after Mass at Santa Maria Sopra Minerva , we got to bewitching an arms reach of a lesser known Michaelangelo work of Christ (I told you it's al lot to take in )

Hello Holy Father

Yep. We were this close... And then after that we off to ancient Rome and Mass at St Catherine of Siena... So much stuff to take in

Papal Audience

Well that was incredibly cool. Thousands of people gathering in St Peters Square to hear the successor to St Peter -Pope Benedict XVI give a teaching and impart his apostolic blessing on us and any religious items we wished.

What was really touching was hearing the Pope greet all the pilgrims, groups, schools, etc. welcoming them in their own language. It took close to 2 hours but was beautiful

Here's something I purchased which was blessed by His Holiness And some pics from the audience. Off to the Collesium

Waiting for the Pope!

So we got up early, knocked a few people out of the way as the barricades opened to get primo seats for the Wednesday audience with the Pope. The hope being getting close enough to shake his hand. I'm right on the edge of the center aisle... So here's hoping!

Catacombs, Cathedrals and current Catholics

After celebrating Mass at the most popular altar in the most famous Church in Christendom , this afternoon we saw the burial places of the Early Christians persecuted and killed by the romans and where they celebrated mass during the persecution (the catacombs ). Being in these places with Catholics of yesterday and today joined together by the risen Christ is more than a bit humbling