GIVE ME MY KIDNEY BACK

Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER - April 29, 2012 - The readings can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/042912.cfm .  As always thanks for reading and all your feedback -  Fr. Jim

HOMILY:

           Well here’s a “sad but true” story if there ever was one:

           On Monday there was a front-page “exclusive” on the NY Post that reported how a woman by the name of Debbie Stevens had donated her kidney to save the life of her boss, Jackie Brucia who, allegedly (don’t want to get into this mess and get sued) after Jackie got what she wanted, turned around and fired Debbie.   It seems the two women knew each other when they had worked together a few years ago until Debbie had left the company for a new job. Back in the fall of 2010, Debbie had stopped in for a visit with Jackie and as they were talking, Jackie shared that she was having health problems and that it looked likely that she would need to have a kidney transplant.  Supposedly Jackie had a family member who was a match but Debbie in the conversation just said “if you ever needed it, I’d donate mine.” A couple of weeks later, Debbie contacted Jackie and asked if there were any job openings.  She was hired back by Jackie and within a few weeks in January 2011 Jackie called Debbie into her office and asked “were you serious about your offering your kidney? – Because it turns out my potential donor isn’t a good match.”

           Debbie agreed to donate her kidney, and they finally had the surgery this past August. According to the complaint Debbie made with the state’s Human Rights commission, soon after the surgery, Jackie turned on her. She berated Debbie for additional sick time (which Debbie said was a result of the surgery), called her work into question, transferred her to another job site 50 miles from her home. When Debbie had a lawyer send a letter to the company citing her mental anguish, she was fired.

           That’s ugly enough, but the drama got worse as the week went on after the first article appeared. The boss responded after the firestorm erupted saying “I will always be grateful that she gave me a kidney, I have nothing bad to say about her. I will always be grateful to her — she did a wonderful thing for me.” But with all the coverage, Debbie responded that not only has she filed a complaint and a lawsuit, she’s also suing for her kidney back wailing“You hate me so much, and I’m so despicable, give me my kidney back.”  As the public read and followed the story, the ugliness spread with people writing letters to the editor saying “no good deed goes unpunished”; expressing hopes that the employee gets her kidney back and some other pretty nasty stuff about the boss.

           That story kept coming to mind as the complete opposite of what we hear in today’s Gospel. In today’s Gospel we have this beautiful image which is one of the most beloved among Christians where Jesus refers to himself as “the Good Shepherd.” For most of us, just hearing that phrase “the Good Shepherd” seems to conjure up pictures of a stained glass window or a holy card with Jesus in long robes and sheep walking around him. Yet just listening to the Gospel, we get quite a different picture.  Jesus distinguishes between the hired man who is simply doing a job, doing the bare minimum, and as soon as he sees a threat he hightails it out of there. He has no investment in the life, the welfare of those left in his charge. That’s in complete contrast to Jesus’ image of what a “good shepherd” is, what He himself is – a good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

           In the passion and death of Jesus that we recounted leading into this season of Easter celebrating Jesus’ resurrection, we focus a lot on the unjust, brutal way Jesus was treated.  But today’s Gospel reminds us of another aspect to that gift that we cannot ignore.  That Jesus suffered such, freely, lovingly, sacrificially, for you, for me, for all of humanity.   He chooses to be a Good Shepherd, not a hired hand... In spite of our sinfulness, our selfishness and self-centeredness. In fact, because of those things, the Good Shepherd lays down his life for us even when we decide not to listen to the shepherd, even when we allow ourselves to be lured away from his loving voice which has guided, protected and never led us astray before... yet, for whatever reason, we get self-focused or self-involved – thinking- KNOWING better and making ourselves vulnerable.

    Yet, so lovable are we to the shepherd, he will do anything, everything to protect us, to save us - even laying down his life.  All with the belief that when the sheep realize, see, learn, experience and come to know what a gift they have in their Shepherd, they will be transformed and never part from His flock, His company or from following His voice.

           That’s one of the saddest aspects of the “kidney wars” story. For a brief moment, they experienced the incredible depths of what “sacrificial love” is.   Yet, for whatever reasons, rather than experience how it could continue to change their lives and countless others, both have become hardened, angered, and turned on each other.  The boss becomes typified as a villain and even the donors motives become questioned as she has become so angry and lost sight of why she had offered this precious gift in the first place.  Was it to get the job? Get publicity, or attention?  Or was it done simply out of love and concern for someone she knew needed help? 

           For you and I, Jesus is clear what it means to be his followers.  We’re not to be hired hands who do things to be compensated... We’re not to be concerned solely with our own welfare.  Our Good Shepherd laid down His life for us so that we may come to know, experience and share that love ourselves – and will continue to lay down His life for us until we fully appreciate and are transformed from acting like sheep into the Good shepherd ourselves.

TO THE EDITORS OF THE STAR LEDGER

I'm doubtful that this will be published in THE STAR LEDGER Letters to the Editor page, but I probably have more readers here than they do anyway:

To the Editors:

I had stopped subscribing to The Star Ledger– sadly I might add after a lifetime of it being delivered to my parents home growing up and then being a reader in my adulthood –  about two years ago mainly because I believed your paper had lost any objectivity, balance or journalistic integrity that I expected from a newspaper.  I suppose I’m not the only one since quite unexpectedly, The Star Ledger started appearing on my front porch – without my purchasing or subscribing. 

Sadly not only have I seen things have not changed, but gotten worse.  In the one week of receiving your paper, your obvious hatred towards the Catholic Church is remarkable.  You give front-page prominence to allegations against a priest in a tone that has already convicted him.  You write a laughable (well it would be laughable were it not so offensive) editorial where you simply malign all Catholic priests as “miscreant” pedophiles;  bashing the Catholic Bishops for cracking down on women religious (something that’s been long overdue) for not accurately transmitting the whole Gospel message rather than what has been the norm for some of them:  selectively choosing what pieces they wish to transmit relegating them to being social workers rather than women religious.

I suppose one reason for this continued attack (implied in your editorial) is because the Catholic Church has chosen to actually defend herself and pointed out the assault on it’s religious liberties in dramatic arrogance by the Obama administration.  Perhaps Catholics defending their rights  is considered a threat to your hoped for outcome in the November elections.  

As a priest, I try to be a man of hope.  I would hope you’d do some soul-searching and consider if you’ve let your political biases completely color your coverage and I want to leave the door open to the possibility that maybe you would return to trying to be a bit more fair-minded and objective in your coverage or have a remote understanding to topics you’re addressing.  But I have to be realistic and note this has been a gradual, consistent decline for a once great paper.  I suppose I’ll take solace in the fact that your relevance in the public discourse will continue to wane until you can no longer even afford to simply give away a paper that no one wants to read.

Father Jim Chern,
Montclair, New Jersey

CLASS I

This past Wednesday, the NEWMAN CATHOLIC CAMPUS MINISTRY at MONTCLAIR STATE UNIVERSITY had a historic moment.

Newman Catholic is a pastoral outreach of the Archdiocese of Newark, but is also recognized and chartered by the Student Government Association of Montclair State University as one of their official student organizations - which entitles them to different rights, privileges and funds for programming.   The SGA has 5 levels or "Classes" for the hundreds of organizations at MSU.  

In 5 years, the students at Newman have moved from a Class III organization to this week receiving the recognition as a Class I organization.  As the Chaplain here, I'm so proud of the students.  Many of their peers are often described as apathetic or unmotivated.  To see how on fire they are - that they "get" that it's not just about being a Club or an organization but about bearing witness to Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church that he founded on this secular campus -- and that they have "gotten" that notion consistently over the years like this to be recognized by their peers in this way, it's a real joy for all of us.  This is a video montage looking at the last 5 years as they went from Class III to Class I.

NEXT SUNDAY - APRIL 22 we will have a MASS OF THANKSGIVING at 8:30 PM which we've invited our alumni and members of the University to join us to celebrate and give Thanks to God for all the blessings and success we've been able to accomplish, knowing that it's because of Him and for Him that we do what we do.

THE HARDEST THING ABOUT BEING A PRIEST

Here is my homily for HOLY THURSDAY’S MASS OF THE LORD’S SUPPER - April 5, 2012.  The readings for tonight’s Mass can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/040512-evening-mass.cfm. 

Thanks as always for reading and your feedback.  On this feast of the Institution of the Priesthood, I’m overwhelmed with gratitude to Almighty God for the gift of sharing in this Priesthood of His Son Jesus Christ – and beg for His forgiveness for the times I’ve failed in thought, word or deed to be the servant He has called me to be.

A blessed Triduum to all of you  -  Fr. Jim

HOMILY:

    I’m trying to even guess how often I’ve been asked the question “What’s the hardest thing about being a priest?”  It’s a question that’s come up more times in the last few years than in my earliest years of priesthood – perhaps because of the negativity we’ve seen as a result of the sex abuse scandals (and, arguably, the somewhat unbalanced media coverage of it) or maybe it’s working with college students who have an honesty, directness and curiosity that comes from their age that they feel more comfortable asking such a question... in any event, it’s a conversation I’ve had more often as of late.  And most times people seem surprised by my answer.

    There surprise probably comes because most people assume they know what my answer is going to be.  It’s like Family Feud - SURVEY SAYS: “celibacy”–  right?  Sure, celibacy can be a difficulty, but in some ways to me it seems similar to the challenge that a husband and wife face in remaining faithful to one another - so that’s not the most difficult thing of being a priest.  Nor is it the other promises or vows that we make at our ordination - to be obedient to our local bishop.  Do I like being obedient all the time?  Well that Italian-American within me wants to rebel, do my own thing (which has to be the better, more logical thing of course...).  So obedience can be a challenge too, but to be honest, I find it somewhat freeing.  For a person like myself who can have difficulty deciding what to have for dinner, having the Bishop says “you’re going here” makes life simple (OK I’m overly minimizing this, to be sure... and absolutely this can be a burden as well, particularly when you’re being stretched by being asked to move out of a place you love/work you love doing to something unknown... but in a lot of ways, obedience has been more of a blessing in my life than something difficult in priesthood).  So is it the last promise, to live“simply,” to not have a huge salary, home of our own that is the biggest difficulty?  Well again, I feel very blessed with what I’ve had as a priest, particularly when so many struggle to make ends meet and others struggle with trying to “keep up with the Jones’s.”   So again, I cannot say that has been a burden by any stretch of my wildest imaginations when I was ordained 13 years ago. 

    No, the answer I give almost all the time, the hardest thing to being a priest is fulfilling what Jesus commands the priest to do in tonight’s Gospel.  To wash feet.  Not in the once-a-year tradition of Holy Thursday Mass where the priest actually imitates Christ’s physical example...  Rather, the day in, day out experiences of meeting those the Lord has sent his priests to meet, to minister...  To know that these feet have walked such a wide-variety of paths, such a multitude of different terrains, you’re overwhelmed to see and hear where they have traveled:

    The family comes in experiencing the death of a loved one that has left them devastated and confused.  That parishioner has received the diagnosis of a disease that has them filled with fear and anxiety.  That young man and young woman, so young, so excited, so in love they come to give their lives in loving service to one another in marriage.  The person has been filled with shame, filled with guilt, feels all hope is gone that God could ever love them again as they pour their hearts out in the confessional.  That young man and woman who have given their lives to one another in loving service to one another discover they are pregnant.  That college student comes to talk because he can’t believe for a second that he could be called to be a priest himself but can’t shake the thoughts of it for some odd reason...  That class of high schoolers are preparing to receive Confirmation and they come for an interview to talk about what their Catholic Christian faith means to them.  That person who has never been raised in any faith starts to come to realize that the truth of that faith is in the Catholic Church.  That couple who discovered they are pregnant learn they aren’t expecting one child, but three.  That individual, who is nursing or harboring some other hurt they can’t, won’t or don’t even realize exists that they don’t acknowledge and so they blow up in a mad tirade because the heat in the Church is too hot or the Air Conditioning is too cold.  That young man who enlists in the military and is preparing to be deployed in some of the harshest, scariest warzones yet the priest is more worried than the idealistic, courageous (and somewhat naivete) young man is.  That couple with the triplets is told by the doctors that one of the babied might have something wrong with them.   That young woman thought she was called to a religious order and then starts to have second thoughts.

    Jesus commands his priests to wash all of those feet... The dusty, dirty, tired feet of his disciples traveling the journey’s life has taken them.  And as a priest, I can tell you that it is humbling...so humbling... overwhelming at times... to do so.  More often than not, we fear we’re not doing it well enough.  We doubts our worthiness.  Our effectiveness.  We know there will never be a shortage of feet and that everyone will have walked a very different path than everyone else leading them here.  But there’s a reason he needs his priests to do this:   quite simply this will be the key to understanding the whole Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ. 
    Before Jesus suffers the denials, the betrayals, the painful abuse, the humiliations, the torturous horrifying death on the cross; he meets us in the upper room and reveals to us that he isn’t thinking about any of that which awaits him.  What is he thinking about? 

    Us...
    Every one of us.  
    He thinks of us. 
    He remembers why He is doing all of this. 
    He knows that He is doing all of this in order to take away our sins.  And He wants people not to “remember” these events in a history lesson sort of way.  But rather he wants his disciples of every day and age to experience His love, the salvation, the redemption He wins for us in our own days and ages, in our own personal lives...  And the way we begin to experience that – rather than simply remembering it – comes in being noticed, being cared for, being ministered to,  – having our feet washed. 

    That’s why Jesus commands His Priests to do this for His disciples.  And hopefully with the Ministerial Priesthood of Jesus Christ doing this, all of us as members of the “priesthood of all believers” as brothers and sisters in Christ realize we are commanded to do this as well.  Sometimes people can lose sight of that in the daily grind and not even realize how they can fulfill that in their daily lives and routines, the daily chores, as well as in the extraordinary things that come up:

    Like when a husband randomly goes and fills up that tank of gas for his wife – recognizing how chaotic her daily life is taking care of the kids – When a wife recognizes, sees, knows that her husband is worried about his job security (even though he never says it) and in her own quiet way supports him  – when that college student recognizes “wow, Mom and Dad really do a lot for me and I don’t think I’ve ever really expressed how much I appreciate it” and write them a note or card... when someone recognizes how that a coworker looks stressed, looks worried, looks sad and they take time to reach out and ask sincerely “are you okay, do you want to talk about it?” when that individual passes that homeless shelter each day and finally decides I need to do more than just drive past there –

    It can be overwhelming at times... People can wonder does anyone appreciate what we do, and it’s easy in the day to day routine to forget why it is we’re doing what we do; and that stubborn ego that wants to be fed and those selfish, self-centeredness temptations can re-emerge despite our best efforts.  That’s true for all of us, ministerial priests or each of us who are members of the priesthood of all believers as brothers and sisters in Christ. 

    Yet, Holy Thursday forces us to focus our gaze outward... to recognize who it is who’s calling us to attend to the needs of one another; and to realize why we’re doing it.  When we are able to do that, then those feelings of being overwhelmed, those temptations to give into self-centeredness,  start to disappear as we get lost in that depth of love that Christ invites us to participate in--
to try and live,
to try to love
by laying down our lives for others in the same way the Master has done for us.  

    But we can only do this by the power of God's grace which is why Jesus’ institution of the priesthood is so tied with the other Sacrament we celebrate tonight instituted on Holy Thursday: Jesus greatest gift of the Eucharist in which He poured and continues to pour Himself out for us.  It's the gift of the Eucharist that enables and empowers us to share in the life and ministry of Jesus as servants of the Servant.  It is in receiving His Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Eucharist and becoming what we receive that enables us, moves us from deep within our own hearts and souls to fulfill the command and to stoop down, take a bowl, and continue to do what the Master demonstrated for us.