ARE YOU A THERMOMETER OR THERMOSTAT?

Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER - SENIOR SEND OFF APRIL 27, 2013.   Tonight is our Annual “Senior Send Off” Mass for the students at Newman Catholic who will be graduating, so the homily was a bit more directed towards the graduates, but hopefully it will be meaningful to all.  As always, I appreciate your reading and commenting as well as all the shares of the blog on facebook, twitter and elsewhere.  God Bless You!

The readings for today’s Mass can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/042813.cfm

HOMILY:

    "What do you want to be?"

    It's a question that comes to all of us in different forms and ways throughout life, but most especially it is posed to College students a lot.  Which makes sense... If you (or your parents) are paying thousands and thousands of dollars each semester to be here to prepare you for the rest of your life, it's good to reflect on "what do you want to be" to help you focus on your dreams, your goals and to give you the tools to help you pursue them.

    A few months ago Curtis Martin, the President of FOCUS (the Fellowship of Catholic University Students) at their national conference for College Students posed a variation of that question:  He asked what do you want to be and gave two options.  Do you want to be a thermometer or a thermostat?  Do we simply want to get a "read" on things; "fit in" not rock the boat, not make any waves... simply take the temperature of the room like a thermometer and adjust ourselves to the environment we’re in?  Or do we want to affect change, be the change... Do we want to go into a place and bring something to that place that will change the temperature...that will make it different because of us – like raising the heat and  being a thermostat.

    A vast majority of people throughout and in many aspects of their lives probably fall into the thermometer category. That's how stores like Abercrombie and Fitch or Hollister stay in business.  They are professional thermostats.  They set a fashion trend and millions of young people around the world throw down $70 for a pair of jeans.  Steve Jobs has been deceased 2 years now and just think about t - how we communicate, how we purchase and listen to music has been forever changed – and now how we purchase and read books, newspapers has been altered by this “thermostat” as well.  Those examples are great ones... We don’t mind being a thermometer in those instances because most of us couldn't come up with those things.  We need creative people to share their gifts and talents that we can all benefit from. There’s no way I could have ever imagined 20 years ago when I was in your shoes as a college student how different thermostats would’ve changed the world so much that my VHS tapes, CD’s are becoming like the vinyl records and 8 tracks that my parents had…

    The problem is though, we can fall into the false belief that is our role throughout all aspects of life to be simply thermometers and let life continue to re-direct us. To let others, to let the culture, to let the media, to let all these outside forces set the temperature on everything.  We see countless examples of that around us –both on and off campus: “Diversity” “Inclusion” “Tolerance” “Equality” are terms that sound really great and in their most pure definition should be things that guide each and everyone of us. But the reality is that the way they are often used carry pretty clear expectations that if you don’t agree with the thermostat – get your thermometer out of here.  And it can be scary to defend yourself, your faith and your beliefs with those types of attitudes and forces coming down on you. Just a couple of weeks ago, students at George Washington University tried to have the Catholic Priest thrown off campus and the Catholic group as well because they were labeled “anti-Gay” for not supporting same-sex marriage. One of the most horrific trials in a US court room that has been going on for over 6 weeks, the trial of an abortionist named Dr. Gosnell, who killed babies not still in their wombs, which is horrendous enough.  No there’s testimony of people who saw him killing babies who were already born – yet while we still know the names of witnesses and intricate details from all sorts of trials (OJ Simpson?  Ted Bundy?) … there’s been scant coverage of this trial at all.  We can’t deny, there’s some very influential thermostats who have their agenda and are very clearly setting the tone in our world.

    Do we just go along? Do we become defeatist and say they’re too influential, too powerful, too well-connected” that we can’t do anything to stop it or change it?

    Jesus in tonight’s Gospel is pretty clear about what He wants us to be. He wants us to be thermostats – and not just to change the temperature, but to set the world on fire. Not in the literal sense… (Don’t misquote me and get me on some watch list) – But spiritually. He is clear about who he wants us to be – His Disciples . And He is clear about how we do this.  How do we change the campus? How do we change our communities? How do we change the culture … How do we change the world? Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel how:

    As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.

    Yes, we are to imitate Jesus Christ.  And that has to be a clear, decisive choice.  It’s interesting because at the very beginning of the passage we heard - “when Judas had left them”- that’s not simply to provide historical or biblical context - that’s a telling line.  Judas was indeed going to be a diabolical thermostat that would set in motion some pretty horrific things that were going to change things pretty severely.  To the point that it would seem to many, especially those closest to Jesus, the horrendous end to their hopes and dreams.  But Jesus’ thermostat, infused with the fire of God’s Love, with the Fire of the Holy Spirit would not leave Jesus dead in a cold grave.  The unprecedented... the impossible... the never before experienced Resurrection from the Grave of Jesus Christ transforms everything.  And shows us the tremendous power that can be unleashed when we follow His loving example, and let that inspire our choices whether to be a thermometer or thermostat - to “raise the heat” ourselves.  Which we see the Apostles did in the Early Church as we read throughout the Acts of the Apostles.  They go from scared followers, timid thermometers to thermostats bringing the warmth of the Love of Christ to the ends of the earth.

    What gives me great Hope tonight- (and that’s why I’m happy so many of your families are here is to congratulate them on the tremendous job they’ve done with each of you) is seeing how you’ve already started to do the same thing . In some significant ways... In ways that were difficult, painful at times… In ways that your peers, your faculty and maybe even some of your family and friends might not have always understood...you did it. I’m just thinking of a few stories I know about some of our seniors and students:

-    When you passed on a role in a performance that you were being cast in because it was vulgar and insulting to you as a person and you as a Christian. It might not have appeared to matter as people dismissed you and laughed at you and told you that you better grow up.  That significant act was a way you lovingly bore witness to who you were as a person, whose you were as a disciple and gently left a memory that no doubt unsettled those who were easily participating in things that are anything but beautiful, inspiring which is what the arts are truly meant for.

    - When you gave up time over summer or spring break, time when many of your peers save up money to blow as they get drunk, get stoned, and do a whole host of other things – you fundraised, you gave your time and service to a mission trip. And more than likely it didn’t even go the way you planned or expected. But in that you experienced the love and presence of Christ in a way you’ve never have, that has changed your vision.
   
    -When you recognized the double standard, the hypocrisy of the University with it’s anti-bullying, “respect for others”; zero tolerance against any and all forms of bias – do nothing in the face of these actions when you reported the fact that a professor made very untrue, unacceptable attacks on the Catholic Church.  Instead you stood up, you refused to be bullied, you reported it, and you took a lower grade than you deserved (or transferred into another class)

    Yes there’s many, varied ways that come to mind and touch my heart as I see how you guys, on a sometimes very cold campus, have warmed it becoming thermostats, changing the temperature around you by your being the Light of Christ.  Affecting change not through complaining, not through destructive ways – but in loving, sincere, genuine gestures and actions.

    To our Seniors preparing to leave us… something that I’ve said numerous times to you rings especially true and I hope and pray is seared in your minds and hearts as you go forward.  You cannot not know what you already know. You’ve heard and experienced the Love of Christ. You’ve heard and experienced the need to be that Love. You know that’s not easy, that it's often not popular or appreciated (in fact it’s often rejected and ridiculed) – but you know that He never abandons you, He never leaves you, and He never will - not now, as you prepare to leave Montclair behind - and not ever, no matter where you go, or where the Spirit leads you.

    And as you listen to Him, as you let Him work through you in this wonderful life He has given you - in the end, you might not get a particular part, or a specific job you had hoped for – but He will lead you let Him.  He will guide you to be that thermostat, that disciple who will change the corners of the world he Has placed you in.  And even more, He will bring you true joy, true fulfillment - the very meaning of your life.

WHO (and why) WE FOLLOW

Hi everyone - here's my homily for the 4th Sunday of Easter.  The readings for today can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/042113.cfm.  Thanks as always for reading, all your feedback and comments and for sharing this post on facebook, twitter and emails.  God Bless, Fr. Jim

HOMILY:

So try to imagine this hypothetical scenario - some guy comes up to you on campus tomorrow afternoon. He just sees you walking into University Hall or Dickson and just says, “Hey my name is Joe... I love sky diving and I know you want to go sky diving so why don’t you come with me to Tetterboro Airport today and we’ll go up in a plane and I’ll show you how to jump out of it” - how many of you would be ready to get in a car and go for it?

(Please God, no one raise their hands or we got even bigger problems)

YOU WOULDN’T. (Or rather YOU SHOULDN’T) That would be crazy!!! That would be insane.  Some random person just walking up to you on campus as you’re between classes and simply claiming to be an instructor thinking that you want to sky dive.   If you really were interested in sky diving, you’d research it out... you’d find out where people who’ve done it went... you would check out different instructors and their expertise. You wouldn’t simply listen to the voice of a stranger walking up to you on campus making some crazy claim.

I was thinking about that today. As we come for Mass on this fourth Sunday of Easter, we hear this somewhat short Gospel.  It seems somewhat tame... sheep, shepherds, taking care of them - nice gentle images... they all seem comforting.

But if we dig a little deeper - In today’s Gospel, Jesus makes an astounding, radical claim that is the epitome of a dividing line. He says something that makes it clear once and for all that
Jesus isn’t just a buddy...
Jesus isn’t just a good teacher...
Jesus isn’t just a philosopher who said some interesting things that we can put on a bumper sticker or a tweet...
Jesus isn’t just a friend...
Jesus isn’t just a dynamic leader...
Jesus isn’t just a charismatic preacher....
Jesus isn’t just a miracle worker

All of those characteristics, all of those traits are true and they had already been verified. Up to this point in the Gospel of John Jesus proved those things.  He had turned water into wine, walked on water, fed thousands with a few loaves and fishes, healed a paralyzed man, cured a blind man... preached and taught and was attracting crowds who heard and saw and experienced who Jesus was.  And after all these signs and wonders, after all those words that opened hearts and minds, he makes this remarkable claim that is the dividing line:

The Father and I are one

Those few words, in that short Gospel passage say it all.

Jesus is God.  He tells us unequivocally that He and the Father are one.

If he’s not who he says he is; if he’s not God - then he’s a lunatic that deserves to be called out as a fraud - which is what some people thought, which is why he ended up like that, dead on a cross...

But for others who did see and experience all those miraculous events, those who did follow, those who were there at the foot of the Cross (as well as those who were scattered out of fear) those who saw him, talked with him, ate with him, touched him after he rose from the dead might not have totally understood the magnitude of that claim before the resurrection, (they knew it was a big deal since it really, really ticked a bunch of their fellow religious leaders out)  but after the resurrection, they sure understood it...There was no doubt any longer:

The Father and I are one...

And because of that experience... their entire lives were consumed with sharing His voice in preaching the Gospel and being His presence in the world by being living examples of the Good Shepherd to the world around them. To the apostles, they were given the command to continue to offer His Body and Blood in the Eucharist, bringing His bodily presence in the world.  In so many ways, all of the disciples, all of those first followers testified in the most dramatic, intimate way - with their very lives - to Jesus' abiding presence in the world which we still hear today... still calling out to the world to grab on to the hand of the Father that He is reaching out to us.  To follow the voice of the Shepherd, calling out to his flock to follow Him and not be lulled by the evil one into following the ways of this world.

It’s perfect that this Gospel falls on this World Day of Prayer for Vocations, because we are asked not simply to pray as bystanders that God simply will bless us with more priests, and religious – with more clergy to continue to do that... but to prayerfully ask ourselves how are each and everyone of us responding to God’s commission to spread His word, to be His presence?

Do our lives bear witness that we believe what Jesus says…

That Jesus is God. And because of that fact, we strive to hear his voice, listen to his voice, and follow what He says?

Do we allow him to challenge us on our paths? Are we open to the new journeys, the new horizons that he places before us? Do we hear the question, “Have you ever thought of being a priest, a religious sister” and immediately dismiss it or could we let it sit there and see if it resonates even slightly in our hearts that perhaps we can dig deeper on that?  Or at the very least let that be a moment where I offer sincere prayer that someone I know or love might be called and then offer them my support.

Do we strive to, in whatever state of life we are, to follow Christ so that people will be able to see we are indeed His people...that our offer for them to join us in following Christ won't be seen as a reckless act (like jumping out of an airplane with a stranger who may or may not know what he’s doing), but rather like an invitation from a friend, introducing them to the one who offers us eternal life?

GIVEN A SECOND (3rd...4th...5th...) CHANCE

Hi everyone - here’s my homily for the THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER - April 14, 2013.  The readings for today can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/041413.cfm .  Many thanks as always for reading, for your comments, feedback and for sharing the link to this blog.  Really amazed at the number of visitors every week.  God Bless, Fr. Jim

HOMILY:

           A couple of weeks ago, the front cover of the NY Post had a story with the headline screaming “SON BURN.”  It uncovered how the son of the commissioner of the FDNY, who was hoping one day to follow in his father’s footsteps by becoming a firefighter, had been found to have posted some tweets on twitter that were racist and anti-Semitic.  After a few days of continued coverage and media pressure, the guy left his job with the FDNY EMT squad, and more than likely saw his dreams of working with the FDNY go up in smoke.

    Around the same time, Tiger Woods also started getting some media attention, and once again not for golfing. It seems he has a new girlfriend. Dutifully the media interviewed other women that he had cheated on his wife with in the past to get their reactions, and issued warnings to this new woman about what a philanderer he is.  There were “stories” (if you can call them that) asking, “What was wrong with her? How could she date such a person?"

    It's a weird thing . . . So often it’s easy to forget that these stories are about people, whose bad behavior was very public (or thanks to the media, became very public).  And I’m not excusing those bad choices, bad decisions. The messages written by that aspiring firefighter were stupid, immature, and yes you can say even hateful  (it’s a good reminder to all of us that use social media that, whatever you post, even something you think is just for your friends or relatives is really out there for public consumption).  Tiger Woods cheating on his wife and kids, well, I don’t know him or his family, but from talking to people who’ve gone through similar incidents, the wounds that the entire family experiences in these incidents are devastating  (and that’s without it being on your newspaper's front page).

    But what is equally disappointing is how both of these people have been tried, convicted and sentenced in the court of Public Opinion. And it’s almost like they have nothing to look forward to …  quite simply they’re being portrayed as being “done.”  They are seemingly forever remembered for their failures. You get the sense that there’s an expectation the one guy should never be able to get a job (how could anyone in their right mind hire someone who wrote such things?) or ever be in a relationship again.

    Sadly, that's how the world seems to operate today, isn't it?  It’s bad enough that people make mistakes …  but it’s amazing watching how vindictive we can become. With these types of unforgiving attitudes,  people become trapped in their pasts. .. they are defined by their faults and failings. Constantly reminded of their mistakes. There’s no opportunity for forgiveness, or healing or growth. Which is incredibly ironic considering all of us are sinners, all of us have failed, all of us need redemption.

    With these types of attitudes I wonder, if Saint Peter had been one of the candidates in the papal conclave that took place a few weeks ago, how likely would it be that our first Pope would even have gotten a single vote this time around?  Throughout the Gospels, we see him talking without thinking (on one occasion, Peter so misunderstands what Christ is saying to him that Jesus tells him, “Get behind me Satan”).  Peter is a bit impulsive at other times, which earns him further rebuke.  Most damning of all – during the Passion of Jesus Christ - Peter, who is supposed to be the "rock" upon which Jesus was hoping to build his Church, denies even knowing Christ.

    It’s hard to recover from something like that. Which is why today’s Gospel has always been such a moving and hopeful one for me. Because God doesn't treat us like we sometimes treat one another. God doesn’t look at our failures, our mistakes.  He knows about them, surely; but the Lord doesn't look for reasons to disqualify us. He's constantly looking at our potential. He’s constantly looking at us as the beloved sons and daughters he created us to be. He knows that when the reality of our bad choices, our mistakes and missteps finally occur to us; when the shame, the embarrassment, the pain comes rushing in from those things, we can become isolated and alone - believing the lies of that master liar, the devil (who helped us make those bad choices in the first place) to now believe there's no hope, there's no chance… that we, too, are “done.”

    Which is what's happening here. Think about it, the apostles had already received and even experienced the amazing, glorious news that Jesus has come back from the dead.  The man they witnessed being brutally tortured, crucified and killed on the cross was alive again.   You would think that such an experience would be welcomed, would be exhilarating, would be life changing... But look at the beginning of today’s Gospel. Not long after this event - which forever changes human history - happens, what's Peters reaction? I'm going fishing?  What's up with that?

    Perhaps he's feeling guilty … perhaps he's feeling ashamed.  He knows that Jesus must realize by now what a failure he is.  One of the most brutal lines, to me, in the Passion narrative is when Peter denounces Christ for the third time saying, after being asked “You know this guy Jesus, don’t you– you were with him”Peter responds “My friend, I do not know what you are talking about.” Just as he says this, the cock crows, and the Lord turns and looks at Peter.  Right then (a second too late)  Peter knows he's let Jesus down… So, after the resurrection, Peter is probably figuring that Jesus has just been too nice not to bring that up.  And, maybe in his mind and heart, he feels his opportunity to be that leader, that rock ended as soon as the cock crowed.  And no wonder, really.  So he returns to what he knew before he met Jesus.  To the life had had before he found his life with Christ.  He returns to the life of a fisherman.

    But Jesus doesn't see it that way. He's not stuck in the past, or hampered by Peter's (or our) past failures… He meets Peter right there, in his isolation. And, beautifully, first Christ reminds Peter – that he will accomplish great things when he listens to Jesus and does what Jesus asks him to do – he demonstrates this by repeating the same miracle that got Peter’s attention 3 years earlier, with that huge catch of fish.  And then, with Jesus' repeated question to Peter, “Peter do you love me?” he gives Peter the chance to, three times, acknowledge him - canceling out, if it were, the three times Peter had denied him ... Three times Peter professes “Yes Lord, you know I love you” – not to convince Jesus of anything – Jesus already knows Peter’s heart ... but so that Peter himself can come to that deeper awareness that his Love is greater than his past doubts, and failures... Peter is reawakened to the potential that the Lord once saw in him.  He remembers what it was that Jesus desired for him - to be that rock, to be the first Pope of the Church. And he can then attempt to fulfill that call (albeit a bit more humbled than he was before).

    God doesn’t look at our failures, our mistakes - or, at least, it doesn't end there.  The Lord isn't looking for reasons to fail us, or exclude us or cast us aside as unworthy. Instead, He's constantly looking at our potential, at our innate goodness, at our best tries, our near misses, our clumsy attempts at doing His will. He’s constantly looking at us as the beloved sons and daughters we are to Him.  Unlike Judas - who believed that final lie that for him there could be no hope, no second chances, no forgiveness  - through God's grace, Peter was able to have a second (third, or fourth -- who's counting???) Another chance, to start over; and he found that Jesus was serious when he commanded us to forgive 70 times 7 times… And was serious that He was willing to forgive us that many times, as well.  Will we continue to let our pasts and our failures define us?  Or, instead, will we allow that radical love of Christ to restore us, to transform us, to bring us to Him?