WITNESS TO THE RISEN ONE

JESUS CHRIST IS RISEN FROM THE DEAD! ALLELUIA!  HAPPY EASTER! 

Here's my homily for Easter Sunday Mass.  The readings can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/033113.cfm.  Thanks for sharing the blog on Twitter, Facebook, for all your comments and feedback.  God Bless & Happy Easter!!! Fr. Jim

HOMILY:
 
    As some of you know, a couple of weeks ago I happened, by Divine Providence, to find myself in Vatican City. I was taking part in a pilgrimage that my friend from Sirius XM Satellite Radio, the “Catholic Guy” Lino Rulli, had planned for his listeners with the dates coinciding with the week I’d be “off” for Spring Break at the campus I serve.  Lino and I had been discussing the itinerary with Mountain Butorac, the owner and director of “The Catholic Traveler” (a company that specializes in Catholic pilgrimages) for months. The plan was to leave March 7th, arrive a day before the pilgrims, meet the rest of the group the next day, head to Assisi (a long-time dream of mine) for two days, then head back for the final 5 days in Rome.

    That was before some unexpected news. Perhaps you've heard, Pope Benedict XVI resigned (or as Lino would say “quit”) on February 11th.As we were leaving JFK airport Thursday March 7th, there still had not been a date set for the conclave. So, our itinerary was completely thrown out – how could you go to Rome and not plan to be near St. Peter’s square when the conclave to elect the new pope was happening?  We had no idea, not even the slightest clue of how the week was going to turn out.   In a more pessimistic moment I said, “How much you want to bet we end up standing in that square all week, see black smoke – meaning no pope – and be on the road to the airport when they finally do elect the new one?”

    Thankfully, that didn’t happen. As we all know, the conclave started on Tuesday evening, and by the next evening, they had elected Pope Francis, the 266thPope – the 265thperson to follow St. Peter as the “rock” upon whom Jesus has built His Church.  What still is so amazing to me is how vivid my memories are of each and every day that we were in Rome. What we experienced. What we felt (physically, emotionally, spiritually). Having watched Pope Benedict’s election 8 years earlier at a bar with a friend as we were having lunch - the contrast couldn’t be greater for me. It’s one thing to catch glimpses, hear reports, read accounts of things. It’s quite another to be a witness to those things. Since coming home, family, friends, even people I only remotely knew were asking me about the whole thing. It’s not like I was giving them new information, people know by now that we have a new Pope . . . They know the details. But they know there’s something about talking to someone who has really been a witness to those things.

    Which kind of tied into something even more personal in my faith life. People have asked me what has been the greatest thing, the most important thing, or the thing I’ve appreciated the most from these two trips to Rome . . . and it’s not been the spectacular sights, the incredible food, the beautiful people – the thing I’ve been the most awestruck by was how this city itself is filled with witnesses . . .  Or even that the city itself is a witness.   Witness to what? To what St. Peter says in the first reading:
    We are witnesses of all that [JESUS] he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree.  This man God raised on the third day and granted that he be visible, not to all the people, but to us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead

Because of St. Peter’s witness, because he would not recant that statement (even after being afforded the opportunity to, in order to save his own life) – this same St. Peter - who denied that he even knew Jesus three times when Jesus needed him the most on Good Friday – well, now I could see the place where Peter was crucified for that witness, I saw the graffiti left by the earliest Christians who identified his tomb writing, “Peter is here” as an early place of pilgrimage to strengthen them in their own struggles, their own persecutions, their own witness to the faith.

    Because of St. Paul’s witness, because he would testify how he had been a devout Jew, one of the fiercest persecutors of Christianity who one day encountered the Risen Christ asking him, “Why do you persecute me?” That encounter completely turned Paul’s life upside down. He became one of the most zealous, important apostles - writing the bulk of the New Testament himself.  Because St. Paul would not cease to bear witness to the truth of Jesus Christ crucified and risen from the dead - I could walk the path St. Paul walked to his execution, see the place he was decapitated (you can buy chocolate right outside the Church at a gift shop there) - and I could visit his tomb where he is buried

    I could see the Church where St. Bartholomew was buried, after being skinned alive as his punishment for his witness to Christ’s resurrection.

    I celebrated Mass in the catacombs, an underground, labyrinth of sorts where the Early Church would secretly gather to do what we’re doing today – celebrate the Eucharist – which was also a place of martyrdom for thousands, including 16 Popes, and a burial place for over half a million of our brothers and sisters from the early Church.

    No it’s not the frescos, the sculptures, the ancient buildings of Rome - but rather the blood of these thousands who happily, willingly, boldly went to their deaths because of what they had found, what they had witnessed – that the man Jesus who was crucified, was risen from the dead; that single most important event in human history is what makes that city - and our church, as a whole - so beautiful.

    That’s what Easter is about - being witnesses to the Resurrection. That’s what makes this space beautiful as well . . . That you and I today, thousands of years removed from those historic events, 5,000 miles removed from those historic places, are still intimately connected to all of them, and always will be. That’s the beauty of this feast of Easter. The entire Passion, death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ isn’t just a story we’ve heard about, or know of, but something we experience here and now.  We're witnessing it, here.  The Holy Spirit still awakens our faith as these sacred words are proclaimed . . . The sacrifice of Calvary, and the unfathomable joy of the empty tomb are made visible as Jesus Christ is made really present, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Eucharist.  That thousands upon thousands all around the world last night and in the weeks ahead will enter into the Church – enter into the life and death of Christ in receiving Baptism - or completing their sacraments of Confirmation and Eucharist - all this, because of the witnesses of so many around us.

    I wish you and your families and very happy and blessed Easter.  But, more than that - no, because of that - I also wish you a share in the joy of the martyrs, in the joy of the saints, in the joy of Mary Magdalen when she encountered her Risen Lord (after mistaking Him for a gardener), in the joy of Jesus' mother, Mary, when she encountered her Risen child (a mother receiving back her dead son - perhaps the greatest joy of all time) - I can, and I do wish you a share in all this joy because, by rights, it is yours - it belongs to everyone who has died to self and risen again with Christ; who have 'put on Christ;' and who, by Christ's merit and redemption, are now offered the happiness which only He can give.

LOOKING FOR SOMETHING, SOMEONE TO BLAME


 Hello everyone... here's my homily for GOOD FRIDAY'S - CELEBRATION OF THE PASSION OF THE LORD.  The readings for today can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/032913.cfm.  Thanks as always for your feedback, your sharing this blog on facebook, twitter and elsewhere.  God Bless.

    We live in a somewhat fascinating time where science, technology continue to make incredible discoveries and advances that have done tremendous good.  There are genetic tests that can be done with relative ease to identify diseases that we might be susceptible to in order to begin prevention early.  The other day there was a story about a new computer chip that can be implanted in you to warn you (via your iphone) of an impending heart attack (wonder how much that app is going to cost).  We constantly seem to look to unlock clues about who we are, why this happens to us or that happens to us...even why we do the things that we do. 

    That's why on initial glance, another headline and the story that followed that I stumbled upon the other day started out somewhat fascinating.  The Daily Mail (a newspaper from the United Kingdom) reported just a few days ago that scientists claim to have found a way, through looking at a brain scan, to predict whether a convicted criminal will end up getting arrested once again.  The report states that 96 male prisoners who were at the end of their jail sentences were studied before they were due to be released.  They scanned their brains with an MRI as the men were doing a variety of tasks and then “tracked” or followed these men for four years after.  The initial conclusion that the researchers came to was that those who had a lower level of activity in one sector of the brain were more likely to be arrested again after getting out of prison

    What initially started out as an interesting finding started to worry me though. 
How overly simplistic,
     how easy,
        how tempting could this become for us - for many in our society. 
To simply reduce things to a brain scan.   Let’s just do an MRI,  look for a logical, scientific, empirical reason for bad, immoral, criminal behavior.  We can label people criminals and make them the boogey men of today.  Or on the flip side we can use it as a  defense I had no control over myself - my brain makeup made me do it.    This can very easily turn into a game where we attempt to lay the blame for the evils of the world on something or someone else.    The more I thought about it, it dawned on me that while this technology is new, this story, this game is anything but. Looking for something, someone to blame.

    Just look at the Passion account we’ve just proclaimed.  Who’s at fault?  Who’s to blame?   We can approach the reading and look for possible defendants to try to “get to the bottom” of what happen

 Judas seems the logical first target – after all he delivered Jesus up for thirty silver pieces. 
     But then again, he had to deliver him to someone, so
           Caiphas and the Jewish Chief Priests are considered – they wanted him dead after all. 
But then they had no legal way to do it (religious or secular law) and so
       Pilate comes to mind.  Ultimately he was in charge, he could have stopped it-- he knew it was wrong.... 
But as the guards lead Jesus off and nail him to the Cross, Pilate is said to be washing his hands of it, so in a sense we’re left with a bunch of roman guards, who like soldiers of other atrocities throughout history are judged guilty of just following orders. 

    This bizarre debate unravels.  As we’ve found “reasonable doubt” for each of these individuals, There's commentators who would simply conclude that God wanted it this way.    What they are saying, (even though they don’t realize it) is that no one’s guilty... somehow the madness, the evil occurs – killing so brutally the enfleshment of Love... and as we sit uncomfortably with that notion, the argument that “God wanted it that way” morphes into saying “God the father has done this” “he allowed this to happen” or the conclusion to their question who’s Guilty of killing Jesus “God is guilty.”

    It’s not as preposterous as it sounds.  It’s what humanity has been saying from that day in the Garden of Eden, as we read in Genesis - God said: “You have eaten, then, from the tree of which I had forbidden you to eat!" The man replied, "The woman whom you put here with me--she gave me fruit from the tree, so I ate it."  The LORD God then asked the woman, "Why did you do such a thing?" The woman answered, "The serpent tricked me into it, so I ate it."   
It wasn’t Adam’s fault it was Eve’s;
It wasn’t Eve’s fault, it was the serpent,
it wasn’t the serpent – Why did God put that tree there in the first place – who’s guilty – God is Guilty.
    And thousands of years later, it’s no different Who’s at fault?:
The guards of Auschwitz?
The husband cheating on his wife?
Lance Armstrong? 
The physician giving lethal doses of morphine in a nursing home?
– everyone has excuses: I was following orders, I have uncontrollable needs and desires that must be satisfied; everyone’s doing something to get an edge on the competition, we must relieve the world of useless lives (or put more nicely, to end their suffering).   We have made it a sport of sorts to hear how someone will get out of their crime: My parents abused me, I was deprived, I was spoiled, it’s in my genes.  We go from that cycle to the philosophical question of “How did Evil come about” and then ask with all presumption: If God is all good and all powerful, then how do these evil things happen, how come he let’s these things occur – YEAH, that’s the question – once again, ultimately the conclusion comes: God is guilty.

    Like rebellious teenagers screaming at their parents, IT’S YOUR FAULT, we find ourselves in the Garden of Eden reaching for the fruit.  We find ourselves in Jerusalem in the crowd that first Good Friday.  We might not have been the ones fastening Jesus to the Cross, but as the madness of that day happens, we find that we were there – we were part of the crowd convicting God. 

   The difficult truth is that Humanity is Guilty and We ourselves are Guilty: of the evils we commit on each other; of the manipulations of one another we masterfully do; of the bad choices we make; of the silence we hold instead of standing up for the truth.  And so Jesus hangs on the Cross.  And there’s nothing we can do to change that.

    What we can change is ourselves.  Jesus’ death doesn’t have to be in vain.  The ultimate vindication is not simply to listen and talk about, but rather to live Jesus’ message of Love and Forgiveness .  That is what has saved us from our Father’s justifiable wrath.  That is what Jesus commands us to do.  He doesn’t emerge from the tomb with a list of people he needs to “settle a score” with.  That’s our looking to get even-culture mentality that does that.  No, for Him – His last words say it all – Father forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing.  Can we Forgive like that?  Can we stop the cycle of Hatred and choose to Love?  Can we vindicate Jesus’ death by our lives?

    As we embrace the cross, we’re confronted with these harsh realities & difficult questions once again.  Will we let the blame game continue?  Pretending we have no role, no responsibility in Jesus death? Or will embrace the Cross, seeing the Love of Christ looking to forgive us, calling us to begin again and responding differently?  There’s no brain scan that will be able to predict how we will respond...   Those are questions answered in our hearts and souls.   May you and I continue to open them, and to offer them in a manner worthy of Jesus' selfless loving gift.

JESUS' PASSION AND GIVING A DAMN

Hi everyone, here’s my homily for PALM SUNDAY OF THE PASSION OF THE LORD- MARCH 24, 2013.  The readings for today can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/032413.cfm  As always, thanks for reading, sharing, and all your feedback.  My prayers for you and yours for a Blessed and Holy Week -Fr. Jim

HOMILY:
    A true, and favorite story:
    A retired priest was sitting enjoying the afternoon sun and suddenly saw the newly-ordained bishop of the diocese walking towards him.  “Father may I sit with you awhile?”  The old priest was delighted as he welcomed his distinguished guest.
    “Father I’d like to tell you a story.  Some years ago a group of college students who had spent the afternoon drinking were walking past a little church.  Confessions were being heard inside and one of the guys came up with the idea to make a list of the worst things they could think of and confess them.  They thought it would be a riot to see how the priest would react.
    One of the guys said - well since its your idea, put up or shut up I bet you $20 you won’t have the guts to do it.  So the first guy too k up the challenge.  A list of wild sins was drawn up and he went inside the confessional.  He came out a few minutes later brandishing a piece of paper... laughing as he said “PAY UP - HERE’S PROOF I’VE BEEN TO CONFESSION!
    His friends asked him - what the paper was, so the guy said ‘it’s my penance’ - “well didn’t the priest say anything?” they asked.  “No - not a word as I went through that whole list of stuff - after I was done he just handed me the paper.”  “Well,” they asked “have you done the penance?”  “Don’t be silly- I’m not going to do it?”  The friends said “well we’re not paying you until you do your penance.
    So he went into the Church and read the note.   It said kneel before the crucifix at the altar and repeat 10 times - All this you did for me and I don’t give a damn.  No problem the guy thought as he knelt down before the altar.  But he couldn’t do it - He saw the nailed hands, the pierced side, the infinite sadness in the Crucified’s eyes.  A half an hour later his friends wondered what had happened as they found him crying like a baby at the altar rail.
    The bishop said to the old priest - I wanted to tell you that story because I was that young guy and you were the priest.  Thank You Father.
(Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger)

    Each year, on Palm Sunday something unique occurs that does not happen on any other Sunday.  The Gospel is proclaimed by the entire congregation.  We each have a role in the Passion.  Not because it’s too long for the priest to do themselves or to make sure the congregation doesn’t lose attention as the lengthy reading goes on.    Quite simply this makes it personal for us.  It’s to remind each and everyone of us that because of our sinfulness – we each have a role, we each have a part, we each speak a line that brings about Jesus’ death on the Cross. Sometimes that line is shouted loudly and boldly screaming CRUCIFY HIM.  Sometimes it’s a line spoken subtly but just as destructively, mumbling“I don’t know the man” as we deny Christ.

    In spite of those failures on our part as human beings from generation to generation, Jesus allows this to occur.  This onetime event of His Passion for the sins of all humanity is made present in this Word and on our altar in the Eucharist.  It’s God’s definitive and eternal response to humanity that no matter how cruel, how indifferent, how hurtful we can be to Him and to one another, He stretches out His arms in the most definitive act of love that the history of humanity has ever recorded for you and I.

    The question we’re left with, kneeling before the crucified one, do we give a damn?

Roman Homilies

To my fellow Pilgrims, it was such a joy to be able to celebrate Mass with all of you in those incredible places.

I was trying to see which Homilies I had posted and which ones I missed, but decided simply to post all of them here together (too tired to go through all of these posts again!)  Thanks for asking for them to be posted.  I appreciate all your kind and generous support.  (Just a reminder, these are "drafts"  I tend to go off page when preaching)

God Bless - (The readings for each day can be found at http://www.usccb.org - just click on the appropriate day on the calendar)

SATURDAY - March 9, 2013  given at the Church of St. Agnes, Rome

    A writer had a dream in which she visited Hell.  To her surprise it wasn’t like the Hell she had pictured at all.. She was led along a labyrinth of dark, dank passages, from which there were many doors leading to a number of cells.  And each of these cells was almost like a chapel - they were each identical.  The central piece of furniture in each cell was an altar, and before each altar knelt sickly, weakly, greeny-gray ghostly figure in prayer and adoration
    “Who are they worshipping?” the writer asked her guide -
    “Themselves” was the reply – this is pure self-worship... They are feeding on themselves and their own spiritual vitality in a kind of self-spiritual cannibalism... That’s why they look so sickly and emaciated.”
    The writer was appalled and saddened by row upon row of cells with their non-communicating inmates, spending eternity in solitary confinement, themselves first, last and the only object of worship.
    Thomas Merton once said “Humility is absolutely necessary if one is to avoid acting like a baby all one’s life.  To grow up, in fact, means to become humble, to throw away the illusion that I am the center of everything and that other people exist to provide me comfort and pleasure.”
    As we gather on this first day of this Lenten pilgrimage, this Gospel seems a perfect starting point.  A call to embrace the humble, God-centered, faith of the tax collector we just heard about.  And as we begin our visits to Churches, Cathedrals, Basilicas, we might find that call to humbleness a bit distracting in such - well – extravagantness. 
    Yet, the difference is that when we view these places as places that are meant to do the exact opposite of our writers night in hell, where these holy sites call us to look up, to look outside of ourselves... to see that focus of worship isn’t us but God alone – the adoration belongs to Jesus Christ our King, our Supreme Shepherd, we are drawn into the beauty of what faith does for us creatures- brings life, creativity, joy.
    As we walk together these days in the earthly home of our faith, we are privileged to be here at a historic time... and the eyes of the world are fixating in the hype of Papal-palooza (Cardinals gone wild?) We are in a sense being entrusted with this call to prayer... That our next Holy Father, our Cardinal-electors entrusted with that sacred task, that each and every one of us who is blessed to be called “Christian” may embrace the humble, God-centered faith of the tax-collector from today’s Gospel.  Drawing us beyond our own sense of self and recognized the joy of being a beloved son and daughter of a Heavenly Father who is the source of all meaning and happiness in our lives.

FOURTH SUNDAY OF LENT - March 10, 2013  given in the Catacombs of Rome

    During the air war against Great Britain in 1940, the beautiful Gothic cathedral at Coventry was leveled.  The congregation of the cathedral raised up in the ruins a cross made of two charred beams of wood.  On the cross they inscribed the words: Father forgive. – Two words, not three.  It’s significant that they ommitted the word “them”.  They might have said “forgive those who did this horrible crime” but they didn’t.  Father forgive.  That eloquent prayer is limited neither to a people, nor a place, nor a time.  It is written in the present tense, the active voice, forgiveness is a continuing plea, a constant process that embraces every time and people.  The ruined cross is a poignant reminder of our human condition: We are all guilty of inflicting hurt and pain on others, we are all so absorbed with ourselves and our own needs that we are oblivious to the anguish and despair faced by others.  We are all in need of forgiveness.

    Coventry Cathedral has been rebuilt, but to enter the new structure, visitors must walk through the bombed out ruins of the original building, passing the place where the high altar once stood and where a charred cross now stands with the prayer of every generation: Father forgive.

    Forgiveness and reconciliation are the cutting edge of the Gospel of Christ: To be a faithful disciple of Jesus is to be dedicated to the hard work of reconciliation.  As the cross at Coventry reminds us, it is a work that is neither limited to a time nor place, nor conditioned on any set of circumstances, nor offered only to certain individuals and people.  The work of forgiveness demands facing our culpability in hurting others, as the prodigal son must do in the midst of the pig sty, it requires our putting aside our own hurts and resentments for the ultimate goal of being reunited with those whom we are separated, which the older brother has great difficulty doing; and it calls for the balancing of reconciliation and healing rather than vengeance and punishment, the difficult path that the father walks between his two sons.  May we dedicate ourselves to the hard work of the Coventry prayer: to forgive without vengeance, to humbly work to bring healing to those we have hurt, and to restore to hope and dignity those who have suffered at our hands.

MONDAY, March 11, 2013  given at the Basilica of St. John Lateran
    A long, long time ago, a traveler journeyed all over the world – meeting gurus, and religious leaders from all different faiths as he longed to find God.  He came to one village that seemed to be a place of peace and tranquility.  In the heart of that village was a monastery, so the traveler entered where he met an elderly monk and said to him “I really like it here, and I’d love to stay - but before I do, I need to know - does your God work miracles?”
    The monk responded - it all depends on what you think a miracle is.  There are those who say that a miracle is when God does the will of the people, but we say here that a miracle is when people do the will of God.
    Today’s Gospel takes place right after Jesus had performed his first miracle where he changed water into wine at the Wedding feast of Cana.  That and other wonders, other preachings and teachings he had made have created quite a stir.  So much so that this royal official in his desperate love for his dying child, he pushes aside all of the protocols and stature of his royal position, the likely criticism his superiors and possible repercussions on his career – and seeks out this controversial Jesus, begging – BEGGING Jesus help...
    Interestingly before the “happy ending” is a point that we cannot fail to miss - Jesus says with a combination of resignation and sadness, that the signs he works are manifestations of the love of God that is already in their midst. 
    Jesus works miracles not out of any craving for the adulation of the masses but out of a limitless, extraordinary sense of compassion, a deep love for his brothers and sisters especially those in crisis or pain.  The wonders he works are not for his own glory but for the glory of the Father, to reawaken mankinds faith and trust in God’s love for them. 

    During this season of Lent, may Jesus’ spirit of humility mark our prayers and the “miracles of charity and generosity we work: that our families and communities may be restored to hope and trust in the God who loves them through the “miracles” we work for them. 

THURSDAY, MARCH 14  given at the Basilica of St. Mary Major, Rome

    One of the things that really stood out last year (as well as this time) visiting Rome was seeing how many creative geniuses, master artists seemed to not hold not even the slightest bit back.  We can see these absolutely breathtaking frescos, magnificent paintings, spectacular sculptures - and simply marvel at the craftsmanship, the vision of these gifted people and stand in awe as we see these lasting examples of people who used every last ounce of what God gave them.  Just look around us, it seems to shout that reality, doesn’t it?
    While we might not be a Rafaelle or a Michaelangelo (As my 7 year old niece told me a few weeks ago “I don’t even know how to color”) we’re not suppose to compare ourselves with them in the first place.  That’s the problem.  Too often we get fixated on comparing ourselves and ende up envying others gifts and fail to recognize how gifted, how talented, how many abilities and blessings each of us has been given - not for our own satisfaction and happiness but to use to complete the work of creation begun by God.
Whether we are effective managers, healing listeners. 
Whether we possess great material weatlth or vast resources of strength and perseverance,
whether our greatest attribute is a sharp mind or a ready smile,
whether our gifts are best suited to the computer or the tractor,
we have countless opportunities to use whatever we have and are to bring God’s peace, healing, forgiveness and compassion to whatever corner of God’s kingdom we will find ourselves.

In today’s Gospel Jesus says “THESE VERY WORKS WHICH I PERFORM TESTIFY ON MY BEHALF THAT THE FATHER HAS SENT ME”

The “Testimony” of our faith before the world is not the extent of our portfolios and resumes but in our faithfulness to reveal God’s presence around us; Christ will be our advocate before the Father not because of our words, but because of the works we do to bring God’s reign to harvest.


FRIDAY, March 15  - given at St. Peter's Basilica at the Tomb of Blessed John Paul II

The time is getting nearer for Jesus’ crucifixion. This gospel reading shows the tension that is mounting for Jesus, his disciples, and the Jews who were trying to find evidence to kill Him.

In this scene Jesus cried out in the temple area where he was teaching and said, “You know me and also know where I am from. Yet I did not come on my own, but the one who sent me, whom you do not know, is true.”

“I know him, because I am from him, and he sent me.”

Jesus has clarity of vision. He knows his mission. He knows he is God-Man. His whole earthly life has prepared Him for what is about to happen in the next two weeks (according to our Christian calendar). He takes us with Him…on His way…with his clear vision…teaching us what life is all about.

Isn’t that what continues to draw us to this Tomb of Blessed Pope John Paul II?   8 years after his death, we’re still inspired by his life’s work and witness including his illness and death which all gave us a living witness of Jesus Christ himself.  John Paul II had clarity of vision with Christ as his focus and we still love him because of that.

As we come to the end of our pilgrimage, each of us coming here with different hopes and prayers, each of us at different points on our own faith journey, hopefully this week has helped bring some focus to the questions we came here with.  Even though our eyes may be clouded by not fully understanding our individual mission – or not quite sure of how to carry out our individual mission to its fullness….Jesus continues to take us with Him. He shows us His human distress in moving forward to complete the mission for which He came.

So how could it be any different for us? Why are we sometimes surprised that we are “distressed” in trying to figure out the way to fully live our own unique mission? When people do not understand what we are doing or want to interpret what we are doing with their intentions rather than our own…..Why are we surprised? Jesus shows us the same thing happened to Him as He journeyed to complete his mission/His crucifixion …. And on to His resurrection.

Let us pause today and spend some time with Jesus “in His distress.” Let us thank Him for continuing to be “the Way” and for letting us share in His distress as He accomplished His mission for us.














WHO ARE YOU TO SAY ANYTHING?

Hi everyone, here's my homily for the FIFTH SUNDAY OF LENT - March 17, 2013.  The readings for today's Mass can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/031713-fifth-sunday-lent.cfm.

I am most grateful to the thousands of visitors who joined me "virtually" on my pilgrimage to Rome last week - and for the many, many comments, emails and messages.  God Bless, Fr. Jim

(PS - forgive the numerous grammatical mistakes on this one - wrote it in a semi-conscious state with Jetlag)

HOMILY:

    “Who are we to say anything?”  That’s a spoken and unspoken thought that many of us have when it comes to questions of morality, the reality of sin.  And often times that’s attached with a mis-reading of this gospel.

    A few weeks ago here at Montclair State University, Newman Catholic Campus Ministry was able to welcome Chris Stefanick, a Catholic evangelist, author  and international speaker to talk on the subject of relativism (hopefully I can figure out how to upload the MP3 of the talk so you can listen to it in its entirety on the blog) One line that he said in his talk that really stuck with me and came to mind with this Gospel reading was (and I’m paraphrasing/elaborating on it) was Truth without Love is cruel, its harsh, its unapproachable.  But the flip side of it is that Love without Truth is misguided, enabling, and leads to, at best, sloppy sentimentality.

    The devil is a liar.  And a clever one at that.  And the devil has been clever at helping us to become comfortable with separating the two - Truth and Love from one another.  Which is the heart of what’s happening in this Gospel.  In this growing relativistic society of ours (meaning the only criteria to moral questions is whether I want to do something or not, believing there really is no “right” or “wrong”) people will mis-use, mis-quote, and bastardize this Gospel passage to somehow give credence to that destructive philosophy.  So they will misquote Jesus from tonight’s gospel saying:  “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at you. (Adding ellipsis, you know those three little periods where you can edit stuff out) going to the very end and saying “Neither do I condemn you” with three more dot...dot...dots....

    Think about the effect of that on all of us.  How often have we refrained from telling someone something because we’ve become so conditioned to this manner of thinking?  Your roommate is becoming a sloppy drunk - going from having one or two beers once in awhile to finding a reason every night of the week for getting loaded.  A friend starts to dabble with pot and begins to argue more and more how - healthy it is, and a safer option than drinking (which is patently false by the way) Two friends of yours are dating and their relationship is getting serious – very serious, very quickly.  And in all of these situations, and many others that we can think of, we refrain from saying anything because we’ve separated truth from love.  We ask ourselves - who are we to say anything?  As we just let these destructive things continue toward people we care about.

    The flip side is true too.  How often have we seen someone offer what they think is “advice” or “correction”that comes across in anything other than loving.  People very quickly and somewhat cruelly smacking people down by telling them why they shouldn’t receive communion (and then wondering why they never come back to Mass again); Christians going up to non-Christians and explaining to them that they’re going to go to Hell unless they convert; or We somehow are made aware of someone elses sin, someone elses failures and dare to think of ourselves as better and the other person as someone who is worse.  In all of these situations and many others, we find ourselves having no problem pointing out others failures and sins in a way that is cruel and harsh because again, we’ve separated truth from love– who are we to say anything?

    Who are we?  The Gospel, the fuller, un-edited version of today’s Gospel, tells us who we are called to be... That loving Friend – no even more, that loving brother or sister that is always aware of their own sinfulness, their own failures to be a voice of mutual accountability - that calls the other to truth, but in a loving way.  To acknowledge ourselves as ones who have experienced (and remembers) their own failures and the joy, the precious gift that is the mercy and forgiveness of God. 

    Because Truth without Love is cruel and Love without Truth is misguided. 

    Yes, Jesus does say “Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone” and “Neither do I condemn you.”  He loves this woman and that Love is essential in his interaction with her and everyone of us... Love of God, Love of Christ is the foundation, the bedrock to all of the commandments.  But where those ellipsis come in is where we attempt to edit out points to somehow make the commandments void.  That’s where we omit Jesus telling the woman to “Go and from now on sin no more.”  Jesus is speaking Truth with Love.  This adultery has to stop... because it’s hurting her, it’s hurting the man, it’s hurting their families. It’s diminishing them.  This sin has to stop.  Not because if it doesn’t “ANGRY GOD” is going to punish her and get even with her.  But because the truth is, she’s already living and experiencing hell.  She’s living a less full life than God ever imagined for her and for the unknown man...

    The same is true for the motley crew who are standing their with stones in their hands.  They’re so excited to find someone with fault, with sin, that their vengeance, their murderous rage is just desperate for the slightest approval from Jesus that it can be unleashed on this poor woman caught in adultery (notice they forgot to bring the guy she got caught with along... perhaps it was one of their friends?).  When Jesus doesn’t do that, rather than they re-evaluate, reflect, change their hearts - they will stew, and grow angrier and turn that rage onto Jesus himself - which we will hear about next week as we enter into the Lord’s Passion on Palm Sunday.  They don’t realize how devoid of meaning the truth has become without love; how the thing that we should all unite in, the thing that we should all come to hate - sin, evil - is the thing they are embracing more and more fully themselves.

    As we enter these last days of Lent, this Gospel calls us to recognize quite simply that unless we acknowledge and unite against the powers of evil; unless we’re willing to humbly, & sincerely accept responsibility for the sins we commit, we can never be free of them or help one another to be free of them.  And then, that will be the heaviest stones that we will have to carry ourselves...

Jetlagging...

A collage made by one of our "Flexible Pilgrims" :)
One insight I had this morning - it was something that I thought of off and on these last few weeks since Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation.   And that is this:

Jetlag is rough.

I say that as a 39 year old guy who's now just had his second international flight and has been groggy all day.  For Pope Benedict, at age 86, the demands of the papacy, especially after Pope John Paul II, is to truly be a visible shepherd who goes out to his flock, his people on every continent, every corner of the world.  I can't imagine what it must've been like for him him to have to go across the world, celebrate Mass before millions, have meetings, press attention, etc.  and then fly home and get back to the work of leading 1.2 billion Catholics at his age.

Just reminds me of how we need to keep praying for our shepherds, especially our new Holy Father, Francis.

And a prayer for me that I'm fully awake and alert at Mass tonight would be appreciated :)


Some last sights before I go....

It really does seem inconceivable that a week has gone by and all that has occurred this week.   Last night was a great evening with all our fellow pilgrims (after another amazing meal... the food has been unbelievable.  Even a freaking sandwich from a street vendor is awesome) 

The bags are all packed and will be heading home this afternoon/home tonight.  Just a few last shots though before I leave.  Kind of bummed to be leaving, but as someone once said - for Catholics, Rome is Home.  I'll be sure to visit home again soon...







Random thoughts on my last day in Roma

You know it's an amazing week when the least dramatic thing is celebrating Mass at the tomb of Blessed John Paul II...which we are able to do this morning.


That's not to say it wasn't specials or moving, just that I don't think I've ever gone through a week like this. A week ago we had no idea who the next Pope would be. Actually wew didn't even know when they were going to start the conclave... Let alone would they have elected a new Pope by the time we left. It was so disturbing personally to be in Rome and to see the papal apartments shuttered - just one of many signs that we were in the Sede Vacante -- the empty seat of Peter. That's why it's a little thing, but I was so happy to walk past St Peters Square and see this sight



It's amazing to me that a mere 48 hours since his election the reality of Pope Francesco has already sunk in for me. And it's such a beautiful experience to see the effect it's having on the city of Rome already. His picture is popping up all around town. I just heard a newspaper salesman saying to an English tourist - Papa Francesco - I'm so happy...

That about says it all.

After a mind blowing tour of the Vatican Museum and a very moving lunch where all the pilgrims were invited to share their stories, highlights, we had a rare afternoon off. It was so special just to spend some alone time in St Peters... To be able to go to confession there, to pray before the tomb of Peter again. To hear the angelic voices of a choir praising God as a Mass in Latin was being offered.

As Peter once said to Jesus "Lord, it is good to be here."






FOLLOWING POPE FRANCIS...

So this morning, Pope Francis made his first visit outside of the Vatican to the Basilica of St. Mary Major to pray to the Mother of God, the protector of the Roman people. It's an unprecedented move setting in motion what looks to be a fascinating and different papacy.

Here's a pic of the Holy Father at that chapel in the Basilica where he had left a bouquet of flowers:




As this increasingly surprising, dramatic and unpredictable weeklong pilgrimage continues, soon after the Holy Fathers visit, our group would be the first ones to celebrate Mass at that very altar the Pope had just visited. It was the first time I can remember flowers on an altar distracting me the entire time...

As Lino said to me "will you ever be able to top a week in Rome like this?" Hard to imagine, but God is always full of surprises... Over a year ago I had never been out of the country before...

Gotta get to bed to be up at 6 am for our final Mass at St Peters Basilica at the tomb of Blessed Pope John Paul II

A New Holy Father

Now that I've caught my breath a bit - it's still somewhat unreal that 16 hours ago we met the new Pope - or rather, our new Holy Father Francis.

It's amazing to me how "right" it feels. Not that I even knew much about the simple Cardinal from Argentina. But, as my friend Lino Rulli said to me as we were getting ready to come to Rome a week ago - when the new Pope comes out, whoever it is, you'll be amazed at how pretty quickly it will click "yep -that's him... That it just seems right."

In the media frenzy that has been Rome the last week, walking around with Lino who has press credentials and is a very recognizable face for the Catholic Church in the US - being an American born priest walking around with a group of American pilgrims, not only were we seen on screen during the conclave votes, and during the "white smoke" moment. We were interviewed by nearly every major media outlet NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX, CNN, MSNBC.

And multiple times I was asked the same questions:

"What do you want to see in the new Pope?" - someone who loves Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church He founded.

"What does the new Pope have to do about all of the 'controversies' in the Church?" - The Lord has constantly raised up the perfect shepherd for the perfect time. As human beings, fallen, sinful, we are always in need of forgiveness, we are always in need of God's grace... There's always going to be "controversies" in every time that there are human beings.

It was hard to say goodbye to Pope Benedict. And I must admit I still, 8 years later miss Pope John Paul II. But as our new Holy Father Francis said in his first words to the world : "let us begin this journey, the Bishop and the people, the journey of the Church of Rome which presides in charity over all the Churches...that there might be a great sense of brotherhood for the whole world."

I'm happy today to be following our new Shepherd, the Holy Father Francis on that journey.

Ad Multos Annos... Viva il Papa!







FRONT ROW VIEW TO HISTORY: A New Holy Father

Simply overwhelmed. I have never experienced something like this and Right now it's just streams of consciousness

- the square of St.Peters Basilica, filled 3 times for 3 hours each time with tens of thousands (and hundreds of thousands of people) standing in pouring, cold rain... Praying, singing and waiting for news.

-the sight of white smoke... But, still doubting and waiting for it to turn black, followed by the massive bell of the basilica beginning to swing and swing until it would start to chime the glad tidings of HABEMUS PAPAm where absolute delirium broke out on the entire square

- the patient, eager anticipation to see who would emerge... Hearing an unfamiliar name Jorge Bergoglio followed by a very familiar one -- Francesco (after Francis of Assisi - a Saint I've had great devotion to for years)... Seeing and hearing his humble, humble greetings -asking for our prayers for him before he imparted his first Blessing.

It's all way too much to even begin to comprehend.

Thanks for the over 100s of emails, texts, messages and tweets... Yes that was me with our pilgrims on every news network imaginable (including TMZ... don't ask me, I haven't a clue). We were the third row from the barricade, dead center... An amazing view of some unbelievable proceedings.

Thank You to Christ the Supreme Shepherd, for raising up a new Peter, to continue to lead and guide the Church. Viva il Papa! God Bless Pope Francesco!!!









POPE FRANCESCO

HABEMUS PAPUM

Pope Francis: his first words


Brothers and sisters good evening.

You all know that the duty of the Conclave was to give a bishop to Rome. It seems that my brother Cardinals have gone almost to the ends of the earth to get him… but here we are. I thank you for the welcome that has come from the diocesan community of Rome.

First of all I would like to say a prayer pray for our Bishop Emeritus Benedict XVI. Let us all pray together for him, that the Lord will bless him and that our Lady will protect him.

Our Father…

Hail Mary…

Glory to the Father…

And now let us begin this journey, the Bishop and the people, this journey of the Church of Rome which presides in charity over all the Churches, a journey of brotherhood in love, of mutual trust. Let us always pray for one another. Let us pray for the whole world that there might be a great sense of brotherhood. My hope is that this journey of the Church that we begin today, together with the help of my Cardinal Vicar, may be fruitful for the evangelization of this beautiful city.

And now I would like to give the blessing. But first I want to ask you a favour. Before the Bishop blesses the people I ask that you would pray to the Lord to bless me – the prayer of the people for their Bishop. Let us say this prayer – your prayer for me – in silence.

[The Protodeacon announced that all those who received the blessing, either in person or by radio, television or by the new means of communication receive the plenary indulgence in the form established by the Church. He prayed that Almighty God protect and guard the Pope so that he may lead the Church for many years to come, and that he would grant peace to the Church throughout the world.]

[Immediately afterwards Pope Francis gave his first blessing Urbi et Orbi – To the City and to the World.]

I will now give my blessing to you and to the whole world, to all men and women of good will.

Brothers and sisters, I am leaving you. Thank you for your welcome. Pray for me and I will be with you again soon... We will see one another soon.

Tomorrow I want to go to pray to the Madonna, that she may protect Rome.

Good night and sleep well!




Second black smoke.

Well that was disappointing... We had front row spots, perfect location for the new Pope to come out of the balcony and ... BLACK SMOKE



The bizarre thing was the number of media outlets that were shooting us for three hours. We were praying the rosary (it is a pilgrimage after all). And after announcing the first mystery I had to open my eyes because I started hearing photographers and camera men surrounding us like they never saw someone praying in St Peters Square before (haha). The cool thing though was that me and a bunch of pilgrims got interviewed again.

We're off to 2 major basilicas this afternoon - St. Mary Major and St. Paul's outside the walls to visit, pray, celebrate Mass that hopefully tonight we'll be seeing white smoke!

Love and prayers to all of you for your kind notes and messages. It's really an amazing experience. If you find links of our interviews on CBS, ABC, NBC or Fox, my fellow pilgrims and I would love to see them. thanks!

Black smoke = No Pope

So by now you've probably heard there was not an election of a new Pope today. Not that any of us really expected it that first (although standing in the cold and rain for four hours you kind of hoped they would).

But anyway, what was so crazy was how many people came out to watch for news. I've never experienced anything like this. At the start there was maybe a several hundred people milling around. Maybe 2 hours later the entire square was filled with tens of thousands.

Just shows that, despite Catholics (and even non-Catholics) who struggle or even disagree with Church teachings, that there's something about the Papacy, a recognition of this unbroken connection to St.Peter, and ultimately to Christ, who promised to leave us in the hands of good shepherds. Just because the sheep don't always listen, doesn't mean they don't want a shepherd.

And so the world waits....

Some pics from the square:














Thankfully after a long night, Italians know how to make you forget black smoke and cold wet nights:


PRE-CONCLAVE "SANTA MESSA PER L'ELEZIONE DEL ROMANO PONTEFICE"

We were up nice and early today... Left the hotel at 7:15 for a ten o'clock Mass (remember that next time your running late to Mass). By the time we got there , about 10 minutes later this was the line to get in



Within 20 minutes this was the line behind us:




What an absolutely unique, beautiful, historic, and prayerful experience. To be there with the 115 Cardinals, the successors to the Apostles, knowing that (hopefully) in a few days one of them, The Lord will have raised up as the next "Peter" - was just phenomenal












These last two shots show the balcony, in front of the Basilica where once elected, the new Pope will emerge from the Sistine Chapel to greet the people he will be chosen to shepherd as our new Holy Father. You can see its all decked out and ready!!