WHAT WOULD MOTHER TERESA DO?

Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the 11th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - June 16, 2013.  The readings for today can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/061613.cfm .  Thanks as always for reading and your sharing, feedback and comments.  God Bless - Fr. Jim

HOMILY:

    A few years ago, the owner of the Empire State Building found himself in a bit of a controversy that turned into quite a media-storm in the NY metro area.  Perhaps it was because it was the middle of the summer and there wasn’t a lot else to get fired up about, but it was a few months before Mother Teresa’s 100th Birthday.  To mark that occasion, a request was made that the lights of the New York City landmark be turned to the colors blue and white, the colors of the religious gown of the Missionaries of Charity, the community that Mother Teresa had founded.  It didn’t seem to be such an extraordinary request.  As the managers of the building state on their website - “The... towers lights recognize key milestones, events, charitable organizations, countries and holidays throughout the world,” but it seems that the one phrase at the end seems to be the sticking point - “not political or religious related events."

    There was quite a lot of disapproval as critics point out that the lights on the building have been changed for celebrities like Mariah Carey; government leaders that are controversial (to put it mildly) from countries like China.  When people see instances like that compared to how beloved Mother Teresa is among people from almost every religion, every walk of life, the decision seems baffling. 

    Yet, on another level, there was a part of me that was kind of surprised by the reaction of those in the pro-Mother Teresa-lights group.  Because I thought why should we even care?  Why would we look for admiration, respect or even honor from the things that are of “this world.”  In a sense, do we want Mother Teresa’s selfless life of dedication to Jesus Christ, to His   people and service to the people that the world has little to no use for to even be put on an equal level as those tributes to the Chinese leaders or a pop-icon?  Why do we get so worked up when the things that are of Christ are not respected by the things of this world?

    Because it was no different in Jesus’ day and age, as we hear in today’s Gospel.  This Pharisee has invited Jesus to dine with him.  You have to wonder what the motivation on his part was.  It’s obvious he had heard that Jesus was causing a bit of a stir, that there was a ‘buzz’ about him around town.  People were saying he was a “prophet,” so as a Pharisee - someone who yielded some power and influence in the Jewish world , he wanted to check Jesus out for himself.  So Jesus comes to his home. 

    As He’s there for dinner, a woman, labeled “sinful” in the Gospel - which must mean people knew who she was and what she had done wrong – she hears that Jesus is there.  Something draws her to want to see Jesus; wants to touch Him; wants to experience relief from this pain, this shame that had been weighing her down.  She probably wasn’t quite sure what that “something” was which was drawing her to Jesus.  Maybe she had heard him preach, or knew someone who had been touched, been changed, been transformed by an encounter with Him and so she goes, she enters the house, she weeps, she touches his feet in a tremendous sign of humble love.

    The Pharisee looks at this with disgust; probably thinking things like: “So much for this Jesus being a prophet... if he was, he’d know who she was and what she’s done and that she doesn’t deserve to be in the presence of holy people.”  Yes in the world view of the time, it was okay to be incredibly self-righteous and judgmental rather than commit  the sinful deeds of the flesh this woman had committed. 

    Yet Jesus calls us to make a choice - are we going to serve the Master of this world, look to conform, fit in and even be honored by the rulers of this world; or do we follow Him, serve Him?  Is His Love, is serving Him enough of a reward? 

    The “sinful woman” who had obviously gotten caught up in the things of this world and then been rejected and abused by those things had come to see in Jesus a Master who’s desire to love is demonstrated most powerfully in sharing the merciful forgiveness of the Father.  As He gives this gift of forgiveness, He never counts the cost or says “okay, I’ve given it to you before, you’ve had your turn now, sorry, it’s someone else’s turn.”  He simply gives it to us over and over with the hope that once we’ve experienced this tremendous love, we in turn live it, share it, unleash it to the world around us.  Helping others recognize that the “Masters of this world” have nothing on our one true Master. 

    It would be interesting if we could find out what Mother Teresa thought about that controversy over her birthday and the Empire State Building.  The way she selflessly served the poorest of the poor, you have to wonder if she even made time to celebrate her birthday each year she walked on this earth.  And, while she graciously accepted awards and honors (like the Nobel Peace Prize) she only did that because it helped glorify God.  It wasn’t that it was important to her personally.  For her, all that mattered was Jesus Christ - and serving and loving Him

    May the “sinful woman” from today’s Gospel who’s transformed by the forgiveness Jesus generously gives; as well as Mother Teresa remind us that we shouldn’t be looking to fit in, to conform or be admired by this world.  Not that we should go out of our way looking for ways to be hated.  But rather, may we come to know and realize this life-changing truth: That  when we experience the radical love of Jesus Christ ourselves - we know that nothing else can fill the longings, the desires, the needs that we carry.  And nothing else, not the respect of a “religious” authority at a dinner, nor the beautiful lights of a skyscraper in Manhattan in NY  matters.

The Fatherhood of Priesthood

As some of you know, for the past two weeks (with one to go) I've been down in Ave Maria University in Ave Maria Florida serving as a Chaplain at FOCUS - the Fellowship of Catholic University Students Staff Training.  It's been a true joy for the past three years to be able to spend these weeks with so many beautiful young men and women as they prepare to serve on campuses throughout the nation.

Well tonight, after celebrating the Vigil Mass, this little girl - maybe 4 or 5 years old -- came right into the Sacristy past these two big guys who were altar servers looking for me.  One of the missionaries who was the server for that Mass took the picture and posted the following:

That awesome moment when a brave little girl "really really wanted a blessing badly" during Mass, but couldn't so she came and found Fr Jim Chern to get her own blessing after mass in the sacristy.

And here's the picture:  

As she marched out and said "Thank You Father" - I was thankful once again for God's gift of the priesthood and the sweet reminder this Father's Day how with the gift of celibacy I've been blessed to be a spiritual father to so many children of so many ages.   

WHERE YOUR MIND GOES, YOUR LIFE WILL FOLLOW

Hi everyone - here's a homily delivered at Ave Maria University, Ave Maria Florida at FOCUS New Staff Training - on Monday, June 3, 2013.  The readings for today can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/060313.cfm.  Thanks as always for reading, sharing and your feedback!  God Bless  - Fr. Jim

  HOMILY:
 
          A couple of years ago, an author visited our campus to speak about his new book.   Just the title was intriguing - “The Heart and the Fist: The Education of a Humanitarian, the making of a Navy Seal.”  The author, Eric Greitens  had studied  at some prestigious institutions like Duke and Oxford, became a Rhodes Scholar, spent time outside of the classroom on mission experiences that brought to places of great need like Rwanda and Croatia and then  decided he wanted to become a member of one of the most specialized military forces – the United States Navy Seal.  He gave such an incredible presentation that even though I have a pile of books that have collected dust and not been opened, it just seemed to be a “must” read. 
 
          One thing that has always fascinated me – whether it’s the SEALS or the Marines or some other elite military group – is what these individuals endure physically and mentally to complete their training.  To have whatever it takes to become a SEAL.  They go from some minimum goals like having to complete a mile and a half run in 11 minutes to doing some seemingly impossible, grueling and increasingly difficult challenges for 12 weeks of training, culminating in the appropriately named “Hell Week” in order to become this warrior.

          It’s something few will succeed at.  I think Mr. Greitens said that his class started with 200 candidates -- in the end only 21 would graduate. And Greitens was able to pinpoint the major reason, the difference between those who would make it and those who wouldn’t.  While obviously a person needs to be in good physical shape, one of the essential components is the guy’s head.    The thoughts of the candidate would determine if they had the mindset to go all the way. 

          He shared an example from “Hell Week.”  That week – it is make or break time - the instructors work the recruits non-stop.  They get something like 3 hours of sleep the entire week - while undergoing all kinds of tests: Running, swimming, experience terrible extremes in weather.  They endure a “Drown Proofing” exercise where their feet are tied together, their hands are tied behind their backs - and they are expected to swim fifty meters like that, retrieve a face mask from the bottom of the pool with their teeth, and bob up and down a bunch of times. 

          Throughout this entire week, they can quit at any time - which is something their instructors remind them of all the time.  There’s a bell out where they candidates are training, visible throughout this entire experience that at any moment, they can just go and ring it.  Mr. Greitens shared that at one point, they had just finished one of these torturous exercises.  The men were exhausted and struggled to remain standing at attention.  At that, the instructors said to them, “OK the next thing we’re going to do is have a nice 5 mile run, so go grab your gear, and lets move out.” 
 
          At that, Mr. Greitens said you heard “DING” – one guy quit; and then another “DING” - and then several more “DING’s”.    That would be the moment where they lost the most guys at one time than at any other time that week.  Moments after the last guy quit, the instructor looked at the remaining candidates and said “Just kidding, let’s go have lunch.”
 
          Can you imagine?  I know, that would’ve been me - one of the dings would’ve been me (probably a lot sooner than that if I’m really honest).  It sounded just so cruel.  But Greitens said that was an essential part of this whole test.  It’s part of this process... those guys at that moment they showed they didn’t have the mindset of a SEAL.   Because the thing that made the difference was that those who quit at that point weren’t even willing to take one step – weren’t even willing to give it a try.  They had made that decision completely in their minds that they couldn’t, they wouldn’t even attempt to go any further.  Once they had done that, there wasn’t anything else that could be done. 

          It’s just another example that - What you think;  how you think; is one of the most important factors in determining who you are.  That’s not just a truth in becoming a Navy Seal, or in our personal lives, but it’s a truth in the spiritual life as well.  

In today’s Gospel, let’s look at this parable Jesus gives us.  This landowner has given the tenants use of his land.  And it’s good land - it’s been cared for, maintained.   All the tools necessary for good produce are there.  The tenants who’ve leased this land, benefitted from it, enjoyed all that was right at their disposal.  And what happens? they don’t simply refuse to pay the owner what was owed him.  They mistreat, they kill those who were sent to remind them of their obligations.  They go even further and kill the owner’s son.

 
          How does that happen?  What sorts of thinking went into that?  There were self-centered thoughts that turned into thoughts of jealousy, envy and entitlement.  They had thoughts trying to justify themselves and attempting to excuse themselves from the legitimate obligations simply by their refusing to fulfill them.  And when messengers arrived to remind them this isn’t your land, you owe the landowner something - the tenants thoughts turned vicious, killing those messengers.  Once you’ve believed your own lies, it becomes easier to believe even more delusional ones.  Which we see in this parable when these fools actually convince themselves that they could eliminate the son and that the owner will just go away and they could carry on as they pleased.   All of these self-centered thoughts led them to believe they could do whatever they wished and helped determine who they were- a murderous, wretched group of people.
 
          It’s providential that Jesus gives us this parable at the start of FOCUS staff training to trigger some introspection: What are we thinking at the start of training? No doubt over the last few weeks, or months even you’ve had a variety of thoughts.  Some tempting you to give into disbelief, give into fear and attempting to steal the joy you experienced when you first heard that call from Jesus Christ to serve him in this particular way as a FOCUS missionary and thought about the excitement that comes from knowing what you’re being called to do and doing it.    
 
          But - Praise God - all of you are here... you made that choice not to give into those thoughts of despair, and made it here to Florida to begin this time of training.  But it’s so crucial in our following the Lord, not just today, not just as a FOCUS missionary, but to be his lifelong disciple to let Jesus continue to probe our hearts and minds.  Asking us what are we thinking?  Do we recognize the gifts, the talents, the abilities He has blessed us with?  Do we know that even though we are living “simply” – as you missionaries are engaging in the daunting task of fundraising your salaries (which for many of your peers seems impossible), even with those minimal financial resources, do we recognize how incredibly fortunate we are in comparison with others around the world that live in dire need and abject poverty?  Do we look at even something like the gift of time – that we’re given 1,440 minutes a day and ask ourselves what do we do with that gift each day? 
 
          Do we see all of these things as blessings that we’ve been given – not something that any of us were entitled to or manufactured on our own – these and many other things were gifts given from our loving, generous landowner who desires us, invites us to make incredible vineyards. 
 
          Because left on our own, we can become just as delusional as the wretched crew in the parable.  We can believe the lies of the world that feeds this mentality that, if they even acknowledge God, dismiss him as a disinterested bystander. 

          Jesus shatters that theory, not just in this parable, but even more, on the cross.  In the cross, Jesus puts aside arguments, debates, words, miracles and in that act makes a final appeal to the closed minds and hearts of humanity. Like the men training for the Navy Seals, the decision rests on us though.  Will we throw in the towel, ring the bell and decide we can go no further, quit and go off on our own?  Or are we willing to go all the way with Christ?  Knowing that becoming Jesus faithful disciple starts with a decision in our minds to continue to follow Him, wherever he asks to go, and allow Him to transform our lives?

SWEET SACRAMENT WE THEE ADORE!

"Sweet Sacrament, we thee Adore! Oh make us love thee more and more... Make us love thee more and more"

What a beautiful way to celebrate the gift of Jesus' Body and Blood given to us in the Eucharist with a world-wide Holy Hour led by Pope Francis. Here at Ave Maria University where we've gathered for FOCUS staff training, our beautiful liturgy concluded a little after 11:00 am which was timed perfectly to join in this worldwide prayer. Mass concluded with an outdoor Eucharistic Procession and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. What a sight to have hundreds of people participating in this solemn devotion. Just watching this video of the Holy Hour from Rome is beautiful as well.