SPOILED BY FOCUS

Hi everyone, here’s my homily for JULY 21, 2013 - the 16th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME. The readings for the day can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/072113.cfm Thanks as always for reading, sharing, and all your comments and feedback. God Bless! Fr. Jim


++++ Quick commercial:  If you have a moment, CHECK OUT THE NEWMAN CATHOLIC WEBSITE - particularly our "SUMMER APPEAL" section. See before and after pictures of the new patio we just installed... We're trying to raise another $15,000 to cover the new 10 foot outdoor crucifix that will be installed outside the Newman Center http://www.MSUNEWMAN.com/ .  Thanks to all for the generosity and their consideration of this appeal! +++++++++++++++++++++++++++
HOMILY:

In many ways, I’m spoiled.

Not simply because I’m the "youngest son" and that Mom still takes care of her "baby" (although that is true). I’m spoiled in my ministry. I’m spoiled that as a Campus Minister I get to work with these energetic young men and women at such a pivotal and important point in their lives where they are figuring out who they are and what they want to do with their lives. It’s true that it can be incredibly tough, but it’s exciting...

I’m spoiled because for the past few years part of my work in campus ministry has allowed me the opportunity to be a Chaplain for FOCUS - the Fellowship of Catholic University Students. This is a group of mostly recent college graduates who make a commitment for a couple of years to serve as "missionaries" to their peers. They work on campus evangelizing, offering to help lead college students to a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ and His Church, through bible studies, one on one mentoring and participating regularly in the Sacramental life of the Church.

I’m spoiled because I get to work with these missionaries who have such a purity and innocence about their service they are so immediate, selfless and generous in their responses to what the Lord is asking them to do, they don’t even realize it. Because often times their peers that they serve on campus don’t realize that the missionaries have put their lives on hold - their pursuits of careers, jobs... their "selves" on hold and go and fundraise their salaries for the opportunity to work on a college campus with their peers and talk to them of Jesus Christ. Just being with all of the missionaries for a few weeks during their "staff training", where they spend 5 weeks in a type of boot camp of prayer, school, and preparation to going to their campuses, I got to see that it doesn’t stop there.

Throughout the summer, many of these missionaries were preparing to lead students on other "mission trips" throughout the world. One guy left the second week I was at training for Togo (which is in Africa) with a group of 10 students for a month long mission trip. Another one of our students just returned from Haiti serving at another FOCUS mission trip. As I write this, another group of FOCUS missionaries, including one who was assigned to Montclair State this past year and some of our students are presently in Spain, walking about 15-20 miles a day to reach the place where St. James was buried, participating in a pilgrimage that Christians have been doing for centuries. It’s called the "Camino de Santiago" ("The Way of St. James") It’s physically, as well as spiritually grueling. They’re limited in their communication since they’re staying in hostels and camping as they go so there’s been a few texts or facebook posts to let us know they’re alive and continuing to walk.

And then there’s the other acts of selflessness that some of them attempt to hide out of their own goodness and generosity. One of our missionaries had been trying to keep it secret that he is donating his kidney to a friend (in fact he’s doing so this week, so if you could keep him and the recipient in your prayers I’d appreciate that)

All of these anecdotes come to mind because sadly what has often been a recurring theme in all of these stories; something that I hear often from the missionaries (and students who wish to participate in these mission trips) is the push back that they will receive from their families and friends: "Why are you going to do that?" is often the first thing they are confronted with when they even mention the idea of applying to become a FOCUS missionary. "You’re going to fundraise your salary - the Church has the money, they should PAY YOU" (fyi - despite how often the media distorts the facts of things; the Church does not have money stored away under some cushion in the attic of the Cathedral... if people looked at how in the red we often are in order to keep our services, our Churches, schools, hospitals, shelters, etc open they’d see that)

And then when these young people then announce "I’m going to Togo" or "I feel this strong desire to do a mission trip" sometimes they’re not congratulated or encouraged – sometimes is the "final straw" - "You’re doing WHAT?" followed by a lengthy list of reasons not to do it - as well as anger, fear, frustration... arguments that "let someone else do it."

While I can appreciate that sometimes the concern is parental concern for their children’s safety (even though it’s apparent that Mom and Dad haven’t realized their children aren’t children anymore) But often times, especially when it’s coming from other family members or "friends," it’s not concern, it’s sadly bitterness that a person has towards someone elses responsiveness to the Lord’s call, to His invitation to them. Which isn’t new - isn’t confined to FOCUS missionaries getting push back from family or friends. That’s at the core of this short Gospel passage between Jesus, Martha and Mary.

So often this encounter is portrayed as Martha’s working her tail off, trying to be a good host, Mary’s simply enjoying being with Jesus; and when Martha’s overwhelmed by the tasks and complains to Jesus, he seems to side with Martha, the "slacker" in the story. But it goes a lot deeper than that. Jesus isn’t judging the tasks or the work that either sister is doing. He’s not unappreciative or dismissive of Martha’s contributions or even saying that Mary’s doing something more important when he says she has "chosen the better part."

Jesus is speaking of what is going on in each of these women’s hearts. Martha has made a judgement about Mary’s responsiveness to the Lord as less important than what she’s doing. She’s determined that Mary shouldn’t be doing what she’s doing and she’s become bitter about it to the point of complaining openly about it. In doing so, whatever generosity of spirit Martha may have had is pushed aside as she goes about her tasks, more and more frustrated that Mary hasn’t offered simply to help her (I wonder if Martha even thought to ask for help or had she simply expected Mary to read her mind and offer to help her?) Perhaps as all of this was going on Martha might have forgotten who it was she was busy preparing the meal for in the first place - that Jesus was right there in their midst.

That’s why I feel I’m spoiled by the FOCUS missionaries. So often their responsiveness is so genuine and sincere that it causes me to look at how do I respond to the Lord’s invitations, His calls in my life. Because Jesus’ calls doesn’t end once we’ve discerned is he calling me to married life; to religious life; to priesthood; to being a single, lay-person. Those are huge life-direction calls to be sure that He calls us to. But that is followed with a life-time of invitations, opportunities, experiences where he is constantly calling us to respond to Him in how we are going to live out that call. To couples preparing to get married, there was an old prayer for the wedding day that basically says that on the wedding day the challenges, the struggles, the joys, the blessings that they will face is hidden from their view - but the prayer is that they will always go to Christ and see His presence in the midst of them all. That same prayer is applicable to every Christian, whatever life vocation they are called to.

The problems begin when we start judging other people’s responsiveness to the Lord’s calls. The couple blessed with 7 children of their own isn’t "better" than the couple unable to have children of their own. The priest who is doing missionary work serving the poor in a foreign country isn’t doing more important work than the parish priest working in an affluent parish in the US suburbs.

Ultimately, the lesson that Jesus teaches us through Martha and Mary is that what matters, what is the "better part" for each and everyone of us – priests, lay people, FOCUS missionaries – doesn’t come down to what it is we are called to do - but how we do what we’re called to do. Are we responding with pure love for Christ?

WHY DO BAD THINGS HAPPEN -- AND WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT

Hi everyone, here’s my homily for SUNDAY JULY 14, 2013 - the Fifteenth Sunday in ordinary time. The readings for today can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/071413.cfm As always, I appreciate your reading, sharing the blog, feedback and comments.

++++ Quick commercial:  If you have a moment, CHECK OUT THE NEWMAN CATHOLIC WEBSITE - particularly our "SUMMER APPEAL" section. See before and after pictures of the new patio we just installed... We're trying to raise another $15,000 to cover the new 10 foot outdoor crucifix that will be installed outside the Newman Center http://www.MSUNEWMAN.com/ .  Thanks to all for the generosity and their consideration of this appeal! +++++++++++++++++++++++++++
HOMILY:
 

If God is so good, why does he allow bad things to happen? That’s the question isn’t it? It’s something that has confounded Saints, theologians as well as been used as a debating point by unbelievers from one generation to another.

Best-selling author Kathleen Norris wrote about a memorable plane trip she took from Lexington, Kentucky to Denver, Colorado. She recalls that it was an early morning flight and that she had gotten little sleep the night before so she was looking forward to some during the trip. (Have to note, how nice it must be not to have irrational, white knuckled, heart pounding fear when traveling in an airplane that one can even plan on sleeping while flying, but I digress) Well as soon as she sat down on the plane, the passenger sitting right next to her, a young man about 18 or so, immediately began talking. His conversation was somewhat nervous and very excessive that she realized it wasn’t just an anxious teenager. She quickly surmised that he suffered from some form of autism, that he was alone and indeed nervous.

She quickly abandoned any plans of getting any sleep, and instead spent the whole flight talking with him. As they neared the airport he became a bit agitated and kept repeating to himself, almost like a mantra, "my aunt will meet me at the gate." To help put him at ease, Norris offered to walk with him to the gate where his aunt was anxiously waiting. She was so relieved and grateful to see that someone took the time to look out for him and see that he got safely to where he needed to go.

Norris shared this recollection in an essay she wrote on "asceticism." We might have heard churchy word before. . . but have no idea what it really means. Well that SAT word of the week come from Greek and means: "exercise, practice, training, a mode or manner of life." Norris explains that : "Religious asceticism, is always for others. That is all it can be. And if one is fortunate, as I was on that plane, one knows what one must do. No polite excuses, no tuning out. The command comes loud and clear: be here, now! And the demands of the body, the whining of the self, recede into the background. The stranger, the demanding other, then becomes gift and grace."

So often, I’m embarrassed to admit that I find myself fighting internal battles over "my plans" and being confronted with something I perceive as an imposition to those plans... The phone rings and thanks to Caller ID, I know it’s someone who is going to want to talk for awhile and I’ve convinced myself I have too much to do right now and I’ll call them at that completely undefined period of "later." Someone has passed away and the wake falls on a night when I had something planned and, momentarily, completely self-centered thoughts pop up "but I was going to do such and such that night." And those are just two embarrassing examples from my life revolving around people I know, care about and love (that I do overcome). When it comes to strangers, I can find myself quickly asking, wondering, judging that they will be demanding something of my time, myself that those selfish inclinations try to shut me down (and sometimes, sadly, are successful) from my being attentive, being receptive to them. Which is why Norris’ beautiful definition about religious asceticism are worth reflecting again – – the demands of the body, the whining of the self, recede...the stranger, the demanding other becomes gift and grace.

Isn’t that what Jesus is trying to teach us in the parable "the Good Samaritan" today? The beaten man on the side of the road, to many of us, we respond like the Priest and the Levite - who are knowledgeable of the things of God, versed in the things of religion, but for some reason find ourselves walking by. Making excuses as we do so as to why we wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) get involved. "It’s not safe;" "Who knows why he’s in that position, maybe he brought that upon himself" "I’m sure someone’s called the police or the EMT’s." Whatever it is we would tell ourselves not to be imposed as we join the priest and the Levite walking right by the man.

Jesus points out to us, he’s not interested in our reasoning - no matter how logical or justified we can pretend those reasons are. We are called to model ourselves like the Samaritan who hears the command loud and clear and knows he has to be here, now to the needs of the beaten man on the side of the road. He was willing to abandon whatever plans, schedules he had, He chooses to get involved in a way that the majority of people do not.

If you’re like me, this isn’t a new lesson... It’s not particularly earth-shattering revelation. It’s something we who gather together for Mass on Sunday would completely be on board with (and expect for ourselves if we were on the "beaten man" side of the story) That’s why the whole introduction to the parable is so important. The lawyer who engages Jesus at the beginning of this Gospel (and elicits Jesus’ response of this memorable parable) wasn’t asking Jesus those questions to get information from him or trying to learn something new. Like any good lawyer, he most likely knew the axiom you never ask a question in court that you don’t already know the answer to. The Gospel tells us the lawyer had entered into this exchange "wishing to justify himself" - that’s his purpose for dialoguing with Jesus. He knows what is expected of him in attending to the needs of a neighbor. And so do we. And those opportunities to "be here, now" and tend to the needs of others may come, as Norris’ demonstrates, at the most unexpected times and places and not always when convenient for us.

Because, the reality is that every single one of us is going to encounter bad things that happen in the world. Despite all the inventions we’ve made, the level of sophistication our culture experiences 2,000 years since Jesus first walked this earth - we still experience evil things happening. - Why a person is beaten up on the side of a road; why a young man is afflicted with autism and filled with fear and anxiety – why any of the range of things that sadden and trouble and afflict each and everyone of us – abuse, illness, death – too often we allow that question of "Why" those things happen to dominate our minds. We justify ourselves by assigning the blame to God as we excuse ourselves from any responsibility to these difficult situations. We don’t have a satisfying answer as to Why but we do have an antidote to it.

Jesus Christ, being fully divine and fully human and experienced all of the same pains, the same hurts, the same abandonment and aloneness that all of humanity experiences throughout His life, and especially in His passion and His death. And in His Resurrection, he defeats evil for all eternity. At it’s heart, the story of the Good Samaritan is about Him. It is Jesus who is the Good Shepherd to all of Humanity. He doesn’t stay stuck on the why we as humanity are beaten up by the side of the road (which is a result of sin – our own personal sin, the sins of others affecting us) No, Jesus doesn’t look to assign blame, worry about his own plans (God’s initial plans for humanity didn’t include us messing things up by rejecting him) or think it’s someone else’s responsibility to take care of the situation... Jesus lovingly dresses our wounds; carries our broken bodies; cares for us and pays the debt to bring us back to full health.

By our receiving Jesus Christ - in His Word and His Body and Blood in the Eucharist, we have no time to philosophize over the evils of the world, but are charged to become who we have received - to become Jesus and to do the same to the brokeness that continues today.

SPEAKING TRUTH TO MEDIA

A couple of nights ago a friend emailed me one of these mass-forward emails alerting the readers of bias in the media against Christians. While that topic, sadly, doesn’t surprise or shock me at all anymore, it does infuriate me. The email said the following:

On the "Today Show", Matt Lauer interviewed one of the wives of one of the former Navy Seals killed along with the US ambassador in Libya. He asked, "What she would say to her children about their dad and how she would want them to remember him."

Her answer, and I quote, "His love for Christ", and then continued on with a few other things. Throughout the day and on MSN homepage, replaying the story they have edited the "Love of Christ" part out. Why? Because using the word Christ might offend someone! Well, I am a Christian and I am offended! I'm offended that they would edit it out. Offended that we as Christians are asked to tread lightly so as not to offend someone of another religion. I think anyone who missed the original broadcast that morning should know what NBC has done.
 
THIS IS PROOF OF HOW BIASED NBC IS. This man loved his country and loved his God and gave his life for both, just as Christ gave His life for him

When I noticed that the media unit being accused this time was NBC it really bothered me for two reasons. First my Uncle Gary, who died very suddenly at the age of 46 a few years ago, used to be one of the Producers of that show. And secondly, a parishioner from a parish that I served at who works for NBC is a faithful Catholic at Mass every week with his family.

Before I "forwarded it to everyone on my email list" to express how "ashamed" I was by this act, I decided to ask this parishioner about it. He very quickly and happily looked into it for me and demonstrated that the email was not accurate. On the NBC website, they had the full, unedited seven minute Lauer interview with the widow which includes her comments about God and her husband’s faith. There was an NBC Nightly News report from correspondent Jim Miklasweski that includes a very brief excerpt (less than 10 seconds) from the original interview that morning (but there was nothing that edited or altered anything about her husband’s faith.) And a text version of the story that was written off of the Lauer interview, (which my friend very helpfully copied and pasted and highlighted for me) showed that they did not take any references to God or her husband’s love for Christ out of the interview.

I was somewhat embarrassed that I even forwarded this to my friend, and thought for his taking his time and effort, the least I could do was share it as a blog post.

It’s true there are way too many lukewarm Catholic-Christians who allow people to belittle, mock and denigrate our faith. But the way to get those lukewarm people passionate isn’t in hysterics or maligning "the Media" as the source of all evil. We have to share our faith, in being people of Faith, Hope and Love. By being Christ-like in all that we say and all that we do - (including in Cyber-space)

Because as Pope Francis said last week in his first Encyclical Letter (which is basically a teaching on faith) entitled "The Light of Faith" "We need knowledge, we need truth, because without these we cannot stand firm, we cannot move forward. Faith without truth does not save, it does not provide a sure footing." (No. 24).

May we always stand up for the truth, defend our faith – but be accurate when we do so, lest we unfairly malign and undue whatever good we intended to do with that click of the "Send" to our email lists.

WHY ARE YOU SURPRISED?

Hi everyone, heres my homily for the 14th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME July 7, 2013.  The readings for today can be found at here Thanks as always for reading, sharing, your feedback and comments.  God Bless!  Fr. Jim

HOMILY:
            Its been about 8 years since one of my favorite television shows, EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND, went off the air, and even though I've seen every episode at least a few times, I still love watching the reruns.  Probably because being a member of a very Italian-American family I'm able to relate to the story lines a great deal.... well more than even relate, sometimes I swear the writers have been spying on me, my friends and family and have lifted some of our entire conversations (what non-Italians would see as "people fighting/shouting at each other")

             One repeat I caught the other day was when Ray's mother-in-law enlists his help in throwing a surprise party for his wife Debra.  The long and short of it, the forever lazy and often foolish Ray ends up telling Debra about the forth-coming surprise, gets direction from her on how the party SHOULD be run (changing her mother's planned theme from an English Tea Party to a Chinese dinner).  As if that wasn't bad enough, moments before Debra returns home with her friend Amy, who had kept her away all day, Ray blabs to the entire family that Debra already knows about the surprise, and in fact helped in the planning of the event.  As she walks in and feigns surprise, the assembled guests are noticeably less enthusiastic about the party.  The awkwardness is so uncomfortable, that even after repeated viewings (and knowing the whole show is fiction) I still feel the tension. 

            Probably because I remember being at a surprise party for a friend in college where something similar happened.  It was in the middle of the summer, we had all travelled several hours to gather at another friends house for this planned surprise....which was a big deal.  People had taken off of work, had to get up early for a somewhat lengthy drive, carpooled, parked at a somewhat remote distance (so as not to raise suspicions why all these out of state cars where parked at this house)  And literally 20 minutes before the party, the birthday girl's college roommate blabbed "she knows."  (I'm trying to remember what precipitated that blunt -- and awfully timed revelation)   Watching her walk up the path and attempt to do an Oscar-winning performance was painful.  What was worse was when a friend decided to call her out and very directly said "We all know you know...Why are you Surprised?" OUCH!  That question, while a fair one, was really harsh at the time.  And at least momentarily took some of the joy out of the moment.

            Which is why Jesus, thankfully as gentle, as loving, as kind as he is as he refrains from asking the same thing in today's Gospel.  We heard how Jesus had appointed 72 to go in pairs into towns, to proclaim that Jesus was coming to them, to spread this message.  He charges them to share His peace, to offer His healing to the sick... He promises they will survive among the "wolves" even as they act like lambs.  This is hardly a new experience as we heard in the First Reading.  Isaiah the prophet tells how The Lord has promised his servants that the power of God will be revealed in similar ways and when it does, The Lord's servants "heart shall rejoice...[their] bodes flourish...[and] the Lord's power shall be known."

            Yet, curiously, we hear that when the 72 return to Jesus after doing what he asked them to do, this sense of amazement "LORD EVEN THE DEMONS ARE SUBJECT TO US BECAUSE OF YOUR NAME!"  There's a part of me that, if I were in Jesus shoes (or sandals I suppose) would have wanted to ask the question "Why are you surprised?"  Jesus had already "planned the party" so to speak, and invited them to be participants, and explained what was  going to happen.  Did they not trust Jesus' plans, His direction?  Did they not believe that He would fulfill what He had promised them?  The reaction seems to show, at least to some extent, probably a little bit.
 
            But Jesus doesn't let their foolishly being surprised ruin the party.  Indeed, he knows the depths of their hearts -- and ours as well.  How all of us -- past and present disciples -- we want to believe that following Jesus, that listening to His Call, His direction will result in amazing things occurring.  That peace and healing will flow -- that the evil one will be discharged from our midst.    Yet for some reason we hesitate.  We hear His call in our hearts and our souls and balk at many times, and in many ways.  Maybe it's at a moment when we're among family or friends and some emotionally charged topic comes up -- like saying that we believe that marriage was designed by God to be shared between one man and one woman for life and that anything that changes that (whether it's divorce, cohabitation, or redefining it to include any two people) is not God's plan, but humanity's plan [considering the terrible effects of "no fault divorce" and wide acceptance of people simply "living together" have had on the institution of marriage and society itself, that should be enough reason for us to pause and ask ourselves -- when has it ever worked out well for humanity to follow its own plan instead of God's?  but I digress] And yet in that, and many other "hot button" conversations -- abortion, care of the poor, the sick -- Christians back down from speaking anything remotely connected to their faith -- we balk from listening to Jesus' call, recognizing our role in proclaiming His Gospel in a loving way because of fear... Fear of not being liked.  Fear of not being accepted. (While ignoring the fact that those challenging our beliefs seem not to have any such fear...)

             Or people hesitate believing in Jesus' call, His direction in other ways.   The Lord calling a couple to be open to more children; The Lord calling a man or a woman into following Him as a Priest or a religious; The Lord calling a student into deeper relationship with Him that might result in a change of major/change of direction in terms of career, change in the "circle of friends" they've been hanging onto. 

            In whatever ways The Lord calls and challenges us to go forward, its a true reality that everyone of us experiences that pause, that hesitation, that fear that we can give into which can leave us stuck in inaction.  That reveals a lack of trust or perhaps areas of "unbelief" that exists in our heart... to which we cry as a father once did begging for Jesus to do something for his sick son "Lord I do believe, Help my unbelief." (Mark 9:24)

            The not so surprising thing for us to hear today is that Jesus does desire to do just that - help our unbelief... to see those fears, those areas lacking in trust in Him and His calls in our lives disappear. 

            What should be equally unsurprising is:  that's not just going to magically happen.  Like the 72 in today's Gospel, we need to take those initially daunting first steps... We need to make some movement that indicates we are moving, responding as He's directing us despite our fears, our lack of trust... and that we are open to the wonders, that comes in serving The Lord.  Wonders that include A Joy, a Peace, A Love The Lord has promised to us again and again - which when we ultimately do respond to Him and eventually experience should come as no surprise to us.