THE CRUCIFIX - CHALLENGED, CONFRONTED & COMFORTED

We proclaim Christ crucified,
a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,
but to those who are called,
Jews and Greeks alike,
Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom,
and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
1 Cor 1: 23-25


Seven years ago, one of the first things I noticed upon arriving at the Newman Center was a "make-shift" cross that had been assembled using extra wood from the deck that had been installed in the 1980's at the top of the 30 + steps from the street to the porch.   While trying to be sensitive and appreciative of those who were a part of the Newman Center over the years to whom that cross might have particular meaning for - there was something about that “old wooden cross”  that just seemed lacking to me.  Not because it was worn down and “weathered.”  Not because it wasn’t “artistic,”  but because it’s too general, too vague or open to one's own interpretation.  An empty, simple cross can be a symbol of Christ, or of Christians.  It can be a reminder that as a Christian we are to ‘carry our own crosses.’  It can be a symbol of healing (like the “Red Cross”).  All of those things are true and important to reflect on,  but this cross was lacking.

Because our whole purpose for being here, the Newman Catholic Center is to proclaim the love of Jesus Christ for all humanity - and in a particular way to the members of the Montclair State University community.  That’s what Newman Catholic is all about: Jesus Christ and His love for Humanity.  And there is simply no more clear expression of this truth being most perfectly, most lavishly, demonstrated then when Jesus died on the cross for each and everyone of us.  Not for ‘humanity’ in a general term - but for you, for me, for each and every one of us.

That’s why the crucifix (rather than the empty cross) is such an integral part of the Catholic identity.  We are challenged to see our Lord and Savior at his most selfless moment - we are confronted by our sins, our selfishness (which united with the sins of all humanity from Adam and Eve to today) caused this act to happen - and we are comforted by the love and strength of God knowing that by this act we are forgiven  - we are saved from our sins.

It’s bothered me not to have a better image than that little old cross that was falling apart, but it was something that I told myself “we have to live with for now.”

Today was an exciting day here at the Newman Catholic Center.  Our beautifully hand-crafted statue of Christ crucified was assembled and installed in front of the building. Now as students enter MSU’s campus, walking up all these stairs on our property, my hope is that they recognize how special this place is. As they engage in studies during this significant time in their lives where they question who they are, what they want to do or become - that they too will be challenged, confronted and comforted by the image of Christ Crucified.  And come to meet the living Jesus Christ and experience His love for them personally in all that we say and do here at Newman Catholic.

My sincere gratitude to all those who generously donated to our Summer Appeal to make this possible.  We’re still short of our ‘summer goal’ and welcome your financial assistance.  You can donate by going to www.MSUNEWMAN.com -

THE TRUE MEANING OF GOOD BYE - For my friend Tim Groves,

I don't think I have ever been to a funeral (let alone have the honor to celebrate and preach at one) like I did this morning for Officer Tim Groves.  The mix of emotions of sadness at this loss, but immense pride to see the Township of West Orange that I was privileged to begin my priesthood at and serve for 7 years come together in  such a way - well, only a native son who loved this town so much probably could bring us all together for it like Timmy did. 

I wanted to extend my personal thanks to Darren and Mellen Dangler - who are more than just funeral directors who "did a beautiful job."  They did, but unbeknown to some, they loved Timmy as a brother and cared for him as such both in life and death.  As did so many of his brothers in blue... Mike, Will, Ryan and others that I'm  sure that I'm forgetting.  Again, as sad as my heart has been at the suffering and loss, seeing and experiencing all of that love has been a comfort to me personally and I hope that it will continue to bring healing to all of us as we mourn, and even more, bring about a renewal of fraternity in West Orange.  What better tribute could there be to Timmy?

A couple of people kindly asked for my homily from this morning, so I'm posting it here.  With much love to my friend Tim... Still keep looking for you outside in front of the Newman Center with those noise-cancelling headphones on... Miss you bud. Till we meet again...  Fr. Jim  


Homily for the Mass of Christian Burial for Tim Groves, September 13, 2013
Our Lady of Lourdes Roman Catholic Church, West Orange, NJ 07043


One of the few smiles I’ve had this past week thinking about Timmy was when Darren Dangler and I were talking about all the arrangements for his funeral. Darren had just gone thru his list of honors, protocols, tributes and dignitaries that were being planned and scheduled for today (all of which has blown even my wildest expecations as I watched that procession up to Our Lady of Lourdes this morning). And he paused and said "Timmy would’ve hated all of this." 

We all know that’s true. He would’ve been first in line, meticulously prepared to be here for someone else, but for himself, I kind of think if he really had his way, he would’ve asked to be cremated, tried not to let anyone know what day the Mass would’ve been, had the ceremonies located up in Canada or Alaska or someplace where he could’ve been buried in a place where some Bears or Moose would be walking around.

That’s not entirely true. Timmy loved West Orange. If there ever was a "native son" of this town, he would most definitely have been a perfect example. But he hated the attention being on him. And that truly was a cross for Tim - that he knew his calling to be a servant to so many others - both at work and "after-hours" - he was truly a public servant... yet at the same time, truly a introverted and private person. Yet even though he shunned and hated any attention on himself, it is entirely appropriate today. We need to do this. And because it was something that his family and friends needed to do, that’s why he would’ve relented and, somewhat begrudgingly went along this beautiful, fitting tribute.

Because he most definitely— was always grateful, appreciative and thankful for his family and friends. And he wanted me to be sure to share that with everyone today...His love and His gratitude to his family and friends - and most especially all of you who were there these last months, weeks and days. He knew that he wasn’t always the most expressive of people to share that personally (although he kind of was able to let you know when he didn’t like something...)- but he knew that you his family and his friends - who’ve been there even at times when he told you not to - he knew that you knew how much deep within he appreciated that, how grateful he was that you didn’t listen to him.

One of those friends who was with him all the time said to me Sunday after Tim had passed "I refused to say goodbye to Tim, because I know that this isn’t the end." And you know - we often forget that at funerals. We’re overcome by grief. We’re stuck in the sorrow... We’re trapped and focused on the dead body in front of us. Which is completely understandable. The shock of this – despite how many funerals we’ve gone to, it’s always shocking seeing the soul having left the body of someone we love. So it’s hard to remember eternal truths when harsh earthly realities like cancer, like death - smacking us in the face like this.

All week I kept thinking about those words from Tim’s friend – I refuse to say goodbye - which was when I remembered something I had forgotten and something all of us have forgotten - whether in grief or not... The real meaning of "Goodbye." Our culture has made it an expression of ending, farewell, and separation. But the origin of "Goodbye" as a phrase was as a shortened form or an abbreviated version to say "God Be With You" or "God Bless You." And that phrase seems entirely appropriate.

Timmy knew and loved God. That’s something that animated his very clear understanding of "right and wrong"; motivated him into selflessness. He knew and received Jesus Christ who has already conquered sin, conquered evil, conquered death. He received Him right here in this place - the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes. He knew that same Jesus who is real and alive in the Eucharist He received many times here in this Church and in those final days at St. Cloud rehab center - was preparing to lead Him into His Father’s house.

That’s why Timmy chose that second reading where St. Paul so powerfully proclaims "We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has power over him." Tim knew that, and followed Jesus. So he knew that he could trust Jesus’ words from the Gospel– trust in the promise of the one who is risen from the dead who said "Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened and I will give you rest." We as Timmy’s family and friends are grateful that he who worked more in these 48 years than some fortunate to live twice as long have; we are relieved that he has found rest.

But it’s not a rest of "nothingness" "emptiness." We’re not simply mourners overcome with tears who say "Goodbye" in despair. We are friends - who through our tears know our brother Tim has now met Jesus Christ in a way that our hearts yearn and long to experience ourselves one day as well. And it’s in that light that we gather. That’s why we’ve all gathered here today. To let our hearts express our love, our appreciation for the gift of Tim Groves. For all the times, for all the things, in all the ways that Tim selflessly, lovingly served others to say

God Bless You Tim...

For running down the shore after working the double and before going out to landscape to take care of your Mom, to check on your family - we say God Bless You Tim.

For serving your fellow brothers and sisters in wanting your home town to be a safe home town as you put yourself in harms way as a police officer all these years, we say God Bless You Tim

For not simply looking to enforce the law, but be a role model, a positive influence, combat some of the ugliness of life by creatively working with kids in this town you loved so much - we say God Bless You Tim.

For all your work with the needy with the Elks lodge, those needing assistance, especially the Special Olympics, we say God Bless You Tim

For all the sacrifices that you made for others that remain hidden to most - we say God Bless You Tim

For the courageous, hard-fought battle you fought, defying everyones expectations, imaginations, inspiring us all, we say God Bless You Tim.

God Bless You Tim - and we pray that all the pain, any sin, any attachments be washed away in the Love of Christ, that you are embraced by the eternal light of Christ, in His Father’s House and that you will pray for us until we meet again.

CARRY A CROSS? I GOTTA ENOUGH TO DO ALREADY!

Hi everyone - here's my homily for SEPTEMBER 8, 2013 - the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time. The readings for today can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/090813.cfm. As always, thanks for reading, commenting and sharing this blog... I’m always deeply grateful (and surprised) when I see the statistics of "hits" each week and how people are reading this all over the country (and the world) - so if you have a chance, please feel free to drop a comment and where you’re from.


This Sunday is our "Opening Week" - First Sunday Mass of the Semester, so the homily is a bit more directed to our college students, but I’m sure most readers can relate to it. (Oh, and because I’ve had a number of people asking about an "audio" version of this, I’m going to attempt to record them and upload them here if I can ever figure out how to do that!) Have a blessed week! Fr. Jim

HOMILY:

So it’s the first week of the new Academic Year.  Every year we get pretty excited about this time of year here at the Newman Catholic Center.  It’s so different from being in a local parish because every year we lose about 1/4 of our community (not because they don’t like us anymore! because they graduate!) And even though we’re happy at that achievement for our members, its hard to say goodbye after we’ve been together for 4 (or 5 - do I hear 6 years).... So the end of the Academic Year is always a bittersweet moment.  But this time of year is always just a sweet moment... As we get to meet all of you new students - whether you’re a freshman here for the first time or a transfer student coming to MSU from another campus or someone who’s just joining us tonight for the first time.  So again, on behalf of all the staff at Newman, the FOCUS missionaries, the Student Leaders of Newman Catholic - I just want to say WELCOME and thanks for coming tonight, for joining us for the MOST IMPORTANT thing we as Newman Catholic do each and every week... Sunday Mass - To gather together, to praise and worship God our Father, to receive Jesus Christ in Word and in His Body and Blood in the Eucharist and to open ourselves to the Direction of His Holy Spirit in our lives. My prayer is that for all of you that you will make this – our home – your home away from home...

All that being said, as all of us at Newman were gearing up for the opening of the year; going over the whole list of events leading up to tonight’s First Sunday Night Mass here on campus, I was eager to see what the Gospel reading was going to be... What words of Jesus would we have to welcome all of our newcomers... and to welcome back all of us as we gather together for this first Sunday night.  And as I read the Gospel I kind of was like – Really? That’s this week’s gospel???

"...Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple." That heavy expectation comes right after we heard this jolting line about "hating" father, mother, wife, children, brothers and sisters - and even our own lives – (which, really quickly - Jesus isn’t saying "hate" as in not love those people, or treat the gift of life we have with lack of gratitude... basically He is saying that if we want to follow Him, nothing can take priority over Him - over Jesus Christ). 

Just hearing all of that, well we’re not ready to hear all that, are we? I mean, it’s the first week of class. You guys have been through so much already that it’s not uncommon that you come to Mass and might be looking for a "gentle Jesus..." "Understanding Jesus" proclaiming some new Beatitudes - you remember the "Beatitudes" the "Blest are they" statements...  Well, I’m sure there’s part of us that wants Him simply to look at all we
are struggling with and say:

    Blessed are they who cannot find a parking spot on campus

    Blessed are they who has a roommate they can’t stand

    Blessed are they whose schedule is atrocious with early courses that start at that dreaded 8 AM hour and go until 10:30 PM

    Blessed are you when you have a professor who you think is terrible.

And then concluding with something like:  REJOICE AND BE GLAD! You will one day win a prized parking spot in the midst of the campus behind the Student Center; get a single room with no roommate; have a schedule with classes on Tuesday Wednesday and Thursday that shalt not start before 11 am and be finished by 4:00 (with at least an hour for Lunch in between) and have the greatest, most entertaining, understanding of professors ever.

Wanting Jesus to be some type of genie in a bottle, well that’s true not just with all of you our students here. A lot of us (most of us ?) come to Mass on a weekly basis with our lists of things that we have that’s troubling us, bothering us, annoying us that we are looking for that concept of "understanding gentle Jesus" that we’ve come up with in our minds to look at those things, call us blessed and promise to fix them for us.  Blessed are you Fr. Jim when you already have a hectic schedule and have a meeting scheduled tomorrow that you don’t really want to attend - Rejoice and be glad, it’s been cancelled. 

We often look to Christ – we often come to Mass looking to unburden ourselves, not wanting to add stuff on.  So hearing this "carrying cross" stuff can really seem to be just that - another thing, another obligation, another burden that we’re being forced to take on.  If it becomes simply that, then no doubt many will find it overwhelming or inconvenient to our lives, our schedules. We can’t or won’t seem to be able to fit that in to everything else that we need to do and will kind of get exasperated and drop away. Or perhaps we’ll try to delay a response saying something like "I know I gotta do that, but...I can’t right now, I’ll do it later." 

So often we don’t realize what the problem really is here. We are trying to make Jesus fit into what our schedules already are.  We are trying to plug him into an aspect of our lives. We know He’s good – or maybe we think we know that, like on an intellectual level we’ve heard Jesus is good and we want to believe that, but don’t really know that in our heart of hearts... in our lives and experiences.  And that’s the problem.

Jesus Christ so desperately, recklessly, loves us... loves you.  He’s so madly in love with each and every one of us - even more deeply than our friends, our families - even our parents ever could want  to Love us. So much so, that it’s been said that were you the only person ever in the world that needed to be saved from your sins, Jesus would do that, die on the cross, just for you.... whether you asked Him to do it or not... whether you know Him or not... whether you love Him or not. 

Yes, He does look at all of us, at our busy, hectic lives. He sees the things that stress us out, or worry us. He knows those things that we’ve allowed to occupy way too much of our lives along with some of those legitimately serious frightening and troubling burdens we’re already carrying... And in all of that, He asks us to trust Him. To put Him first in our lives and all those other things aside.  To love Him as selflessly and completely as He once did when he carried and was nailed to His cross for us, by looking to be selfless and sacrificially loving in our own day, our own time, in our own spaces - right here on our campus here at Montclair State University, right here at our homes with our loved ones and families and friends...  You see when we start putting Christ first, all those things that we’ve displaced and allowed to become front and center in our lives, start to lose their grip on us. We stop fixating on things we can’t control, things that are just a part of our lives and routines and simply look for ways to live as if He truly is first in my life. 

Then we start to see, we start to experience how Blessed we truly are, because we are following Him. We are living for Him as life continues on around us. We recognize we are indeed Blessed... Yes, Blessed even when we’re not able to find a parking space, when upon seeing one we don’t fight and drive like a lunatic cutting people off, maybe even giving that up for someone else... We’re blessed when maybe we don’t get along with that roommate but try to find ways to be kind, to get along, to not talk badly about them...We’re blessed to be receiving a college education whether it’s at 8 am on a Monday or 8 pm on a Friday night... We’re blessed in so many different ways, not because we’re trying to pretend those different things don’t annoy us or aren’t burdensome to some extent.  But rather, because we see how our whole life’s perspective has shifted by putting Jesus Christ at the center. 

When we do, we’re constantly and consistently looking for ways to simply REJOICE over that fact.. Realizing as we do that carrying our cross is not something extra we do, some extra burden to take up, but it is our lives, the good and the bad of them, the things we love and the things we would rather not be there - in short, all of us, everything about us.  That is what we take up, what we carry - and when we give that, all of that, the good, the bad and the ugly, give that to Christ unreservedly, asking Him to transform that, to draw good out of it, even our mistakes, even our sins, to bring us closer to Him and His love.  Well, then, then we've started down the right path,

the path to happiness,

the path to Him.

I look forward to walking that path together with all of you throughout this new Academic Year.

MILEY CYRUS, ASHTON KUTCHER'S SEATING ARRANGMENTS

Hi everyone... Here's my Homily for the 22nd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - September 1, 2013.  The readings for the day can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/090113.cfm.  Thanks as always fore reading, sharing the blog and your feedback.  God Bless - Fr. Jim

++++ Quick commercial:  We're coming to the end of our ANNUAL SUMMER APPEAL.  We've raised close to $9,000 towards our goal of $15,000 this summer. CHECK OUT THE NEWMAN CATHOLIC WEBSITE - particularly the tab marked "HELP"  to see before and after pictures of the new patio we just installed... this week the 15 foot outdoor crucifix arrived from Italy (the pic to the right shows it in the crate as we prepare for it's installation in front of the center this week.  Go to http://www.MSUNEWMAN.com/  and click on "Summer Appeal" for more information.  Thanks to all for the generosity and their consideration of this appeal! +++++++++++++++++++++++++++
 
HOMILY:

I shudder even to "share" this pic.  This was one of the tamer ones.
After last Sunday Night’s VMA (Video Music Awards) show on MTV and a week of ongoing discussion about it, I hesitate to even bring it up, but it has bothered me ever since. I doubt few of you don’t know what I’m even referring to, but, should you have fortunately not seen or heard about it, Miley Cyrus, yeah - well she gave quite a "performance" last Sunday night.


Now please don’t think that I sit home on Sunday nights in late summer watching MTV. I had gone on Facebook to respond to a message and there was someone who had posted something on the "Timeline" that said "You have to see this..." so I had to click it (the post did say that I HAD to...) And in about five minutes, the former Disney star of "Hannah Montana" put on a show that really disgusted and horrified me. Using teddy bears, appearing dressed like a little girl who eventually stripped down to underwear of a nude color where she and Robin Thicke(and I’ll save my comments about that guy for another day) basically performed a depraved porn act... look, I realize as a priest you’d expect me to be a bit of a prude, but honestly it was beyond the antics of Lady Gaga dressing in meat or some of the stunts that Justin Timberlake has pulled. It was so above and beyond being over the top that I was just disturbed and disgusted.

I have to admit that I was surprised with the number of people of college-age who agreed with me on facebook and twitter who wrote they were similarly turned off by it. And while people are still talking about whether Miley (and MTV) crossed the line or not (or even debating about whether such a "line" exists anymore) - or what this means culturally in terms of acceptable vs unacceptable things. That’s not the saddest part of the thing to me. I mean, we can have a lengthy discussion on modesty, sexuality, etc. and those are all important things to talk about and think about. But that didn’t seem to the thing that bothered me the most.

The saddest part of the whole thing was seeing the absolute depths that this young girl, who’s obviously talented, has popularity, has money, has "fans" – how low she will go to desperately be noticed, talked about, tweeted, posted, etc. How much fear must she have that if she didn’t out-raunch Katy Perry or Lady Gaga that she would be finished? So she didn’t care about turning off a whole generation that followed her in those innocent childhood days as Hannah Montana. She has so little confidence in her talents, in her ability and ultimately in herself that this was her answer to what direction her career should go. As a further sign of how addicted and fixated on publicity she is, the very next day, after that ridiculous show, she shows up in the newspaper at an airport wearing a set of kiddie Pajamas. I mean, this girl really is desperate for any attention.

One of the reasons I even bring this up (at the expense of giving Miley what she wants - more attention) - is that she kind of falls into an example of what Jesus is talking about in this Gospel today. Jesus had gone to this party at the home of a leading Pharisee (which were a group of Jewish priests) And he can’t help but see how desperate for attention they all seem to be as they "were choosing places of honor." It probably sounded something like this: "I should sit at the head table!" "No I should" "I do this and this, so I belong up there" "Yeah, well I used to do those things, so I should." (Too bad the host didn’t think to have name tags at the place settings) The point is that the guests have all gotten into this debate about who was more important than the other. Pathetically looking for more attention.

In the midst of this pretty ridiculous scene, Jesus uses the opportunity to speak about humility. Humility is a tricky thing. Some seem to have a good grasp on the idea of "False humility" where they ignore their gifts and talents and say "I’m not a good singer" or "I’m not as good as she is at baking" or "He’s a better leader than I am." Humility, true, authentic humility is recognize all your gifts and talents and all the beautiful things that make you you - and not flaunting it over another person to minimize them, not brag about them as if you simply decided you were going to do those things and just be great at them. Humility means recognizing all those things as gifts - GOD given gifts, that have been given to you, entrusted to you to use for God’s kingdom, for His glory.

That’s why Jesus is disappointed at what’s happening at this party. Here are a lot of what the world would consider "important people" who have positions of authority and leadership. And they are so obsessed about exactly where they fit in order of importance. They aren’t recognizing their gifts. They aren’t recognizing where those gifts came from. They aren’t putting them to the use of the people God entrusted them to serve.

Because of that blindness, Jesus offers them a somewhat shocking suggestion about what they should do at their dinner parties to solve the seating arrangement dilemma."Invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind: Blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you." Such a bold suggestion is meant for them to see how ridiculous they’ve become, stop worrying about who gets to the top of the table and rather display true greatness, true strength of character - by realizing that when we share our very selves - the best of ourselves - with those who are struggling, who are in need, who because of a variety of reasons have had things befall them which may have caused them to forget how blessed and loved by God they are– by putting these brothers and sisters ahead of ourselves, that is the way to demonstrate true greatness. Not because by doing that we are hoping or trying to get Christ’s attention, to sit at his right or his left - but more importantly, in doing those things we actually become Christ to others.

Imagine the effect we could have in our families, in our dorms, in our classrooms, in our workplaces if we kept this lesson in our hearts and minds when we left here. Looking for opportunities not to mock or diminish someone else, but to assist them, befriend them. Some of you might have met roommates or people on your floors who seem "weird" - when in fact, maybe they’re alone, maybe they’re frightened. Imagine the effect we can have if we made that effort to simply welcome them, introduce ourselves and invite them to something (and not give up on them because they didn’t jump at the opportunity the first time). Those are all opportunities on the horizon as we begin a new academic year, with over 4,000 new Freshmen just arriving.


Its by looking for those kinds of opportunities to be of service, to be a true friend, to be Christ for one another that people canf eel loved and accepted as children of God - that we start to live as brothers and sisters that some of that fighting for attention will cease.  How awesome would it be if Miley Cyrus could hear from a fellow celebrity who just a week earlier made almost as many headlines for doing and saying something that was completely opposite of her ‘act.’  Ashton Kutcher took the moment of accepting his Teen Choice award to say, something that became so newsworthy because they were so humble (and sadly unexpected to be heard among cultural idols) when he said [One thing that I’ve learned is] The sexiest thing in the entire world, is being really smart, and being thoughtful and being generous. Everything else is crap, I promise you. It’s just crap that people try to sell to you to make you feel like less. So don’t buy it. Be smart. Be thoughtful and be generous. 

May you and I not allow ourselves to be distracted, tempted by the desire to be accepted by what’s considered (or "who’s" considered) popular - desperate to fit in with those who have appointed themselves important. But rather keep our lives focused on getting invited to the only dinner party that matters, who’s host has told us what is required to get on the list: Jesus, the ultimate host, who tells us, "Every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted."