KILLING KENNEDY; KILLING OUR KING

Hi everyone, here's my homily for the SOLEMNITY OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, KING OF THE UNIVERSE - the readings for today's Mass (the inspiration for today's Homily) can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/112413.cfm .  As always I'm grateful for your reading, commenting/feedback and for sharing this homily with others.  Always humbled each week to see the hundreds of visitors to this blog.  Have a Blessed Thanksgiving!  In Christ, Fr Jim

HOMILY:

It was hard, if not impossible to avoid coverage of a sad historic anniversary this past Friday. The 50th Anniversary of the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Newspapers reprinted their editions from 50 years earlier announcing the shockingly tragic news. National Geographic Channel scored the largest ratings ever for their network about a week ago for the airing of a Made-for-Cable TV movie called "Killing Kennedy". Memorial services were held around the nation.


I’m sure that for some of us, it seemed a little odd to see so much attention paid to such a tragic event... especially since the vast majority of us (myself included) weren’t alive when this occurred. I’ll be honest I can’t remember when I was 15 years old and the nation marked the 25th anniversary of the Kennedy Assassination, which with both JFK’s wife Jaqueline Kennedy and their son JFK Jr. still being alive, had to have been a big media event. Perhaps I was disinterested or unaware of that commemoration simply because I didn’t understand the psychological and emotional effects of living through such a historically horrific day until living through the horrors of 9/11 myself. Now I can see how both tragedies really did something to our collective psyche, particularly realizing that there was clearly something different for our nation. A clear difference living in a world of "before" and "after" this fateful day.

In some ways I have to imagine that the assassination of JFK was even more shocking for people. With television having only been invented and in peoples homes about 15 years at that point, this was the first real atrocity that people could witness, experience for themselves playing out on their own home screens. Seeing pictures of the President and first lady leaving Washington DC a day before... welcomed and greeted by crowds of people, only to see that awful footage of him being shot and learning within 30 minutes he was dead and a new president had been sworn in, had to have been terrifying, shocking... Seeing JFK’s wife, a young woman herself at age 34, arriving home that night to Washington DC, still wearing the blood stained clothes, arriving with a coffin by her side where her husband had been standing with her just days earlier - such senseless violence stunned our nation. The meaningless of it all, 50 years later haunts us as a nation. That was something you could pick up if you watched any coverage of the anniversary.

To this day, commentators can only speculate how different would the world would have been had November 22nd, 1963 not occurred. Try as people might to create a legacy for President Kennedy, that too really doesn’t exist because of his assassination. He’s become more of this tragic character where individuals continue to search to attach meaning to his death. He was not gunned down like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr was for trying to bring an end to bigotry, racism and injustice. He was killed by a disturbed, former citizen of the Soviet Union, a communist named Lee Harvey Oswald, who’s motives still seem simply to be that of a crazy person. Even allowing some conspiracy theories to be considered, 50 years hasn’t really debunked that lone-gunman theory, which has continued to make this seem that much more tragic. And so for people who lived through the killing of JFK, that terrible day still resonates with a large segment of them because it killed a part of them. The commemoration exposes the wound of the unfulfilled and horrifically ended hopes, dreams and expectations people had for the President, for the Nation, even for themselves that took place in one afternoon in Dallas Texas.

As this weekend of remembrances for a slain President comes to a close, it’s interesting that the Church ends it’s "Church Year" (next week with Advent, the season preparing for Christmas is the start of a new "liturgical year") with today’s celebration entitled Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. That’s a pretty bold declaration right there when you think about it. We’re not just saying he’s King for us who follow him... we’re not calling him King of the Kingdom of heaven or of the Kingdom of God which evokes images of some spiritual realm. We’re calling him King of the Universe. That means he’s more powerful than you’re University President Dr. Cole.... our State Governor, Chris Christie... our President Barrack Obama...The Pope... Every visible person of power, of influence, of authority - they pale in comparison to the authority of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.

Yet, very strangely, we would think that to validate the boldness of such a title, we would have readings that would speak of the Universal power, greatness, awesomeness of our God and His Son Jesus who he’s entrusted with this authority. Perhaps a reading from Genesis of the creation of the world. Or the story of the Exodus of God’s people, where the Lord leads the Jews from the slavery of the Egyptians by parting, separating the Red Sea into two so that the Jews could escape safely and when the Egyptians in their stubborness continued to pursue God’s people, he let the waters envelope them. Or most certainly, we would imagine the story of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead or his glorious ascension into Heaven would be an appropriate Gospel for us to proclaim: the greatest victory of any king in the history of humanity... thereby validating why we are being so bold inc alling him King of the Universe.

But instead the Church with this Gospel we proclaimed forces us to revisit the horrors of 
what happened to our King. We just heard the account from St. Luke of Good Friday. We heard how that title, "king," was used as a way of mocking him by those who carried out his brutal and savage murder of crucifying Jesus. And that’s intentional. Because while we as a nation have grown to accept the tragic and brutal end of JFK’s life and his presidency, the paradox of Christianity is that in the brutality of Good Friday, Jesus’ true power, true authority begins.

Rather than fighting these proceedings, calling upon legions of angelic help to assist in this moment of seeming defeat, he accepts the pain, the senselessness, the loneliness of death on that cross to be able to speak to every human being who will encounter the cruelities of a broken world I know what you’re going through. He knows not on an intellectual level, or from observing the pain of someone he loves... He knows having experienced all of this himself. So for example, to the people in the Phillippines right now who’ve experienced massive devastation, destruction and death from the Typhoon, Jesus speaks "I know" and has been a source of comfort - a source of healing for many. To those of us here, on this campus - who are experiencing our own storms, who feel alone, and scared, and abandoned — who are hurting in ways that they try to hide from everyone, their professors, their classmates even their friends and their loved ones - Jesus says I know what you’re going through.

But it’s not about simply bonding with humanity in their suffering. We don’t come here to commiserate about the horribleness we experience in this life. We can dare to stare at the crucified Jesus, we can dare to share our own personal crosses and crucifixions here knowing that it is in Jesus Christ alone that our sufferings can be transformed. That Good Friday was not the end. Had it been, his early followers would’ve sadly recalled that anniversary - recalled it with the sad realization that their hopes and dreams for that man had ended on the cross and years later few would recall his life or his death (Aside from JFK and Lincoln - I had to look up the other two US Presidents who were killed)

Instead, we recall Jesus’ death knowing he overcame that and came back from the dead. He came back not looking to settle scores with those who inflicted such evil but to save those very people and everyone of us from Sin, from death. We come to our King who comes to us, still offers us His Life, His death and His Resurrected life when we eat His body and blood in the Eucharist as the most intimate way He can say not only I know what you are going through, but even more, I am with you and will be with you always.

JESUS' "NO SPIN ZONE"

Hi everyone, here’s my homily for November 17, 2013 - 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time. The readings for today can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/111713.cfm Thanks as always for reading, your comments and feedback. God bless! Fr. Jim


HOMILY:

It’s hard to avoid - whether you read a newspaper, watch television, or simply get information from the web, twitter or social media what is called "Spin". That’s when someone or some group is able to persuade a large number of people to something that’s beneficial to their point of view. We’ve often come to associate that idea of spinning simply with politicians. When a candidate is successful at it; when they can spin effectively - they can build compromises, consensus, bi-partisan agreements. When they are not successful, they come across as phony, two-faced, flip-flopping or even called liars... No matter who plays this game, they are constantly walking a fine line between those two.

But truthfully, this idea of spinning isn’t limited to politicians. A CEO will spin a bad couple months for his company as a "time of transition". Layoffs at a firm will be described as"difficult, but in the long run productive in making this company leaner, meaner and more productive." We even have entire industries based on spinning. Marketing executives work very hard to try to find a way to convince you the iPhone you got a year ago, it’s good - but this new one, oh it’s SOOOO much better and you should spend another $400 to get it. Or Public Relations professionals -they can take something that an actor or actress said or did that on the surface you think "that person’s career is over" (For example, how many times will Alec Baldwin say some homophobic slur to a reporter?) But a PR person will quickly spin it to people feeling sympathy for that person and rooting for their return.

It’s amazing that in this age of spin, every once in a while an honest politician, an honest employer will touch off a great deal of interest because they will be seen as so "refreshing" simply for being honest... but for the most part as much as we as individuals might say we dislike this phoniness - that we wish everyone were more honest – there’s a benefit to the "spin." There’s a reason we fall for it or allow for it. Because when things are spinned or spun, it’s packaged in a way that makes us more comfortable, that’s acceptable, that’s not as challenging or disturbing.

While that happens on a wide-spread level and has been as accepted as it is, that is an important cultural thing to look at and think about. But what’s a bit frightening is that there are people who like to "Spin" Jesus’ message too. There’s even a new show I saw an ad for that’s a "Reality/Makeover show" - for churches where some consultors come in to tell them how to re-packaged their church to attract more people. I’m debating whether I will check it out or whether I want my blood pressure to remain stable. But in truth, that’s just the latest version of something people have done throughout the ages. Trying to spin Jesus in a way that works to people’s advantage. They will take a twitter length quote like "Jesus said Love one another" - which sounds really nice, non-threatening... It works well on a banner or a bumper sticker. Or a quote like"I am with you always, even till the end of time" - that’s a comforting message we could greatly appreciate at many different points of our life. And some will take those quotes, and edit out some other things that he has said, repackage it, or interpret it in a way they feel is less threatening or what they see as more accessible to people today. But in effect it becomes utterly meaningless. Yes Jesus said "love one another" - but that— him on the Cross – that is his meaning of love; That’s a bit different than when Lady Gaga saying that she "loves her monsters."

The point is, while we’ve grown comfortable with putting up with a certain level of spinning and let’s just say it, dishonesty...when it comes to Jesus, well, it’s sinful to do that to his message. The proclamation of the Gospel isn’t a marketing campaign to gain more members. Jesus isn’t trying to simply make us feel good about ourselves. He loves us to that depth of dying on the Cross, that’s how much we mean to him - that he cares about our whole selves - both here and now and for all eternity. There’s no spinning that. So the Gospel, His message it is meant to stir things up. And yes, His message is going to upset people.

There are times when the Gospel writers will tell us that Jesus will have said something and the listeners in that encounter will say "this is too much" for them and will "walked away, and follow him no more." And there are things Jesus said that got people so angry that, they couldn’t deal with him anymore, and so they didn’t - they killed him. We know that isn’t the end of the story. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead changed and reshaped the world as we know it. And one of the things it did was validate everything that Jesus said to us.

All of this is important to remember because tonight’s Gospel is one of those times that some would either like to spin differently, interpret in a different manner or skip it completely. What did we just hear? After painting some pretty awful images of what will happen at the end of time, Jesus gets somewhat personal with us. And we hear that He doesn’t just speak about something far off that will happen at the end of all time... He talks about what will happen to us just for following him...What does he tell us, namely that people will not be happy that we are trying to follow Jesus. They will seize and persecute you. They will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons, and they will have you led before kings and governors because of my name.

Why is that? Because the message of Christ calls us out of inactivity, out of apathy, out of complacency. And when we do that, when we challenge the status quo; when we level the spin of the powerful by testifying to the dignity of every human being - from conception to natural death; whether they are born in this country or another country; whether they are poor or rich; sick or healthy - that they are made and fashioned by the same God who loves each and every one of us and each and everyone of us has a unique dignity that deserves as much respect as we do – no check that, each and every person deserves Love: the selfless, sacrificial love Jesus demonstrated for us... well, that perspective has the potential to upset a lot of people. So much so that Jesus warns us, even those closest to us might not like it when we embrace. This gospel just said– you will be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name.

We might try to fool ourselves thinking Jesus is being over-dramatic; or giving us the worst-case scenario. And while I hope that no one is ever persecuted that their life is taken from them for following Jesus, that does happen, in this day and age around the world. People are being persecuted and martyred at an even greater rate today  than in the first centuries of Christianity. Closer to home, there are people here on our campus who have been persecuted, for their faith... There are some who laugh at you (and us) for coming to Mass. There are some who probably try to pressure you to "just skip going there this week" because of whatever it is (this football game, this movie, this trip to the Mall) is in their minds more important - and when you hold strong against their plans - well they are still ticked off about it later. There have been more than a few Professors who’ve openly mocked some of our students when they’ve articulated their beliefs openly in class or dared to wear a Newman T-shirt (and almost dare you to stand up to them - do you want the "A" that you deserve or could you take the "B" or "C" you’ll get for standing up to them). And we are tempted to think, there’s got to be an easier way.

We think (or we’re told, or we’re misled by some) to think it’s okay to back down in the face of adversity, in the face of persecution because "Jesus will understand." And I’m sure he does - because there have been people who have backed down from the moment he first came into our world. But the reason Jesus doesn’t tell us to ward off persecutions, doesn’t tell us to spin things differently so that our lives are a bit easier is because he knows that when you’re being persecuted - it calls you to be honest. Not with Him - He already knows our hearts... But honest with ourselves. Are we really following Him? Really trying?

It’s not enough to know Jesus intellectually - like we’ve studied who Jesus is.

It’s not enough to simply know Jesus’ name and call it out from time to time.

He’s telling us if you really know me, you will live for me... you will not live for yourself - you will live for the truth.

There’s no spinning it - this is hard – and can be scary to do especially on our own, Which is one reason we come together as a community. Recognizing that we struggle with temptations, and struggle to turn away from sins - but are engaged in that battle. Experiencing together Jesus’ Risen presence in the word and in the Eucharist - receiving His Body and Blood. And in doing that we overcome fear, we grow in confidence to face the challenges the world puts before us, and find Jesus’ promises are validated. That he will lead us, and protect us here and now and into eternity where"not a hair on our head will be destroyed."

KIDS SAY THE DARNDEST THINGS... Catholic edition

Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the 32nd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - November 10, 2013. The readings for today can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/111013.cfm. Thanks as always for reading, sharing this blog, and all your feedback and comments. I always appreciate it! God Bless, Fr. Jim


HOMILY:

Probably some of the funniest moments that priests have is in our dealings with little kids. When I was in a parish, this little guy loved to make pictures, and was a really observant kid for a 4 or 5 year old. This one day after Mass he came up all proud to give me a picture he had drawn of me that looked like something a little kid would draw. Somewhat stick figures, a bit our of proportion (I was drawn taller than a tree). There was one thing that kind of struck me though was that everything was drawn completely in black crayon. The flowers, the trees, the sun. So I thanked the little guy for the creation and just asked "why is everything in black?" (I mean not trying to be critical but, I was curious - was the kid severely depressed, did he not have another color crayon?) And he just immediately answered "because that’s your favorite color!" I said "Really? What makes you say that? And he says ‘well that’s what you wear everyday.’"

These little ones can be even more funny when they get pieces of religion in and give you their understanding of it back to you. A priest friend of mine told me how when he had a kid come in for his First Penance, the little kid told him he had committed adultery. The priest said "No I don’t think you did" and he was insistent "Father, I did - I committed adultery" so now my friend’s trying not to laugh because the kid was not only contrite, he was getting frustrated that he wasn’t appearing to believe him. So finally my friend said to him - What do you think adultery is? And the kid said "when you don’t listen to adults".

Those stories came to mind as I stumbled upon an article that shared some kids responses to the question "What does heaven look like?" For Danielle, age 7, she had a pretty simple concept of it: I think I would have my own room and not with my brother." No doubt this little guy named Sam, age 5 heard gospel passages talking about the eternal banquet as he explained "In Heaven everyone gets a lot of food." Michael, age 6, took the food and heaven idea and connected it with housing: "My house will be made out of Reese's Cups, and filled with chocolate." "Yellow dogs are in heaven because the streets are made of gold. They are both yellow," says John, 6. And Kristen, who is age 9 believes that "In God's room, there are TVs so he can see what we're doing all day."

We can laugh and smile at their somewhat simplistic (but cute) ideas– their logic - but it is a good question. What is heaven like? And kids aren’t the only ones who project some earthly joys, desires and pleasures in the life to come. There’s been more than a few funerals I’ve been to where people talk about their father being able to play golf everyday and each day the weather is perfect, the course is perfect and he gets a perfect score. Or their mother being able to spend eternity shopping and not having to worry about the prices or not having enough cash. We even think about that eternal banquet imagery as well thinking that we can eat and drink whatever we want without concern about putting on weight. Those all appeal to earthly desires we’d like to maximize. And so its understandable that our concept of eternal bliss, eternal paradise would go in those directions. Although a part of me things I’d get bored with some of those things after awhile.

In tonight’s Gospel, the Saducees are asking Jesus What is Heaven like - but not exactly in the most inquisitive of ways. Rather they confront Jesus with this peculiar example that sounds like a story line that we might find on General Hospital rather than a genuine Theological question:

A man and a woman get married. The guy has 7 brothers. Husband dies, they have no kids, woman marries brother #2, he dies, no kids again - same with brother #3, #4, #5, #6 & #7. The Saducees ask at the Resurrection who’s her husband? Now if I was Jesus hearing this story I would’ve tried the whole answer a question with a question. Several actually - "Is this family Italian?" "How crazy was brother’s 3 thru 7 to see what happened to the first two guys and think marrying this lady was going to turn out differently for them?" "Did the woman have a sister and how did she make out with her husband?" And so on...

The story, the example was intentionally absurd because the Saducees were mocking Jesus. Why? Because they didn’t believe in the Resurrection of the Dead or in any afterlife at all. So they’re pointing out to Jesus that the woman and these 7 brothers were fulfilling the law of Moses that allowed for the brother to marry a widow (who had no children) so that their family line would be able to continue. Which was an important consideration for families thinking about their legacy primarily on this earth. They are using this extreme example to say to Jesus - if you’re saying there’s an afterlife, there’s a resurrection, then wouldn’t the Law of Moses be wrong for allowing this. (They’re trying to trap Jesus and claim he’s a heretic)

Jesus’ answer doesn’t satisfy their hypothetical... not because he’s trying to dodge the question. But because he can’t. Jesus is revealing that the after-life isn’t simply an extension of this life. He’s telling us not to look at heaven as an endless extension of days - but rather a life beyond our expectations, beyond our imaginations, beyond whatever concepts we can ever imagine... It’s similar to what life is like for the unborn child in there mother’s womb. They have no idea the concept of what life will be once they are born. They are connected to their family in biologically, emotionally and spiritually but they could not begin to comprehend what life would be after their birth.

As we smile at the innocence of children’s responses to serious questions, the beautiful thing you hear in those answers is that there’s an undercurrent of definitive trust. The kids might have some concepts that are limited, but they have a pure and innocent belief and faith that God truly loves them and desires their absolute happiness. We laugh because to them their expectation of happiness is houses made of reeses pieces or the absence of their brother living in their room.

For us, grown ups, we have much bigger hopes and dreams that come to mind when we think of what would bring us ultimate happiness. We carry greater expectations including desires of wholeness in place of brokenness; healing to pain; fulfillment and intimacy - communion... While we continue to try to imagine what and how that will look like, Jesus tries to get us to move our vision from simply earthly concepts and rather look to Him, listen to Him who came from there, lived among us, died for us to bring us to that place is worthy of our trust. That if we live for Him, and not be limited by this world and its pleasures but look to the kingdom to come, we will find the promises fulfilled of our God who is not the God of the dead "but for the living, for to him all are alive."

OUR LADY OF LOURDES 100TH ANNIVERSARY

Tonight, I was honored to preach at the opening of the Centennial of the Founding of
OUR LADY OF LOURDES PARISH and the Golden Anniversary of the Dedication of their New Church in West Orange, NJ.  I was blessed to serve at Our Lady of Lourdes from 1999 - 2006.  For the parishioners who asked for a copy, I'm happy to share my homily from tonight's celebration:

Two anniversaries - 100th of the Founding of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish and the 50th of the Dedication of this the "New" Church. I really cannot tell you how grateful I am to have this honor to be here, to celebrate with all of you and to preach on this special opportunity, this opening of this Jubilee year for this parish I love so very, very much. And so I want to thank Msgr. Petrillo for this invitation. Monsignor not only knows from serving together during the 7 years that I was assigned here how much this parish me, but as the Priest Personnel Director for the Archdiocese, he even more knows how important a priest’s first parish assignment is for the priest. So thank you again Monsignor for this special opportunity.

All that being said, I confess it’s daunting to preach on such an occasion. Because there’s a rush of memories, emotions, thoughts that are attached anytime we mark a point in history. Just thinking of another timely example: this very November will be the 50th anniversary of the Assassination of John F. Kennedy and how that is being discussed and covered throughout the media. For those who lived through that tragic, horrific moment of American History (not to mention American Catholic history) the question "where were you when that happen" inevitably is asked... And we can note the sad connection to that 50th anniversary as this new Church was being constructed at that same time. Forever immortalized in that last stained glass window on that side of the Church telling the story of the Catholic Church in America we see President Kennedy’s Inauguration at the top with the eternal flame depicting his resting place at Arlington National Cemetary.

Fortunately we’re here to commemorate the complete opposite type of anniversary. This is a time of joy - a time of jubilee. But the experience is similar. No doubt we’re filled with a rush of memories, emotions. Some of you who are "lifers" - who were baptized here and reared in the faith (and in life) here don’t remember a time where Lourdes wasn’t a part of your life. For others of us, we probably can’t help but think back to our first time arriving here. That’s what’s been on my mind and heart a lot in prayer approaching this day

My first thoughts are of that afternoon, two days after my ordination when then Archbishop McCarrick gave me my letter of appointment to Our Lady of Lourdes. I’m hesitant to share that I didn’t even know that there was another parish in this town other than St. Joseph’s! (thanks for not booing and hissing or throwing Gather hymnals)That was before I knew about the "up the hill" "down the hill" stuff... and before these two great parishes came together in collaborations... I knew St. Joe’s because my former Vocation Director, Msgr. Guenther, had become the pastor there and had dropped me some notes while I was still in college and seminary- so I had only ever heard of St. Joes. Anyway - as we left the Archbishop, he had told my classmates and I to be sure to contact our new pastors as soon as we got home. I remembered thinking - I’m right down the road, I should just drive down. I’ll never forget getting off Route 280 at exit 10 - first seeing St Marks Episcopal Church and wondering "Is that Lourdes?" And quickly realizing it wasn’t and starting on Main Street and passing the Town Hall.

This was only 14 ½ years ago, but remember - this was before Cell-phones were readily available and there was no tom tom or anything to give directions. So my options were to just aimlessly drive around the town for awhile, which as a typical, clueless stubborn Italian man I did... until I went with the second option - actually stopping and asking someone. I saw a West Orange Police Officer and I asked him if he could direct me to Our Lady of Lourdes and he said "Oh sure Father" – (which was one of the first times a person I had never met called me "father" after my ordination to the priesthood) - just turn left, go ALL the way down this street - when Main ends and Eagle Rock Ave starts - you can’t miss it.

And as I turned past the Dangler Funeral Home and made my way up the street, that beautiful edifice, with our blessed mother right in the heart of the building became more and more visible. My memories of meeting Pat Paxton, Mary Cassels, Sr. Ann, Fr. Nick Figurelli and others from the staff, just taking a walk around the school, the rectory, and then walking into this spectacularly beautiful Church - the memories are so vivid. I remember that first time just seeing the stained glass - the marble sanctuary and this mosaic. It was overwhelming to the point that I remember saying to myself how didn’t I ever know about this place? And saying "wow they did this place right – there were no short cuts, there was no expenses spared. You could see, you could tell when this Church was built, at that moment of this parish’s history – the pride, the joy, the enthusiasm that the people had for this parish. You could and still can sense it in the building’s DNA.

And that was only confirmed outside this physical Church as I got to meet and know the people of God, the living Church, the parishioners of Our Lady of Lourdes - they shared their pride in the parish and truly saw this building as a testimony to their love for Jesus Christ and for this, His local Church. They reminisced about the challenges they had faced to achieve this dream of theirs to construct such a structure. How Msgr. Lawlor wanted the Church to be built here on this spot, so that you couldn’t miss it coming up Main Street (even though that meant it had to be built over springs of running water – I can still remember during bad storms have to check to make sure the pumps were pumping that water out from under the building! They are still working right?)

Those are all tremendous memories. And over the next year, the pictures you’ll be sharing - and displays from the Heritage room, the remembrances of people who’ve passed away from this parish - some decades ago, some just a few months ago - who were integral parts of the vitality of this place, very appropriately will be shared. And everyone of us will want to share our own stories as well - from when we first arrived ... to when this house of God became a home to us as members of the family of God...

to celebrate the joys of life;

a shelter of refuge during times of crisis and fear;

a place of comfort in times of sadness, mourning and grief.

But if there’s one caution I would offer for all of us it would be this - we can’t simply make this an anniversary of the past memories. We cannot let our own personal stories obscure what it is that we celebrate each and every time we gather around Christ’s altar as people have done - each and every day, week, year, decade and now century in this Parish. That is to celebrate, proclaim and experience Jesus Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection. To welcome His abiding, lasting presence among us and within us. We have to take that reality as we look back. We have to remember that it was Jesus Christ who called Msgr. Marnell, Msgr. Lawlor, Fr. Marchand, Fr. Figurelli and Msgr. Petrillo first to the priesthood and eventually to be shepherds to this local community. It was Jesus Christ sending his Holy Spirit among the people of God in West Orange 100 years ago to come together and form a new community that has grown, and changed and continued to grow and change. That yes this parish and we as people of God in this parish have gone through the paschal mystery ourselves of experiencing deaths - but also resurrections. But that He is the one that is still calls us together. He is the one that continues to breath His Life, His Spirit into this building and into everyone of us. He is the one that calls us to continue to listen to His Call, obey His will and direct us today and always. That’s one of the main points of this Gospel we’ve just heard - Yes, we can - and should remember who went before us in the faith - that our God is the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob. But Jesus cautions to add- "he is not God of the dead - but of the living, for to him all are alive." We can’t simply focus on our past, but rejoice in the God of the living who is working with us here and now.

This past Tuesday at the Mass of Welcome for our new co-adjutor Archbishop Hebda, Pope Francis’ representative to the United States recalled the words of the soon to be canonized Pope John Paul II at his visit to our Cathedral Basilica in Newark in 1995. The more they came to mind all week in prayer, the more I thought it would be appropriate to paraphrase those words for us tonight - This magnificent building stands in the heart of West Orange as a powerful reminder of God's steadfast love for his People and as a sign of faith in Christ, our 'hope of glory.'

As we begin to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of this magnificent building and the 100th Anniversary of this Parish, may this year of Jubilee be a time of renewal, a time of encouragement, a time of joy where Our Lady of Lourdes will see itself as that heart of West Orange - called to "beat," called to radiate, called to bring the presence and be the presence of the Resurrected Jesus Christ out from these walls to transform this community. May this place through the power of His spirit transform signs of death into signs of new life.

Happy Anniversary.

SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN? REALLY???

Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the 31st SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - November 3, 2013 the readings can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/110313.cfm. Thanks as always for reading, sharing the blog and all your feedback and comments! God Bless- Fr. Jim

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HOMILY

So if you happened to come across my Facebook wall the other night, you might have noticed I had complained: It’s 11:55pm on Halloween night and I just saw my first Christmas commercial. [insert rant about people rushing the seasons here] I mean, it was just bizarre to go from hearing the Monster Mash at the end of a newscast followed by the rattling of jingle bells for a Christmas ad for Petsmart. The next day at the CVS they had removed any trace of the Great Pumpkin for images of Snoopy dressed as Santa. And a friend ranted later that afternoon that a local radio station switched to playing 24/7 Christmas Carols. Literally in a few hours, I found myself surrounded by an onslaught of Christmas stuff while still witnessing leaves on trees in their autumn colors. Try as I did, I couldn’t avoid it or even ignore Christmas songs getting into my head. And what’s worse - the one that did get into my head was my least favorite Christmas song ever... (which is probably why it caught my attention) the song? "Santa Claus is coming to town."

Again - first off it’s way too freaking early to be talking about any of this, isn’t it? I mean, I’m not an expert in all things Santa Claus, but doesn’t Santa need snow and ice to ride and land a sled on. I don’t think piles of leaves on the street would make for a soft landing. Second with the temperature hitting a balmy 70 degrees on Friday, Santa would be sweating up a storm in his suit right now. He’s not coming to town for a few weeks, so calm down people.

But it’s not just about this terrible timing that has me not liking this song. Were it December 15 and 10 degrees outside with some snow flakes in the air, my hatred of that song would continue because think of the words to that song:

 you better not pout;
you better not cry;
you better not shout... oh, I’m telling you why...
Sorry - I have no doubt some parent was desperate who had no control over their kids had to have written this song – trying to get their kid in shape by spreading these lies about Santa to fear them into better behavior...

He sees you when your sleeping;
he knows when your awake -
he knows when you’ve been bad or good, so be good, for goodness sake.
Seriously, how freaking creepy is this? What demented minds thought this was a great Children’s song about Christmas and Santa.

For the most part I think kids dismiss it as they learn pretty early on that Santa is much more understanding, more forgiving – Jolly even - that even if he is spying on us worse than the NSA is - somehow he moves beyond the kids failures and is pretty generous to them come Christmas morning.

More surprising though to me, and much more serious to me is how many people have transferred the imaginary fears, the empty threats of that song and kind of made them into a personal theology of theirs. Believing that this is how Jesus treats us... that Jesus is watching to see us fail... That He is taking note, making a list, (checking it twice) paying special attention to our faults with some giant ledger book that should we find ourselves in debt, in the "red" on our last day - well, enjoy Hell... 

Just think about how many people we know who say things like "I could never go to Mass - because I’ve done..." and then they fill in the blank with some painful failure they’ve experienced. Or they stay away saying "I’d feel like such a hypocrite going there" or "that place is FULL of hypocrites." However it is expressed, I’m convinced that one of the greatest achievements the devil has made is this distortion of who God is – who Jesus is, and his relationship to us.

If you find yourself trapped in that mode of thinking or if you have friends or family that do, this Gospel tonight levels those beliefs more definitively than a stocking from Santa packed on Christmas day from for some bratty kid ever did.

In this Gospel, we hear about a hated figure - Zacchaeus. He’s hated because he’s a Jewish guy who was in cahoots with the very people that were oppressing his fellow Jews. The Romans hired some of these "turncoats" to get the taxes from their fellow people. And to add further insult, the Romans allowed the tax collectors to add a surcharge for themselves. So to put it in a way we could understand - imagine Canada took over America (I know, I know...it’s ludicrous, but just go along with me) so the Canadians find some American to collect taxes from his fellow Americans. And here was the deal - the Canadians only wanted 15% of an Americans income, but the tax collector, he could charge whatever he wanted - 20%, 25 %, 30% - and keep that extra as a personal surcharge... There’s no one to complain to, there’s no appeals process or anything. So as Americans, we wouldn’t be too happy with this fellow American working with the Canadians.

That’s what Zacchaeus’ deal was... he was working against his fellow Jews with the hated Romans. Which is why he was hated. You even get the sense that St. Luke, the Gospel writer was put off by this guy. Luke points out that Zacchaeus was a "wealthy man" and then can’t help but point out that Zacchaeus was a short guy - kind of an unnecessary fact to add unless Luke might have had a little bit of animosity himself towards Zacchaeus... all of these things give us some clues that Zacchaeus had been taking advantage of his fellow Jews.

He knows that he’s been bad, not good, for goodness sake. But having heard all this buzz about this Jesus, curiosity gets to him. He was seeking to see who Jesus was. The crowds probably blocked the short guy...Glared at him as he even tried to attempt to make his way towards where Jesus was. But deep within - maybe he could hear some of Jesus words, or just sensed something about his presence, makes him more and more desirous to see him.

So he runs ahead – ahead of the crowds, ahead of Jesus... He climbs a tree, hoping just to catch a glimpse of Jesus up close. Probably thinking - I’ll be able to see him, and he won’t see me – because none of my fellow Jews want to see me, why would this, this special, special Rabbi ever want to see me? But something happens - Jesus looks up... He looks right at Zacchaeus, He calls him down and invites himself into his home.

What that glance from Jesus does for Zacchaeus reveals that God isn’t looking with judgment, condemnation at him. And it helps Zacchaeus to sense in that look of love that he himself desires change...he desires transformation. And He knew that he could trust Jesus to do just that. Which is what Jesus is looking to do with each and every one of us. He’s not looking for us to simply gather in the crowd and to think we’re covered because we’ve made it here. He’s definitely not interested in our comparing ourselves with others who’ve we deemed as outcasts in a comparison game of sorts where we lie to ourselves saying "I’m not as bad as they are."

No he wants us to acknowledge the failures, the sins, the things we’re struggling with - the messes that our lives have been and to see that Jesus wants to say to us "today I must stay at your house."

C.S. Lewis, one of the greatest of contemporary Christian authors talks beautifully about what happens when Jesus invites himself in- not just for Zacchaeus, but everyone of us. He says "Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of - throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself."

The Gospel makes it clear that Jesus isn’t an angry Santa writing us off a list... but rather the divine architect and contractor who desires to stay, to dwell, to live within us. Who has great dreams and plans for our ultimate happiness. Who wants to help clear away the messes we’ve made by giving us the Sacrament of Reconciliation - we’re one confession away from being made completely clean... Who wants to reveal the great plans he has for our joy, our fulfillment, to make us into the disciples he truly has called us to be - both here and now, and ultimately for all eternity.