PRECIOUS GIFT OF LIFE AND TIME - Putting New Years in Persepctive

For some reason all these “years in review” caught my attention in a greater way than usual.   Seeing newspapers or websites recounting significant moments from the year - as well as friends on facebook with these photo montages that share memories from the year... I’ve found myself looking at them and being more reflective myself than usual on New Years. 

Perhaps that's what happens when you turn 40 (which I did on November 6) - you get a bit more reflective about time.  You have a greater awareness of the reality of time not being guaranteed... It’s not a “given...” that life and the length of time of life is truly the most precious of gifts we possess.   That’s something we seem to lose sight of in the day to day routines of life that seems to get underscored when someone we love dies.   This New Years I’m a bit somber about that as I recall burying a friend at age 47 this past September after a somewhat brief (but much longer than the doctors expected) battle with cancer.  A year ago, my friend Tim Groves ahead ago was surprised to have made it to see 2013.  And those last 9 months - I think for his family and friends - it's going to take some more time to reflect on some of the lessons, the blessings that extra time brought amidst the pain and sorrow.

Tim’s tragic death wasn't the only dramatic reminder about the precious gift of life and of time.   A week and a half ago, on December 20th, Msgr. Joseph Petrillo, the pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes in West Orange which was my first parish assignment as a priest and who was the second pastor I served with for close to 6 years - very shockingly and unexpectedly was found dead in his rooms in the rectory.    After successfully beating cancer over 8 years ago, he suffered a sudden heart attack at the age of 66.  Again, the preciousness of life and time hit home as the incredibly shock of this death hit all of us- most especially his family and friends and the people of that great  parish. 

As I think of the precious gift of time - I find myself revisiting this past year.  What did I do with this precious gift of time -- 365 days for the purposes of this "New Years" - but in fact all time?   How did I give glory to God?  How did I fail Him? 

A year ago, I didn’t know that I would be asked to become the Vocation Director for the Archdiocese of Newark as well as continue serving as Campus Minister at Montclair State University.  I would never have imagined Pope Benedict XVI would resign as Pope and that I would providentially find myself in Rome, standing in the front row to history in St. Peter’s Square as Pope Francis first emerged after being elected the new Pope.

While the deaths of loved ones – or of people close to other loved ones; and sharing their grief – obviously brings some somber memories - the images of new little ones faces bring a joy and hope that only life and the birth of time for these little ones renews in all our hearts.  This is where Facebook is an actual blessing - seeing pictures of all these little faces popping up - sons and daughters of couples I know, worked with - prepared for Marriage.  Getting news of pregnancies and expected children in 2014 – all of that is a unique joy being a priest.  That along with the joy of seeing my God-kids and my three nieces grow is a special blessing.

I suppose for me this “pause” of reflection just highlights the importance in remembering that God created each and everyone of us as unique, special individuals and has given us this precious gift of time - which somewhat arbitrarily we pay attention with a year concluding and a new one beginning.   But as we do that - pay attention, reflect - we have to be careful how we do that. 

We don’t look at the births around us to “even out” the deaths we experienced.  Nor can we look to take stock of the year in an accounting fashion to see if the joys outweigh the pains (or did we at least break even?)  That neglects in the times of sorrow or failure the true beauty of love between families and friends that were shared in true, meaningful, selfless and sacrificial ways that weren’t needed to be as expressed in times of joy and success.  Sadly in so many retrospectives of 2013 this reality is lost.  A few days ago there was an annual “rite” in Times square where people “threw away” 2013 bidding it “good riddance.”

That’s where the wisdom of the Church offers us an alternative.  Very simply, at the Vatican on New Years Eve they pray “Vespers” - “Evening Prayer.”  It’s an opportunity to praise God, to worship Him, to pray an ancient hymn of gratitude from the 4th Century called the Te Deum (which is ordinarily apart of the start of our daily prayer).  

A year ago, when Pope Benedict XVI, unbeknownst to us was leading the Church into the New Year for the last time, he said this before the singing of the Te Deum -

The Te Deum we are raising to the Lord this evening, at the end of a solar year, is a hymn of thanksgiving that opens with praise: “We praise you, O God: We acclaim you as Lord” — and ends with a profession of trust — “in you, Lord, we put our trust; we shall not be put to shame”. However the year went, whether it was easy or difficult, barren or fruitful, let us give thanks to God. Indeed the Te Deum contains deep wisdom, that wisdom which makes us say that in spite of all good exists in the world and that this good is bound to win thanks be to God, the God of Jesus Christ, who was born, died and rose again.

At times of course it is hard to understand this profound reality, because evil is noisier than goodness; an atrocious murder, widespread violence, grave forms of injustice hit the headlines; whereas acts of love and service, the daily effort sustained with fidelity and patience are often left in the dark, they pass unnoticed. For this reason too, we cannot stop at reading the news if we wish to understand the world and life; we must be able to pause in silence, in meditation, in calm, prolonged reflection; we must know how to stop and think. In this way our mind can find healing from the inevitable wounds of daily life, it can penetrate the events that occur in our life and in the world and can attain that wisdom which makes it possible to see things with new eyes. 


My brothers and sisters, I invite you to join me in closing 2013 and entering 2014 - not with regret, not with anxiety, not with ridiculousness so often on display this holiday, not with extremes of emotions - but simply in awe, in wonder, in prayer of thanksgiving to God for the many blessings around us - most especially for the gift of Life and of Time.

With my sincere Love - and heartfelt wishes Happy New Year!

(A musical version of the TeDeum "God We Praise You")



O God, we praise Thee, and acknowledge Thee to be the supreme Lord.
Everlasting Father, all the earth worships Thee.
All the Angels, the heavens and all angelic powers,
All the Cherubim and Seraphim, continuously cry to Thee:
Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts!
Heaven and earth are full of the Majesty of Thy glory.
The glorious choir of the Apostles,
The wonderful company of Prophets,
The white-robed army of Martyrs, praise Thee.
Holy Church throughout the world acknowledges Thee:
The Father of infinite Majesty;
Thy adorable, true and only Son;
Also the Holy Spirit, the Comforter.
O Christ, Thou art the King of glory!
Thou art the everlasting Son of the Father.
When Thou tookest it upon Thyself to deliver man,
Thou didst not disdain the Virgin's womb.
Having overcome the sting of death, Thou opened the Kingdom of Heaven to all
believers.
Thou sitest at the right hand of God in the glory of the Father.
We believe that Thou willst come to be our Judge.
We, therefore, beg Thee to help Thy servants whom Thou hast redeemed with Thy
Precious Blood.
Let them be numbered with Thy Saints in everlasting glory.

V.  Save Thy people, O Lord, and bless Thy inheritance!
R.  Govern them, and raise them up forever.

V.  Every day we thank Thee.
R.  And we praise Thy Name forever, yes, forever and ever.

V.  O Lord, deign to keep us from sin this day.
R.  Have mercy on us, O Lord, have mercy on us.

V.  Let Thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us, for we have hoped in Thee.
R.  O Lord, in Thee I have put my trust; let me never be put to shame.

ELIMINATING CHRIST

Hi everyone, here's my homily for the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.  The readings for today's Mass can be found at:  http://usccb.org/bible/readings/122913.cfm.  Thanks so much for reading, sharing this blog and for your feedback and comments.  MERRY  CHRISTMAS!  God's Blessings on you and yours in the New Year! - Fr. Jim
THANKS TO ALL WHO'VE HELPED IN OUR NEWMAN CATHOLIC AT MONTCLAIR STATE CHRISTMAS APPEAL AS WE CONTINUE TO BRING CHRIST AND HIS CHURCH TO OUR STUDENTS - YOU MAKE THE DIFFERENCE:  check out www.MSUNEWMAN.com FOR MORE INFORMATION.  Thank You!!!


 HOMILY:
           In recent years, weve seen with greater anger and animosity the so-called War on Christmas.  There's arguments over singing religious Christmas carols in public schools; The  legality of displaying a nativity scene on public property; debates over whether saying Merry Christmas is insensitive and that instead Happy Holidays is a less objectionable alternative (which covers everything from Hanukah, Kwanza, Christmas and New Years)

            All of it just seems incredibly ridiculous.  That people argue that theres proselytizing simply by the singing of Silent Night by children or that they are threatened by the sight of Mary, Joseph and the infant Jesus in a manger scene seems to be the very definition of ridiculous.   In a society where supposedly being tolerant is the noblest of virtues, weve somehow become less respectful of one another and much more easily insulted at even the mere perception of a slight towards our viewpoint, our beliefs.  This is true of us Christians too, by the way, and how we react and respond to some of these challenges.

            For the most part, Ive tried not to allow these annual debates to bother me. But one thing that has troubled me in the midst of this escalating war on Christmas has been a somewhat new tradition.  A group of atheists who each year purchase billboards expressing their opposition to Christmas.  A few years ago there was a picture of the nativity scene with a headline saying YOU KNOW ITS A MYTH - THIS SEASON CELEBRATE REASON.  That was followed up with the  THERES PROBABLY NO GOD (love the qualification in this one) NOW STOP WORRYING AND ENJOY YOUR LIFE.  Which led to this years billboard in Times Square right in time for the season, asking:  WHO NEEDS CHRIST IN CHRISTMAS? NOBODY.

            When I heard about it, and saw it, what struck me was that this wasnt simply advocating that one group should be sensitive to other peoples beliefs... this wasnt promoting a different ideology or holiday.  It quite directly demonstrates a hatred towards God; a hatred towards Jesus Christ.  Just think about it how much time or energy do we spend on things that we dont believe in?  As Ive said to my students at Montclair State numerous times - I dont believe in the Buddha - but I dont think about Buddha.  I dont get angry when I go to the Chinese restaurant that I order take out from and see a Buddha statue there and refuse to order from them again - I dont argue with Buddhists that theyre wasting their time.  I dont believe in the Buddha, so he doesnt really enter into my thoughts much other than sharing this example.  And he definitely doesnt invoke a passionate, anger filled wrath that causes me to hire a marketing company, a graphic designer, purchase billboard space and angrily denounce him, his existence and mock those who do believe in him and his teachings.

            Which is why that billboard is troubling.  Because it reveals that theres obviously people who want to eliminate Christ.  Sadly, not just from our observance of Christmas.  For some, Jesus is troubling... threatening.   To what?  To their self interests.  To their pursuits of power, material things.  To their beliefs that the accumulation of these things will somehow guarantee security in this life.  To the arrogance that we are the masters of our destinies. 

             Looking at the Gospel today we see that this is nothing new.   Here we are in the midst of celebrating the season of Christs Birth, we come to this Christmas feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph and what does the Gospel recount for us?  That not long after a star leads the Magi to behold the Christ Child, not long after the glad tidings of angels to shepherds announcing Jesus birth by proclaiming GLORY TO GOD IN THE HIGHEST AND ON EARTH, PEACE TO PEOPLE OF GOOD WILL - we see the lack of peace in people of not-Good will.  King Herod is so paranoid by this newborn, so obsessed in his hatred of this royalty he has never met, so blind in his rage and fury - that he takes no chances.  He orders the slaughter of every Jewish infant boy.  As this horrendous evil is being inflicted in the first attempt to eliminate Christ from Christmas, Joseph takes the family and flees to Egypt.

            Whats so troubling is that the evil in Herods heart is so all consuming that it inflicts evil on other innocents.  And there's a part of us that might wonder. Why would God allow this horror to take place?  Quite simply it's always been about choice, about our greatest of gifts given to us by God - free will.  From Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden - they are given but one command... Serpent tricks and finger pointing at one another aside - they each decided for themselves not to follow Gods law and found themselves outside of paradise, regretting that choice for the rest of their lives.  Longing for a day to return.

            Which God so lovingly, lavishly, generously gives us in the intimate encounter of God becoming man in Jesus Christ.  No longer would humanity need to read signs, hear words of prophets for direction... God becomes one with us and one of us.  He makes himself vulnerable and accessible.  What threat does an infant pose?   How much security or protection is there in these blessed and loving people but materially poor people - Joseph and Mary.  Yet we see that God becoming man, God entering into our human story in Christ at the first Christmas evokes two extreme responses:  unspeakable evil and horror vs the selflessness and complete abandonment of will in sacrificial love of Mary and Joseph.  That's why 20 centuries later the names Herod and Mary and Joseph immediately conjure up two very different images.  One of a ruthless tyrant... The other as members of The Holy Family.

            In This Christmas of 2013, the choice, the stark contrast of extremes remains the same.  The impulse for us to fight back is a very human temptation.  For example - There's been reports of vandalism done to atheist billboards.  And it's a very human thing to equivocate the different evils as a way of trying to justify our actions.  We find it hard not to fall into the same silly games Adam and Eve did - pointing fingers as to who started this all and made us do some of the uncharitable things we do in this noble fight FOR Christ FOR Christmas.

            But it seems that we are challenged once again by the poverty and simplicity of the Holy Family, by the examples of Mary and Joseph.  To recognize the precious, precious gift that our Heavenly  Father has entrusted to us.   That he enters into our homes, our lives as Jesus Christ.  Will we prize this as the most precious treasure we possess and are unwilling to diminish the value and meaning of the gift.   Will we let our loving attitudes, our selfless examples, will be the ultimate witness answering who needs Christ in Christmas?  We do... For Christmas and every other day of our lives.

AND THE WORD BECAME FLESH


MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!  My prayers and best wishes to you and your family.  Thanks for sharing this blog, all your feedback and comments.  God Bless - Fr. Jim

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came to be through him,
and without him nothing came to be.
What came to be through him was life,
and this life was the light of the human race;
the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.
The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He was in the world,
and the world came to be through him,
but the world did not know him.
He came to what was his own,
but his own people did not accept him.

But to those who did accept him
he gave power to become children of God,
to those who believe in his name,
who were born not by natural generation
nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision
but of God.
And the Word became flesh
and made his dwelling among us,
and we saw his glory,
the glory as of the Father’s only Son,
full of grace and truth.  - Jn 1:1-5, 9-14

HOMILY:
 
And the word became flesh...

Not too long ago, I encountered a student who once he realized the total black outfit I was wearing wasn't a fashion statement (as he asked "are you a priest?") somewhat quickly, peculiarly said "I don't believe in God." 
 

Six and a half years ago, such a encounter walking on the University campus where I serve as Chaplain to would've startled me or confused me -  why would someone go out of their way to tell me about something they don't believe in?  But experience has revealed that such bold declarations aren't about looking for a fight (even if they come across as provocative). Usually the ellipses that are invisible in normal conversation (you know, the three little dots or periods that tell you there's more there) if they were filled in, I think, would say but I used to, or I wish I could.
 

This campus encounter is by no means isolated or unique.   Right in time for Christmas, a poll a week ago revealed that the percentage of people who believe in God has continued to drop over the years and has reached a new low of only 75% of all people believing in God (http://www.upi.com/Health_News/2013/12/22/US-belief-in-God-down-belief-in-theory-of-evolution-up/UPI-24081387762886/)

 
People speculate the reasons for this trend downwards:  

Our sophistication in a world that seems to be rapidly developing more gadgets and devices that isolate us into ourselves (even as they promise to keep us more connected to one another).  

Our own personal struggles that deteriorate our faith in countless ways on a daily basis.   Families going through some strife - Mom and Dad are fighting, or the kids are having problems that there's not an easy answer to... Grandma isn't doing so well... Grandpa passed away... Someone's been out of work and they're not sure how to make ends meet.   Maybe all of the above and then some.   When people are experiencing those types of hardships that weigh on their hearts, that definitely undermines people's belief in a God who loves us, who cares for us... a God who exists...

Then there's our lack of faith and trust in one another.  Polls indicate that we as Americans rate all of our lawmakers, no matter what their party affiliation, with great disdain and feel that the government is our biggest threat (a government we elected by the way).  If that's accurate, that we have so little trust in one another, and our earthly leaders well, it's no wonder that belief and trust in a God who remains hidden from human eyes would suffer significant doubt. 

And yet, in the midst of the chaos that we have made of the Christmas season - the full extent of which hit me as I risked my life at a super market yesterday after somewhat naively asking my brother "hey you need anything from the store?" What is Christmas really all about?  Christmas is about God removing the veil that hid him from our view.

Christmas is about God revealing himself no longer through the words of prophets, or through incredible visible feats that needed to be recounted and interpreted by others.

Christmas is about God becoming very visible to human eyes.

Christmas is about God becoming one with us and remaining with us.

Thats the most essential point, the truest, eternal gift of Christmas Jesus Christ, God becoming man, the word becoming flesh. 

Thats why our hearts are moved to see the beautiful simplicity of a baby in a manger with two new parents.  As we gaze on them, as we reflect on the scene we can relate to it.  We can imagine for Mary and Joseph, sure they are filled with wonder and awe.  The birth of a beautiful baby boy not to mention angelic sights and sounds in the backgroundthats the joyful part of the story.

But we cant dismiss the real human drama of what they were facing.  No room at an inn, so they end up in a manger Their fears, their anxieties, their doubts over the whole situation theyre faced with.  As poetic and beautiful as we like to romanticize the scene more than likely it wasnt a Silent night, holy night for a very long time.

Yet in the midst of that lying there is our God.  Jesus the word became flesh.  And in that becoming visible, becoming really present to us- Heaven and Earth touch and unite for the first time in the history of human history since the rift that began in the Garden of Eden when our first ancestors turned away from God and first introduced sin into humanity.  To this day, we all know all too well how we still struggle with the realities of sin manifesting itself in all those things that cause us to doubt God and want to choose our own way (somehow imagining that this time it will work better)  Yes, falling for the same temptations, and then feeling the effects of that fall, those painful choices.

But the promise of Christmas is that Jesus Christs entrance into humanity, His becoming flesh wasnt limited to a moment of human history.  He remains here, accessible to us, among us even in the midst of our own struggles, our own fears, our own temptations and grief and sorrow Jesus is here.   

If we can begin to look for Him in the love and kindness and generosity of one another rather than making him some heavenly Santa to answer grown up Christmas lists containing some heavy stuff we find something greater, something more important than we can ever imagine.

The word becoming flesh.  Dwelling among us.  Remaining with us.  May the joy of this eternal truth we recollect tonight fill our hearts with the true meaning of Christmas.  Inviting us to recognize once again his presence among us
and on our part, choosing to remain with Him.

WHY THE WORLD LOVES POPE FRANCIS

Hi everyone - here's my homily for the THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT - December 15, 2013.  The readings for today can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/121513.cfm  As always, thanks for reading, for sharing the blog and your comments and feedback.  They are much appreciated.

HOMILY:

This past week, Time Magazine made their annual announcement of their selection of "Person of the Year." By now I think that a vast majority - including those of you who don’t that Time Magazine still exists - knows that they selected our Holy Father Pope Francis for this distinction. Not that Pope Francis doesn’t deserve the recognition, but I think there was shock both from inside and outside the Church that the editors of a very mainstream, current events magazine like Time would pick Pope Francis. Particularly when you hear some of the people who were his competition: 
- Kathleen Sebelieus - HHS Secretary and Sen Ted Cruz who, whatever your opinion of Obamacare, both of them made lots of news (for different reasons) over that law.

- The founder of Amazon Jeff Bezos who recently purchased one of the leading newspapers in the US - The Washington Post;

- Miley Cyrus, the former "Hannah Montana" child star who’s kind of gone off in a different direction as of late;

-and Edward Snowden, the whistleblower living in exile in Russia to avoid prosecution for his revelations (especially the National Security Agency’s tapping our phones).

Hearing that list of prospective candidates, to me Pope Francis smokes any of his competition - but I admit, I’m biased on all of this(just an FYI, if you should ever meet a priest who thinks Miley Cyrus should beat Pope Francis for Person of the Year, yeah, you want to avoid them)

What’s been fascinating is that Time’s selection of Pope Francis as Person of the Year isn’t just an isolated thing of praise of him from outside the Church. The Holy Father (who remember has only been Pope 9 months) has enjoyed somewhat unprecedented acclamation in this media-age of ours:  Headlines on as diverse sites as The Huffington Post saying "We love him" and Gawker.com’s: "Our cool new pope". Commentators on the cable news network MSNBC has been gushing in their praise.

Celebrities have chimed in as well:
- Late night tv host Jimmy Kimmel tweeting: "More like Pope Fran…tastic! #greatchoiceguys!

- Singer, songwriter Elton John, who’s been quite critical of the Church in the past, was interviewed by Vanity Fair magazine a few months ago and said "[Pope] Francis is a miracle of humility in an era of vanity" and that "[Pope Francis’s] beacon of hope will bring more light than any advancement of science, because no drug has the power of love."

- Even comedian Chris Rock tweeted a few weeks ago: "I might be crazy, but I got this weird feeling that the new pope might be the greatest man alive."

It’s a bit surreal to see and hear all of that. There’s often an over-emphasis on the more
(Loved these pics of Pope Francis yesterday visiting a Children's
Hospital in Rome Italy - which went "viral")
cynical and negative in the media. Most times, when the Catholic Church is concerned, well we’re almost a punch line of ridicule from so many corners of the world because of our beliefs and teachings. Sometimes some of our public failures: – scandals revealing some horrific sinful things that individuals committed, examples of hypocrisy that are infuriatingly arrogant and embarrassing - seem to eclipse the vast majority of good the Church has done. All of that makes this praise for Pope Francis so extraordinary.

Among Catholics there’s almost this skepticism about the attention. Some think it’s a plot to build the Pope up so that they can tear him down later. Others believe that this is simply the "honeymoon period" for a new Pope that once he speaks at greater length on some more controversial topics, he will be dismissed as out of touch (as were his predecessors) and still others think that people are kind of using Pope Francis’ warmness and gentleness in approach as a blank canvas where they kind of throw their own beliefs and hopes of what they want the Church to believe or say about certain issues.

While there’s a part of those theories that might be partially true, I do think that there’s something else going on. Which I think we can pick up in the conclusion to the Time magazine piece that said: These days it is bracing to hear a leader say anything that annoys anyone. Now liberals and conservatives alike face a choice as they listen to a new voice of conscience: Which matters more, that this charismatic leader is saying things they think need to be said or that he is also saying things they’d rather not hear? The heart is a strong muscle; he’s proposing a rigorous exercise plan. And in a very short time, a vast, global, ecumenical audience has shown a hunger to follow him.

That’s what it is – on the surface it’s this hunger to follow him... that there is this fascination, this cheerleading from people and corners of the world that some of us (myself included) never imagined we’d see. But the thing is Pope Francis is tapping into something global, something deep and vast that is hitting all corners of the globe. For what?:

For Jesus.

Some people might think that’s controversial or provocative. And I’m not saying people are lining up for mass-conversions to Christianity (at least not yet). But when we get down to it, that’s what’s going on here. That there’s a God-shaped whole in the heart and soul of every human being. That for many throughout the world they’ve been trying to fill it with things, with power, with pursuits for things - all of which left them empty, unfulfilled or unsatisfied. And so when this man appears on the scene and is able to communicate eternal truths in a new way, it gets people’s attention (Time put it this way - "[Francis] is simply saying what Popes before him have said...—only he’s saying it in a way that people seem to be hearing differently.)

Which is why as "new" as this Pope might feel - it’s simply that the Word of God is alive, is active and coming to us through his words and actions in our day and age in a new way, that is simply communicating a universal, eternal message. We just read in the Gospel that 2,000 years ago the world was a very similar place. The people that were going to John the Baptist, were all looking for that deep, eternal hunger to be filled for God. John’s preaching (which we heard last week and which landed him in jail in today’s Gospel) proclaiming that the Lord, the Creator of the entire universe, He is not some distant transcendent being who simply whipped the world into creation and stands idly by disinterested. He is not some other worldly master and ruler that wants us slavishly being obedient to him lest he wipes us out. No we have a Lord who is a Father that is so in love, so interested in you... in me... in each and every member of His creation that He desires friendship, intimacy, union with us. He desires to bring us ultimate fulfillment where the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, and the dead are raised – He wants to fulfill all those true needs that long to be healed rather than the false ones we’ve been led to believe are so important. That fulfillment, those hopes and dreams are found in the God become man Jesus Christ.

Ultimately, objectively, when we look at both Pope Francis and John the Baptist - people were not reacting to them personally. John the Baptist is wearing hairshirts, eating locusts and honey in the desert (not too pretty) Pope Francis is a 76 year old man who doesn’t even speak English. The reason they attract universal attention is not because of who they are, but rather whose they are. As sophisticated and evolved as we have become as a society 2,000 years later, the world is still intrigued once again by the Hope that Jesus brings to humanity. As the curiosity of those taking a second look at Christianity – they are in a real way asking those of us who come here week after week for our answer. This Jesus is He "the one who is to come?" May the joy of being in relationship with Jesus be evident in our lives, as it is in Pope Francis’, to say "Yes - come and see yourself."

NOTHING WILL BE IMPOSSIBLE FOR GOD

Hi everyone here's my homily for the SOLEMNITY OF THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION OF MARY - The readings can be found at  http://usccb.org/bible/readings/120913.cfm.  Many thanks for reading and sharing this blog and your feedback.  God Bless!

Often times we can forget the fact that when were reading scriptures, particularly the Gospel writers aren't on the scene reporters giving us an eyewitness testimony of what they witness.   Biblical experts tell us that the earliest of New Testament writings were probably the letters of St. Paul.  And as the years passed from Jesus death, resurrection and ascension, the pentecost experience with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the disciples, the taking shape and steady growth of the early Christian Churches, that eventually these different Church communities started to compile the Christian story - not unlike a family wanting to preserve their family history.

That thought came to mind in a new way praying with this Gospel passage this morning.  Because it's a reminder that Mary had to have been the one who shared one of the most intimate of experiences ever known between humanity and the divine.... her vocation story.   And I can't help but think that of all of the words the angel Gabriel shared with her in this Annunciation, the ones that must have been among the most powerful, most memorable ever spoken were: 

Nothing will be impossible for God

Mary must not only have cherished these words in her heart,
they had to have been a source of comfort...
a remedy to doubt...
an invitation to deeper faith, deeper hope, deeper Love. 

And probably the depth of meaning of those words from their original proclamation to the moment she shared them with the Early Church community must've changed in ways she could never have imagined that day this event took place.  It must be similar to when Grandparents reflecting on their 50th Anniversary of their wedding and think back to what it was like when they became husband and wife and first shared their sacred vows to one another.   On the wedding day, there was joy and excitement; perhaps fear; but the full meaning of for better or worse...sickness and health... good times and bad could only be fully appreciated in retrospect, as the colors of the masterpiece that God envisioned for them on their wedding day come into fuller view.  That's what it must've been for Mary recounting the words of the Angel to her at the Annunciation to the Early Church: 
-       Perhaps she thought about moments after the angel left her and now having to share this heavenly news with Joseph, an upright Jewish man who she loved and who she knew loved her.  In that moment, maybe she wondered "how's he ever going to believe this?"
                        Nothing will be impossible for God
-       The baby is coming - where do we go, what do we do?
                         Nothing will be impossible for God
-       People want to kill this baby as a persecution unfolds through Herods jealous wrath?  What's going to happen to him? To us?
 Nothing will be impossible for God

Throughout her life, as she embraced this divine call, as said yes to God to the vocation of motherhood of Jesus Christ...  She must've had many of these types of moments, and this encounter with this Angel, these heavenly words that she shared with the Church, that St Luke preserved for us for all generations in this family history of ours, had to have been a tremendous source of strength for her. 

They also teach us something important to remember about vocations.  This vocation wasn't God assigning Mary a task and then abandoning her to set about in accomplishing it on her own.  Her vocation was an invitation to be a cooperator, to draw even closer to Him in seemingly impossible ways and to be amazed in the end at all that was accomplished.

That's one reason we call Mary, Mother of priests. That's why Mary is seen as the perfect disciple.   That's why she occupies such a. privileged place in the life of the Church and the life of us Catholic Christians.  She reminds us of that same reality for each of us.  That God is calling you and I to things that might seem outlandish, seem ridiculous, seem ludicrous, seem so outside of what we planned or conceived they might even seem impossible.    


On this great feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary I pray that all of us take this day to recall how from our conceptions, God too has a plan for us, an invitation for us to serve Him,love Him in a way that only you and I can accomplish... Maybe its a call to Priesthood or religious life.  Maybe its a call to deeper holiness, or more dedicated service.  Maybe its a renewal of what youve been called to already and a reminder that vocation is a precious intimate gift that God has given you but that we need to keep going to him for the instructions on how to fully utilize that gift.   Whatever that is for you and I, may we be open to these plans of God.   As we allow that plan to unfold, may Mary's testimony be a similar comfort to us... May the words spoken to her call us to deeper faith, hope and love... The fullness of which will only truly be understood in retrospect:   Nothing will be impossible for God.

UNSOLICITED ADVICE

Hi everyone, here's my homily for the SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT - December 8, 2013.  The readings can be found at http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/120813.cfm.  As always, thanks for reading, sharing the blog and your feedback and comments.  They're always much appreciated! 

-- A quick Christmas commercial here.  Our Newman Center is in the midst of our Annual Christmas Appeal.  We appreciate your considering helping us as we continue to serve the college students here at Montclair State University.  Read more about it here , there's a Paypal link available if you wish to make an online donation.  THANK YOU!


HOMILY:

A duck goes into a bar and orders a shot of vodka and drinks it.
He orders another and drinks it.
He orders another and drinks it.
This happens another three times when a lady sitting nearby says to the duck "You know drinking like that isn't good for you, You could get liver disease; you’re kidney’s could start to deteriorate, you’re risking heart failure"
The duck says "My grandfather lived to be 107 years old." So the lady said "Did he drink a lot?"
And the duck said "No, but he knew how to mind his own business."

There is a reason we call some things "unsolicited advice." - It’s unsolicited... It’s being given without being asked for and more often than not, we don’t want to hear it - let alone following it!. Parents are often accused of being guilty of this by their children (with NO age limit being attached to either party); in-laws too, allegedly give out scads of unwarranted opinions and advise; and of course "they" give us a lot of advise...

They say to buckle your seatbelts when you drive

They say don’t put the volume too loud when you’re listening to your Ipod or MP3 player

They say you need to get 8 hours of sleep a night

They say they say orange juice is the best source of vitamin C; make sure you eat well/healthy

They say don’t talk (or text!!) on your cell phone when you’re driving

No one is really quite sure who "they" are , but "they say" and more often than not we tend to go along with it. And, if we’re honest with ourselves, from the duck getting plastered at a bar - to me not driving without my seat belt on as I’m on my cell phone... whether we want the unsolicited advise or not, very often it proves helpful and in some cases even necessary:

Tonight the season of Advent – the season where we focus on the "coming’s of Christ" shifts a bit… last week the readings had us focus on Christ’s coming at the end of time remembering how we are living in an age, an "advent" of anticipation of His final coming… in a couple weeks the scriptures we’ll have us return to Bethlehem, recalling that historic first coming of Christ… But there’s another coming of Christ that Advent remind us of. How Jesus comes to us today – here and now.

We don’t gather every Sunday to remember something that this person Jesus said 2,000 years ago as we eagerly await his return. We come face to face – heart to heart with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ here and now, in our day, in our age. He comes to us in our encounters with one another, particularly in how we love one another, care for one another, love our enemies… He comes to us in this place where we will receive His Body and Blood in the Eucharist which He left as His eternal abiding presence for us. He comes to us in this His word – His scriptures, which when they are proclaimed, they are spoken anew.


And in this "fresh" proclamation of tonight’s Gospel we have this character, and oh boy, what a character he is who gives unsolicited or unwelcome advice. John the Baptist - this man who’s eccentric at best - He’s sitting out there in the desert, eating grasshoppers and wild honey, wearing the equivalent of a grain sack and a belt. I’m guessing personal hygiene may not have been one of his strong points either. And yet the gospel claims: "At that time Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole region around the Jordan were going out to him." And they’re not going out just to see some sort of a circus freak... John the Baptist has something to say to anyone who will listen: "Repent and reform your lives! The reign of God is at hand."

We even hear that these important people in the Jewish faith - the Pharisees and Sadducees – even they came out to hear John the Baptist, because although he’s seen as a little weird - well tons of people were going to him and listening to him (some even thinking he was the messiah)- so the Pharisees and Saducees go and check him out and what does he do? He calls them a bunch of poisonous snakes; He says to them they can’t just claim that because they are Jews making them God’s Chosen People that’s some sort of an insurance policy making them all good with God. While John is on a roll he says "oh and another thing Pharisees and Saducees your work as religious leaders stinks. That was unsolicited and unwelcome enough - but when he tells them what they have to do, that’s even worse - Prepare the way of the Lord - and how? REPENT.

Like the duck - there probably was a bunch of them who wanted to tell John to mind his own business! And for a lot of us, we can have a similar reaction... because "repenting" means perhaps, just perhaps we’ve done some things wrong that need to change, that there are some areas in our life that need reform and human nature being human nature, we often don’t want that unsolicited advice. We need it, but we don’t want it.

The reason that when we come to Mass tonight and we find that we’re not into the FALALA and HO HO HO’s and Deck the Halls stuff is because John the Baptist speaks to us today to remind us that all of that is meaningless if Christmas isn’t about Jesus Christ and what He is about. And what is He about?

He’s about making you and I right with God.

He’s about making you and I right with each other.

He’s about bringing that Light into the darkness

He’s about bringing ultimately bringing about that day when those beautiful visions of Isaiah in the first reading aren’t just visions but a reality.

When you think about it - how often do we complain about all that’s wrong with the world? We want Peace throughout the world - it sounds so cheesy because we have a vision of a Miss USA contestant saying that in answer to "What is your greatest wish" "world Peace".

So we give some unsolicited advice for God - yeah - make that happen God. Oh, God, by the way - I want peace in my families, in my dorms, in my classes, in my workplaces too... make that happen.

And that’s why John the Baptist interrupts our lives, interrupts our busy, busy schedules and says - Repent - don’t count on the fact that you were baptized, and received your sacraments to say that you and God are all good when you know there are things that have separated you from God - separated you from one another. Repent because we won’t ever find world peace, we won’t have peace in our relationships until we have peace in our own lives. John the Baptist reminds us that We can’t celebrate the true meaning of Christmas - that God has come to us – until we realize we’ve messed up the paths for Him to come into our hearts and our lives right here and right now. We’ve made them crooked, we have things blocking that path and John the Baptist is saying take this opportunity, take this time to "clean that up - straighten that path out."

Two thousand plus years later that’s the message of John the Baptist who is still that voice crying out in the wilderness and that’s the unsolicited advise he gives to us today. Some of us may find it amusing, much like some fairy tale. Others may find it annoying and think like our friend the drunken duck - that John the Baptist, the Church and all the clergy would do a lot better if they minded their own business. But if we’re honest with ourselves, whether we want the unsolicited advise or not, very often it proves helpful and in some cases even necessary - especially if we truly desire this Merry Christmas we keep hearing about.

BLACK FRIDAY EVE (Formerly Thanksgiving Day)

Hi everyone... here's my homily "BLACK FRIDAY EVE (Formerly known as Thanksgiving)" for the FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT - DECEMBER 1, 2013.  The readings for today can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/120113.cfm .  Thanks as always for reading, sharing the blog and your feedback and comments.  God Bless!  Fr. Jim
THIS CHRISTMAS, PLEASE CONSIDER HELPING NEWMAN CATHOLIC AT MONTCLAIR STATE AS WE CONTINUE TO BRING CHRIST AND HIS CHURCH TO OUR STUDENTS - YOU MAKE THE DIFFERENCE:  check out www.MSUNEWMAN.com FOR MORE INFORMATION.  Thank You!!!


HOMILY:
This past Thursday night, driving back to Montclair, I was still kind of feeling the happiness and the joy of a beautiful thanksgiving with my family. It’s something I’ve gotten to appreciate over the years - the time, the effort, the preparation that goes into this. Between the cleaning of the house, the shopping for the groceries, the making of the meal - my parents spent a great deal of time, effort and money just so that we could all gather together for this truly American Feast Day that was originated hundreds of years ago as a day to pause and give thanks to God for his many blessings. Something unique among all the nations of the world, that we’re the first nation to make a national holiday to Thank God.

As I was driving home in the midst of some heavy traffic, I couldn’t help but notice the parking lot packed at a local shopping center. And I found myself getting just as ticked off as I had been in the lead up to Thanksgiving as more and more stores announced they were "breaking tradition for the first time in their history" and opening on Thanksgiving Day. Not that we should’ve been surprised. "Black Friday" (so named to note when stores make enough profit that they’re in the "black") had been starting earlier and earlier in recent years - 6 am, 5 am, 3 am - midnight... I hate shopping period... could never imagine waking up early (when you don’t have to) just to shop. Well it was almost a game of chicken between stores opening earlier and earlier. And once it happened, someone opened before Midnight, its gottten more and more out of hand – You’re opening at 10 PM Thanskgiving Night, well then we’re going to open at 8 PM.... OH YEAH??? We’re open ALL DAY! I think we went from no one being open Thanksgiving Day last year to the point that this year a majority of stores (and Malls) opened at least in the evening on Thanksgiving if not for the entire day. I’m afraid to ask who’s going to go after Christmas next and decide to stay open all Christmas Eve into Christmas Day.

I’m not trying to make people who went shopping on Black Friday Eve (which we used to call Thanksgiving Day) feel bad. I have friends and family who’ve made this a bonding time that they look forward too. And I don’t want to go through a litany of stories about near-riots over $98 Television sets. Go google that if you want to read about that relatively recent annual tradition that happens now as a result of all this (and while you’re googling that, take a look at some financial news stories that prove how people don’t really end up getting any greater deals on Black Friday then they could’ve on Veterans Day or in a week or two)

Why it’s bothered me so much is that it really is an assault on our collective need for a

"Sabbath" - for a day of rest - for a pause from the ordinary, the routine, the rat-race, the stress. That used to be done on a weekly basis on Sundays. For those of you from Bergen County where "blue laws" still exist and malls are closed on Sunday’s (which I still wonder how long they will be able to hold out on that) that used to be common everywhere. This notion of "Sabbath" – which it was one of the big 10 that God commanded of us by the way (actually, last time I checked the Bible, it still is) – and its meant for us to do on a weekly basis... At least on Thanksgiving, this was one of the few times left that we as a nation we did this. Stop and give thanks to God for His blessings and to enjoy those blessings. I can’t help but feel sad that for so many people who had to work that day - those who are trying to make ends meet, those trying to support their families who had no choice but to work that day. This "truce" which used to exist to give everyone a break has been violated and that we’re all stressing each other out even more than we already were. But what’s bothered me even more is this deeper issues: that more and more of us are buying into the lie that what matters, what’s most important is that we need to buy stuff in order for Christmas to be Christmas.

What we really need are pauses, we need breaks, we need space to focus on more important things, more eternal things. For example, for me and my family this Thanksgiving Day, I remembered previous thanksgivings where a loved one was seriously ill and we could barely even eat we were so racked with anxiety; or years when someone who had been with us the previous year was no longer with us - and that pain could never be alleviated by purchasing a door buster... it could only be soothed by being around others who shared that pain. Those thanksgivings that were "hard to get through" reminded all of us – whether we were the most devout of Catholic-Christians or even those who might be "somewhat agnostic" – that there exists more important things than those of this world. And that made a more peaceful, joyful Thanksgiving like this years was for me, that much more special.

That’s why this season of Advent that the Church gifts us with is so important in this manic, fast paced world of ours. That’s why when you come to Mass, you don’t hear the exultant joy of all the Christmas music being piped in all the shopping centers and in TV commercials until the actual Feast of Christmas. That’s why the Gloria that we usually sing at the beginning of Mass, which is the quintessential Christmas hymn, is omitted for now. The Church has a more subdued liturgy designed to force us to pause, to take a break, giving us some space to think about important things, breaking away from the ordinary to think of eternal things in a new way. It’s not like we who gather here don’t know who’s birthday is coming that we have to pretend to be surprised Christmas Day .... And it’s not like we haven’t heard multiple times of the "end times" where Jesus will return again and this world will cease.

Advent is meant to make us remember those historical realities - one that has come and one that is to come, all from our own vantage points, from our own perspectives, from our own need to connect with that eternal, universal longing for God that exists in the heart and soul of humanity. To pause, to break, to recognize quite simply but profoundly that: We need God. We need Jesus Christ. And that’s something we need to remember each day of our lives – the length of which is an ultimate mystery to us, which is why Jesus is warning us in today’s Gospel to be awake and prepared at all times to meet him, to expect to encounter him... We need to be prepared by being connected to God all the time. Our retired Pope Benedict once said "To celebrate Advent means to bring to life within ourselves the hidden presence of God."

As we come here tonight - fresh from Thanksgiving break; anxious over the last few weeks of the semester with exams, papers and other end of the semester responsibilities looming (sorry to remind you of that), trying to get Christmas gifts for family and friends you weren’t able to purchase on Thanksgiving (Hahaha) we can list numerous ways and reasons that we’re being distracted from celebrating Advent. That Advent has become a quaint notion that remotely comes to mind when we’re able to break away from the daily stresses that seem to be multiplying on an hourly basis.

Yet the Lord is calling us to make space for just that... to pull away from all those responsibilities and reflect on these more eternal, more important - even though they remain somewhat hidden realities. To acknowledge our need, our dependence on Him. To remember that we have been given intimacy and connectedness to Him with the gift of Christmas, and even more importantly, the gift of Easter where he rose from the dead after that original "Black Friday." That His presence is within our reach (if we can let go of some of the more earthly things we feel the desperate need to cling to)

Much like taking the time to rest and recharge with loved ones at Thanksgiving (instead of rushing around shopping, seeking merely materialistic satisfaction), may this season of Advent be a graced filled time for us to acknowledge that longing in our hearts for God and reconnect with Him. Who offers himself to us as the only gift that ultimately matters: an eternity of peace, happiness and fulfillment - true fulfillment - and a joy that no one can take from us.

POPE FRANCIS HAS BECOME A PHENOMENON BY PREACHING A SIMPLE GOSPEL OF LOVE:

"Media and critics can run wild with two paragraphs of more than 40,000 words or a sidebar to a long conversation.

But what Pope Francis is saying to Catholics and the world is so much more than a headline about capitalism or abortion.

When he talks about meeting the needs of the poor, for instance — as he sounds alarms over our use and abuse of one another as disposable, as he warns against indifference — he is not only talking about material poverty. We are bodies and souls! And that’s the pope’s business: Changing lives and saving souls."

AMEN - AMEN - Read the whole thing: POPE FRANCIS HAS BECOME A PHENOMENON BY PREACHING A SIMPLE GOSPEL OF LOVE:  http://nypost.com/2013/11/30/pope-francis-has-become-a-phenomenon-by-preaching-a-simple-gospel-of-love/