THE OPPOSITE OF SONY / N KOREA

Hi everyone - here’s my homily for the FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT - DECEMBER 21, 2014. The readings for today can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/122114.cfm. Thanks as always for reading this blog, sharing it on facebook, twitter and elsewhere on the internet, and all your feedback. God Bless - Fr. Jim


As Christmas preparations begin to hit a fever pitch, could I ask you to consider a gift to our Newman Center in our Christmas Appeal?  We conduct these fundraising appeals only twice a year to help our mission of bringing Christ to our students and campus - and your generosity is greatly appreciated.  Read more at www.MSUNEWMAN.com.  Many thanks for your support and consideration.

 

HOMILY:

So how many of you have been following the story of Sony pictures getting "hacked"? To be honest, when it first surfaced a few weeks ago, I really didn’t care too much, thinking some computer-techno-wizards were doing some mischief on them for some stupid reason. Now if I understand it correctly, authorities believe North Korea is behind the attack on this film company simply because they are furious about the movie "The Interview" in which Seth Rogan and James Franco play two bafoons hired by the CIA to assassinate the president of North Korea. Things had escalated so bad from this attack (with the promise of worse things to come, including threats of terrorist attacks on movie theatres showing the film) that Sony pictures Wednesday Night canceled the release of the film.

There’s plenty for people to argue about with all of this: whether the premise of the film crossed a line or not; the caving to terroristic threats and what that means to our freedoms; the inappropriateness of stolen emails and personal, private correspondence between movie executives that were made public (and widely reported on virtually every form of media)... this story has produced all kinds of embarrassment, argument... it has so many sub-stories it’s hard to know what angle to look at. At first I thought it was kind of odd in comparison that news of Muslim extremists killing over 130 children in a school in Pakistan this week kind of moved in and out of our collective consciousness as quickly as it did. Perhaps that story is just so horrific and such a shockingly terrible atrocity that we can’t (and don’t want to) even think about. Yet, at the same time, there’s something about this Sony hacking story that resonates with all of us that there’s been a greater demand for more and more coverage of it (which is sadly how most news organizations determine what to cover and what not to).
What is it? What makes the story resonate so much? I think its that with the release of all those emails, there’s been an incredible violation of trust that has occurred. On one level, the people who wrote those emails are hurt and angry that some of their friends and colleagues in the media took advantage of this illegal attack on their company and made private, personal communications public. Even worse is the content of those emails. Often they revealed what movie executives really think of their actors and actresses in harsh, unfiltered, at times even racist tones. From calling one actress a spoiled brat, to pointing out one comedian’s long trail of failed movies - to actors ripping on one another and comparing how their movie did better than someone else's. Even saying that some of their own films were bad.



The whole thing is really ugly. And the reason I didn’t share names of specific examples is because it is so ugly. How does Sony Pictures and these hollywood actors and actresses move forward? As an industry that celebrates how "connected" everyone is to each other -from agents, to actors, to executives - I’m not sure if a lot of the people implicated in these emails (and those feasting on their being shared) realize how much damage has been done on this personal level. It’s one thing when people might speculate that "my boss isn’t telling me the truth" - or "I don’t think they like me..." it’s quite another to read the exchanges confirming that. All the public relations spin and image consultants being hired will not be able to heal some of the painful things that have been revealed.

One of the few celebrities who’s gone on the record to respond to all of this is comedian Kevin Hart - who I think makes a solid point and reveals the anger that must be shared by a lot of his fellow actors underneath the surface - "Knowing your self-worth is extremely important people... I worked extremely hard to get where I am today... I will never allow myself to be taken advantage of ... which is why I’m able to brush ignorance off my shoulder and continue to move forward. I refuse to be broken."


Knowing your self-worth... Trusting those around you. That’s essential not just in Hollywood. Everyone of us desires those things, searches for those things as well. Whether that’s jobs or relationships. It’s why you sometimes end up looking for another job - while at other times you might be shedding tears at having to leave one for another. It’s why some relationships work - and others don’t. [It’s why you as alumni over the last years have remained bonded together despite where you’ve traveled, where you’re careers have taken you. Relationships were formed here at Newman Catholic. You know you were - check that - you know that you are loved for who you are and you are able to unite as a community... centered on the truest, purest of loves - the love of God for us, made real in Jesus Christ – who is the center of Newman Catholic]

Which is why this last Sunday of Advent, as we shift our focus to recall the miraculous, amazing things bringing about Jesus’ coming into humanity, tonight we hear in the Gospel about Mary, the Blessed Mother. And there’s so many beautiful things to reflect on, but with all that negative gossip from the Sony news scandal, something hit me. What a contrast we see in the Gospel to what we so often experience in the world around us. God reveals to this young virgin girl - her incredible worth, and His trust in her. The Lord looks at her; sees her, loves her; trusts her, engages her in His plan to save all humanity. Through the visit of an angel, she is told explicitly: "Hail, full of Grace! The Lord is with you!... You have found favor with God."



In this passage from St. Luke as he shares the story of Jesus "incarnation" - just think about how God enters into humanity in the womb of Mary. That in itself is an overwhelming thing to consider, that the almighty, eternal, Holy One would step into human history in the meekest, simplest, quietest way possible. And all of this hinged on Mary’s response. Would she be open to imaging "What great things does God want to conceive in me?"

Every Christmas season I’m struck about the reality that it had to have been Mary who shared this story. St. Luke wasn’t a reporter witnessing this event... It was only she and the Angel who were there. And if you think about it, how humble she was in her recollection? She doesn’t take any glory for herself. She doesn’t recount all the sacrifice she had to have made in saying Yes to God – that Joseph and her had to abandon their plans, their dreams. She doesn’t dwell on how hard this was, the pain she endured as the Mother of God (imagine her having to witness the brutality of her only son’s Passion and Crucifixion... ) None of that is there. Mary’s remembrance of her being invited into the history of the salvation of the world by Jesus Christ finds her simply blown away that God would conceive His son in her. She is able to say yes knowing what God thinks of her - knowing her self-worth, trusting in Him.

This whole experience confirms everything she had learned about God throughout her life. Jesus’ entrance into humanity through her took all that she in her heart had believed to this very point to a whole new, deeper, intimate understanding. All of the negative, challenging aspects from her story that she must have experienced seem to fade from her mind. She’s left awestruck remembering the words of the angel – words that rang true in her own life: that nothing will be impossible for God.

For you and I, this Gospel isn’t a history lesson for us to recall "at this time of year" The Gospel is the living word of God. In a world filled with broken trust, and people’s self-worth being undermined, individuals who are used and discarded, our God invites you and I - to be a part of His plan. To experience how miraculous things unfold when we are open to imaging, open to asking ourselves "What great things does God want to conceive in me?" Because it’s easy to dismiss all of this, isn’t it? Right now the devil’s whispering "Well that’s Mary, she’s the Mother of God" or looking at others and just presuming that they must be more holy, or they must be more talented, or God must think of them so much more than me as we allow ourselves to apply the brokenness of this world and view God through that lense telling ourselves "God’s only calling holy people to do holy things." All of those things are lies, tremendous lies that limit God’s power. That limit us.

The Good News this Gospel is proclaiming to you and I is that God wants to include us in His wondrous plan. That’s one reason why we hear at Mass several times "The Lord be with you" That’s not just a nice Church greeting. It’s a reminder. It’s a call - That God is with you. He is calling you to be a part of his great, creative, mysterious, plan.

A few days from now - we will gather to celebrate the Birth of Jesus Christ. People around the world will recall that historic event that has forever changed and transformed human history. But the beautiful message from the Gospel is that God is inviting us to live that mystery ourselves, to once again bring Christ to birth here and now. Knowing that our loving Father has by his redemptive work given us an eternal self worth, knowing how deeply he trusts us, do we dare to ask "What great things does God want to conceive in me?"

NOT A HERO - JUST DOING A JOB

Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT - December 14, 2014 - the readings for today’s Mass can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/121414.cfm. Thanks as always for reading this blog, for sharing it on Facebook, Twitter and on the web (always surprised when I see the different countries people visit from) - and for your comments and feedback. God Bless - Fr. Jim

As Christmas preparations begin to hit a fever pitch, could I ask you to consider a gift to our Newman Center in our Christmas Appeal?  We conduct these fundraising appeals only twice a year to help our mission of bringing Christ to our students and campus - and your generosity is greatly appreciated.  Read more at www.MSUNEWMAN.com.  Many thanks for your support and consideration.

HOMILY:

The last few weeks, police officers have been in the news a lot.  Often times those stories focused on tragic, terrible incidents that became national stories for weeks and months because some public or media figures learned a few details of those stories and for a variety of reasons, that range from the pursuit of noble ideals like examining what is "just" to far more sinister opportunists who seem to want to use these incidents to promote a particular agenda (or themselves). As a result, there’s been some decent debates; sadly a tremendous amount of stupid, lawless, criminal behavior and even more sadly, further division among communities and peoples of our great nation.  

Another consequence of all this has been that the focus has been fixated on a few incidents and that other stories have been somewhat ignored. Stories that happen far more frequently than we would ever hear about in the national news.
Like Sgt. Patrick Hildenbrand.  A few weeks ago, this cop from New York thought he was pulling over a speeding driver. What he found was a panic-stricken father who was frantically carrying the seemingly lifeless body of his 22 month old son.  The boy had suffered a seizure, and collapsed. The father, obviously desperate, was racing to the hospital when Sgt. Hildenbrand came upon them and stopped them.

The 17-year veteran of the police force asked the father where he lived and knew they didn’t have time to wait for the ambulance. He knew he would need to take the father and son to the hospital himself in his Police SUV.  What he did next is what is even more remarkable. As he is driving with the lights and sirens going to get to the hospital, he simultaneously performed CPR on the boy in the backseat.

Yes, you heard that right. As he was driving, he was performing CPR on the kid at the same time.  As he explained it: "I reached my hand back here as I'm driving, moved my body over and started doing all the compressions and feeling for a pulse while I could still operate the vehicle."  When they arrived at the hospital, Hildenbrand continued CPR while he carried the boy to doctors: "The medical staff did their stuff and the baby started crying," Hildenbrand said. The Emergency Room Physician put it simply: "I really don't think this child would be here today if it wasn't for those efforts."

If anyone would seem to deserve the recognition of "Hero" it would be Sgt Hildenbrand. But, like thousands of other officers who encounter life and death situations on a daily basis, he is much more matter of fact about it in saying he doesn’t consider himself a hero:  "A lot of cops do crazy things to save peoples' lives and don't get recognized."

Stories like that don't absolve the few bad cops who do bad things.  But it should give us pause for thought and recognize how the vast majority of them do encounter life and death situations – situations that to many of us would be some of the most dramatic, vividly memorable days of our lives – but for the police officers it becomes routine to them that this one cop driving while performing CPR at the same time doesn’t really see it as being anything other than his job.

That’s not just true of cops. Being chaplain to the West Orange Fire Department, I know
that’s very true of firefighters and the EMT squad. I come from a family of public school teachers, and I know that’s true of them - how my Mom and my brothers and sister in law all sacrificed more than any contractual obligation, not because they were being "heroic" but because they saw it as doing their jobs.  There’s something beautifully matter-of-fact about these and I’m sure countless other examples in which we so often lose sight because they are so matter of fact.

That’s what came to mind praying with this Gospel passage. No doubt some of you might have been thinking as you heard it, "didn't we just hear this gospel last week? Did the priest read the wrong reading? Or -  Do they do reruns or repeats in Church? Because there's a lot of similarities between last Sunday's and this Sunday's readings.  They're both about John the Baptist; they both contain the quote from Isaiah about "the voice in the desert" calling people to prepare the way of the Lord. They both talk have John's testimony about who he is and who he is not.

But there's a very curious difference from last Sunday's reading from the Gospel of Mark to this reading we just heard from the Gospel of John. The Jewish priests, the Levites go to John the Baptist and the gospel paints a scene that's interesting. In the course of a few sentences you heard him being interrogated:

Who are you???

What are you???

Are you Elijah???

Are you the prophet???

Who are you???

What do you have to say for yourself??
To this somewhat unrelenting questioning, John the Baptist refuses to make himself out to be more than simply doing what he perceives as his job... Yes, it’s a divinely ordered job, coming from the Lord... It’s anything but routine. But John is amazingly matter-of-fact about it. He responds to there questioning: "I am not the Christ" - I am not Elijah - I am not the prophet.   Who is he? I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘make straight the way of the Lord’.

John the Baptist, just doing his job.

His personal humility though similar to the heroic actions we see in our fellow citizens who serve us and consider it routine should only serve to underscore for you and I the importance of his job... the importance of His message.  The original listeners to John were arguing about who he was.  Some wanting him to be someone more than he was, or something he wasn’t.  Others worried he would undermine their exalted senses of themselves, their own personal agendas.    John the Baptist has none of that. He rebukes the temptation to exalt himself. He doesn’t let the others off the hook trying to ignore the message that God has put into his heart, his soul - being proclaimed from his mouth and lips, even thousands of years later.

"Jesus Christ is the Messiah, the Prophet greater than any prophet, the One who came to set all things right - he alone, and no one else. John had clear and distinct ideas about Jesus, do we?" (Fr. John Bartunek, The Better Part, p 798)

As Catholic Christians, with the countdowns continuing and sounding louder and louder to prepare for the celebration of Christmas with greater urgency, this Third Sunday of Advent reminds us of the importance in rejoicing in God our savior, and the importance of our jobs as Jesus’ disciples, to humbly "do our job" - an amazingly important one, a job that in some ways takes heroic efforts in our day and age, but one that we are called to engage in... To Prepare the way of the Lord once again. As one "meme" that floated around the other day put it: It is up to us to keep Christ in Christmas - how?  Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, forgive the guilty, welcome the stranger and unwanted child, heal the sick, love our enemies, come together as brothers and sisters at Mass.

In doing so, we may feel the continual pull of the world that we are "going the wrong way." We are swimming upstream in a downstream world. It is not normal or natural to "do our jobs" as light-bearers for Christ, but people will notice the light and be drawn to it. We are not the light, but we carry it deep inside of ourselves. In doing our job, the Light will shine, sometimes in very dark places. When that happens, others will know that God's presence is there for them. They will know His great love for them and understand a  little bit more not just about the specialness of a baby born over 2000 years ago; but the living, risen Christ, who is alive in our midst, and if we let him, alive in our lives as well.

ENDING THE "WAR ON CHRISTMAS?"

Hi everyone, here is my homily for the SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT - December 7, 2014. The readings for today can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/120714.cfm . Thanks as always for reading this blog, for your sharing it throughout social media and all your comments and feedback. It’s much appreciated. God Bless, Fr Jim.

As Christmas preparations begin to hit a fever pitch, could I ask you to consider a gift to our Newman Center in our Christmas Appeal?  We conduct these fundraising appeals only twice a year to help our mission of bringing Christ to our students and campus - and your generosity is greatly appreciated.  Read more at www.MSUNEWMAN.com.  Many thanks for your support and consideration.

 
HOMILY:


Between friends posts on Facebook; overhearing random conversations and just a quick glance around town you get the sense that a lot of people are working overtime in preparation for "the Holiday’s." That’s not my attempting to be PC and not say "Christmas" here - but rather to cover everything from Thanksgiving through New Years with some made-up things like "Festivus"; office party’s, Friends-givings; and so on. It’s a celebratory time of year which means a lot of different things to a lot of different people.

The thing that hit me though with all of this celebratory stuff going on is how - no matter what people believe or think - a common bond that everyone seems to be sharing right now is we’re busy preparing. Very busy preparing for these annual celebrations. Just look at that beautiful tree in Rockefeller Center that was just lit up this week - there’s been crews of people working full-time, non stop for weeks on that - just to cut the tree, transport it to New York, get it up, put scaffolding around it to put miles upon miles of lights on it... that took the work and effort of a small army of people.

Far less visible to the entire world than that tree - and we can attest to how many of us are doing the same things in our own homes, offices, dorm rooms. A friend shared before and after pictures of her house online that chronicled how she had spent the days after Thanksgiving decorating with the update "three-days of non-stop decorating and I’m finally done!" I saw this other house that did a "Frozen" theme light show that I can’t imagine how many days, weeks took to put together.

Objectively speaking, when we look at it, all of it is quite impressive. Whether people or communities are going with the non-holiday-specific white snowflakes on lamposts or places that have nativity scenes complete with live animals roaming around - in a lot of ways, it’s beautiful. We see how people put forth so much work, so much creativity, so much effort to turn this environment of ours - which at this time of year, with the leaves from the trees gone, the weather making a dramatic turn which has made everything feel and look a bit barren, a bit cold, a bit deserted - to see all of that transformed to make it feel alive, colorful, joy-filled even. For those who’ve done that work, you know how much preparation goes into each of those things.

The thing for us as Christians, we have mixed feelings about "Christmas being co-opted." I must admit that the so-called "War on Christmas" has angered me in past years, and at times, still does, especially when it seems some people go out of their way to attempt to remove any connection to the religious aspect of the season or feign they’ve been hurt or slighted by any reference to it being Jesus Christ’s birthday that we’re celebrating... that’s called being extreme.

But on the other hand, I know that when I get sucked into those debates, those arguments, I can get drawn into the other extreme... where I lose sight of the signs, the sights of the season. Do I really want to argue whether that store that has a "Happy Holiday’s" sign up because they hate Christians? or if that other guy who doesn’t even believe in God has "Merry Christmas" hanging in his store window is just doing that because he wants my Christian money (which has as much value as atheist dollars and cents). We can get distracted, wrapped up in so much of that stuff... and can come here to look to rally together for this fight in this so-called War on Christmas for our side.

But I really don’t think that’s what the season of Advent is about.

Maybe we can look at all of this from a different perspective this year. Because all of the physical efforts we’ve seen to make our winter wonderlands, Santa villages, even Frozen -theme light shows so elaborate is really a modern metaphor to some of what we just heard in the readings.  check out this house if you want to see the epitome of elaborate!



We just heard the beginning of the Gospel of Mark proclaimed, which tells us that John the Baptist was fulfilling the role of Isaiah the prophet from the Old Testament. John is speaking to the world as the voice of one crying out "Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths." That ties the Gospel to the words from the prophet himself that we heard in the first reading. If you missed them, they are words of tremendous expectations: A voice cries out - In the desert - prepare the way of the Lord - make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God! Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low... and so on.

Again, it took weeks (months even?) and a small army of people to bring one tree to Rockefeller Center, can you imagine what type of effort, time, resources it would take to fill in a valley, to level a mountain? You see in, our day and age, thousands of years since those words of Isaiah were first uttered - we can drive to the George Washington Bridge and see how excavation crews can cut through a mountain to build a highway for cars - we might not realize that’s no easy task to accomplish. These types of things take a lot of time, a lot of effort, a lot of energy and resources to accomplish.


All of those poetic images are meant to point out for each of us the difficult, the extensive, the time-consuming, all encompassing efforts it takes spiritually for us to prepare a place for Christ to enter in. We can sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that just getting here to Mass has us covered. But that would be like those of us who going into New York looking at the tree and say "how beautiful" as we stare at it for five minutes, take a few pictures and then go sight-seeing and shopping-- having no idea the effort to put that up - or if some friend walked into your elaborately decorated home and simply saying "Oh that’s nice" as if they looked at some store bought plant that you have on a table.

We can’t simply be in the presence of the Lord and think we’ve got it, we’ve done the work to welcome Him in ourselves. When someone comes to the door, it's easy to leave them out on the porch talking through the screendoor. But if you ask them inside, you are taking more of a risk in being vulnerable. That is not a bad thing, especially when it’s Jesus Christ who is at our doors. Don't leave Him on the porch. Invite Him in and make room for Him in your life.

That takes real personal preparation on our parts to prepare the way of the Lord. To make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God - to invite Him in from the porch. I am recognizing my need for God, my absolute dependence on Him - that I need and want Him to come, to come into my world, come into my life. I need Him and so do you. We can’t fool ourselves that we don't … if we do, we will fall short.

There are valleys that need to be filled in each of our lives – valleys of selfishness, of self-centeredness that have led to an arrogance, a false belief I can do things on my own, where I forget my need for God in my life. There are mountains and hills need to be leveled in each of our lives – – Obstacles preventing God that seem insurmountable for Him to truly entering my life and yours.  He has seen it all:  the mountains of sin, addiction, struggles those things which allows the devil to repeat lie after lie to the point that we can start to believe those lies and forget that God loves me so much. Have we forgotten that? He wants so much for me and you to be His sons and Daughters. He loves us so much that He sent His son Jesus to come to us, and desires Him to make a home not simply among us- but within us....


This is the hard work of the season of Advent, to prepare the way of the Lord, to welcome Him anew. And if we allow it, we can let the beauty of the "holiday season" constantly make us aware of the Advent Season – a time of waiting and preparing our hearts. Pope Benedict XVI a few years ago put it like this: "Let us remember... as we look at the streets and squares of the cities decorated with dazzling lights, that these lights refer us to another light, invisible to the eyes but not to the heart."

If we keep that advent focus - to be aware of, attentive to that light - of Christ...

If we become aware of how perhaps that light has dimmed in our own hearts, we can engage in the difficult preparations, the hard work of straightening, filling and leveling that needs to take place in us for the light to be brightened and glow in our lives...

Then the true meaning of the season will be recaptured, not in a "war" being won, but in the lived witness and testimony we offer. As we prepare to commemorate the first coming of God in the special package of a little baby at that first Christmas, May you and I encounter Jesus Christ here and now, prepare to welcome him anew and experience the empowerment of God's Holy Light in the houses of our own hearts.

WHAT'S TRENDING?


Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica – November 9, 2014. The readings for today’s feast can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/110914.cfm. Thanks as always for reading, your feedback and for sharing this blog on Twitter, Facebook and reddit. God Bless, Fr. Jim

HOMILY:


"What is trending right now?"

Whether you’re looking at Yahoo, Twitter or Facebook; watching a news program on television; even going real old-school and reading a newspaper - all of these forms of media seem to have adopted this "trending" thing which has evolved as a result of our social-media culture. 

In some ways, it seems like a virtual flash mob.  These different websites and apps from smart phones and computers are able to measure what is being texted, tweeted, snap-chatted, instagrammed or whatever other new app might be out there that I’m missing – and they come up with a list that is posted on different websites in a top 5 or top 10 ranking list that constantly changes as people’s retweets and hashtags evolve throughout the day.  Supposedly telling you what is the thing most people are talking about.

So at 1:30 in the afternoon on Tuesday the list of what was trending included - Wayne Brady’s depression; Kawasaki Ninja (the worlds fastest motorcycle) Matt Le Blanc (Joey from the show "Friends") "Body transformation" where he revealed his biceps - were what was "trending."  For someone with ADD or who’s easily distracted, these trending lists are a bit of a nightmare... In my research for this homily, I found myself clicking on random things on the list including "#AlexfromTarget" – and then 20 minutes later asking myself why do I care?  And I suppose you can’t look to this simply at some random point in the day for things that will have lasting, long-term impressions - or stories that will be of major consequence a few hours later.  So many celebrities and pop-culture stuff kind of pop in and out rather quickly. 

I kept thinking that here it was Tuesday, November 4th with elections going on all around the nation and that didn’t even seem to enter the top 10, but... again, I suppose that its hard to take these lists serious at one given hour. More than likely, as these hours become days, and days become weeks, and weeks become months - we get a more fuller picture of our modern history. To the point that when there’s a year-end review, and media-sites compile all these things, they will be able to measure what was most pressing, most urgent, most newsworthy things which, no doubt, will see things that were recurring, and trended for longer periods of time than the moment the nation seemed transfixed by Matt LeBlanc’s flexing of his muscles. 

If I had to guess, more than likely when 2014 comes to a close, a list of things that trended for the year will be like #Ebola; Robin William’s suicide; ISIS will rank a bit more newsworthy. These things affected us culturally, socially - they were part of our history.  They will likely be a part of the story people will tell future generations about what life was like around here at this point in time. 
This idea of "trending" seemed a good way of explaining why we’re celebrating what we’re celebrating today.  "The Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica".  On the surface, just reading that title of this feast day seems like a nightmare for a homilist, because at the core, we are basically commemorating how in the year 324 this Church in Rome was first dedicated. And not St. Peter’s Basilica - which if you were going to have a feast day for the entire Catholic Church around the entire world to celebrate, St. Peter’s that magnificent structure which comes immediately to mind when we hear the words "The Vatican" would seem to make sense. We’re talking about another basilica, another Church on the other side of Rome.  More than likely, some of us might even wonder how does this relate to our lives at all? It’s very nice that this Cathedral basilica in Rome has been there for close to 1,700 years - but for most of us who have never seen it (and may never get over to Rome to see it) other than a historical curiosity, why would we even take time out of Ordinary Time to commemorate this? 

But this feast is more than commemorating the day an old Church in Rome was dedicated.  It is remembering a much more important, historic moment that shifted the life of the Church - the life of all Christianity.

Celebrating Mass in one of the chapels of the Lateran Basilica
in Rome, July, 2014.  Love how the painting depicts
St. John the Baptist and St. John, the Beloved Disciple
pointing to Christ and the consecrated Host as if to say:
"this becomes this..."
The dedication of the Lateran Basilica reminds us of the moment that those living in the Roman empire in those early centuries of Christianity no longer needed to fear death simply for following Jesus Christ. The celebration of Sunday Mass no longer needed to be done underground tombs or secretly in homes. Even more telling, the empire acknowledged the one true God that Jesus had revealed to humanity – The trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit could now be praised, worshiped and acknowledged by the secular world as the one true God.  Because up until then, the Emperor himself was considered a god - which is why the persecution of Christians had been so fierce. But with the Emperor Constantine having converted  to Christianity that changed everything.  Many people throughout the Roman empire were hearing the Good News of Jesus openly proclaimed and were converting to it as well.  They were no longer "enslaved" or "owned" by the oppression of a Roman emperor "god."  Christianity, Jesus, Rome being seen as a "New Jerusalem" would all have been things that were "trending" in the year 324 and that was a game changer for everyone

All of this was symbolized in a very physical, visible way in the dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome.  Today that Church is meant to be a symbol of our unity as Catholic Christians throughout the world and we are to remember that sadly, all these years later this very night there are Christians who are persecuted, who are killed for being a follower of Jesus Christ. This feast inspires hope to them and demands our support and prayers that their persecution will end.

But this feast also opens a more immediate question for us here.  What is "trending," in our lives... Who does our world acknowledge as it’s "god?"  Where does our society look to for it’s "god?"  Here we live in a nation where at least a quarter of the entire population has been baptized as Roman Catholic Christians; nearly 80% of all Americans claim to be Christian.  But honestly, does it really look like our world has heeded the words of St. Paul in today’s second reading and made Jesus Christ our foundation?

It’s true religious bigotry, and condescension towards faith-filled people is far from over (I could write a book about such incidents right here on our campus); at the same time we can rejoice and be thankful that here in the United States we don’t have to be afraid to lose our lives for being Christian. Every day we have an opportunity to bear witness to Jesus Christ by our words and actions.  Each week we have an opportunity to come together as the People of God and hear His word and be transformed by His Body and Blood in the Eucharist. That transformation isn’t just for us personally - it is meant to make us the living Church. That’s why we are called "brother’s and sister’s." Do we take that seriously that we are connected closely with one another? We are family.

And those ties extend beyond this room throughout all of the Catholic-Christian world.  We are united with the soldiers celebrating Mass tonight in the back of a Jeep in the deserts of Afghanistan; the persecuted Christians the Middle East and China; as well as our friends at Rutgers and Kean Universities who are celebrating Mass right now too. Which is why today’s feast is bigger than just remembering a building but points to that reality of that living Church.  All of us become that temple of God. Will zeal for that house consume us? Will others be aware of our passion for God and His kingdom? Today, you can make a life-changing difference. It takes only one person to make a change in society, others and ourselves. The fire that consumes you will enable you to go forth empowered more than you will ever know. Burn with passion. Burn for God and watch what He will do with your steps of faith. It could be the beginning of a new trend just waiting to break out.

TEXT FROM THE GRAVE?

Hi everyone - here is my homily for SUNDAY NOVEMBER 2, 2014 - THE COMMEMORATION OF ALL THE FAITHFUL DEPARTED (ALL SOULS DAY)  There's actually about 8 or 9 different options for the readings that you can hear at Mass today, but the ones I used for this homily are:
Wisdom 3: 1-9; Romans 8: 31-35 and

John 6: 37-40.  (You can read any book from the bible on the US Catholic bishops website at www.USCCB.org and click on the "Bible" link)  Thanks everyone for reading - and sharing this homily on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit.  Appreciate the support and your feedback and comments.
As we remember our beloved deceased today and in a special way throughout the month of November, we pray - Eternal rest, grant unto them, O Lord, And let the perpetual light shine upon them.  May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed through the Mercy of God, rest in peace.
          
HOMILY:
About two weeks ago, the NY Post, a newspaper that is known for their provocative headlines lived up to that reputation once again.  “Cellphone text ‘from the grave’” it read over a picture of two relatives holding a cell phone in front of a graveyard with a picture of a text message that seemed to show how their deceased grandmother had texted them - which was followed by a second headline which said “The line went undead.”


            The story details how in 2011, Sherri Emerson’s grandmother Lesley died of cancer.  Sherri had placed her grandmother’s cellphone inside the coffin with her before they closed it for burial and then begged the phone company not to give away the phone number so that she could continue texting her grandmother.  She and her grandmother had communicated a lot through texting while she was alive, and Sherri had kept all the old messages she had with her.  The phone company promised that they would honor this request and for three years, Sherri would send her grandmother text messages every once in awhile when she was missing her, or wanting to share some news with her.

            Back in September of this year, Sherri received quite a shock.  One Wednesday evening Sherri texted her grandmother sharing some things about her family life.  The next morning she looked down at her phone and saw a response, seemingly from beyond the grave that said: “I’m watching over you, you’ll get through this, you’ll be alright.”   After being shaken and traumatized, she and her family were able to discover that, unfortunately, the phone company had released the phone number and this man who had received the “new” number thought someone playing a prank on him...which is why he responded.  Sherri explained “Obviously we know that Nan wasn’t ever going to reply to our texts.  It was just something we did as a comfort for ourselves, because she loved to text.  You can imagine what I was thinking seeing a message flash up from her.”

            Many people, not even knowing Sherri or her family, were just heart broken for them reading or hearing that story.  Because while the idea of burying a cellphone with a departed loved one and texting them is probably a somewhat new and unique phenomenon – the desire, the wish, the hope to connect with our loved ones who have died and passed away is probably one of the most universal things we share as human beings – no matter what your religion, culture – no matter what era you lived in.     If we look at some of the most spectacular tourist sights of the world – for example - The Taj Majal in India; The pyramids in Egypt – are actually tombs built thousands of years ago.  These majestic edifices are ways that these individuals kept their memories alive - generations after anyone who ever knew of them had passed away.  We do similar things right here on campus as we name buildings (Blanton Hall) for the same reason.  Some people struggle so much with the loss of loved ones and want to know that they are safe, that they are okay that they buy into people who claim to be “Mediums”- who claim to be able to contact your deceased loved one and speak back to you.  That always bothers me - that these so-called “mediums” would prey on people who are mourning and grieving an are vulnerable...not that people want to connect with their deceased loved ones.

            Every year on this day - November 2nd, the Church celebrates what is called “All Souls Day - The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed.”  It’s of such importance that we break from the regular routine of Sunday Mass readings that have been following in sequence since the end of the Easter Season (probably about 16 weeks).  What we are doing is answering that human desire to connect with our deceased loved ones with the eyes of faith.

            There is nothing more painful or difficult to endure, to face then death (although I do remember Jerry Seinfeld making an observation that a survey once said people feared making public speeches more than death, which if that was true, people would rather be the deceased than the one giving the eulogy) All kidding aside, death is frightening.  But as Catholic Christians, we’re encouraged, we’re reminded by these readings and this commemoration of All Souls reminds us that our connection to our departed brothers and sisters in the faith isn’t maintained in memorializing buildings, or looking for signs or messages from the beyond.

            The Hebrew Scriptures we heard in the first reading, from the book of Wisdom confidently proclaims: The souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them. They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead; and their passing away was thought an affliction and their going forth from us, utter destruction.  But they are in peace.

            That’s hard to believe without them physically here with us.  But is our relationship solely based on physical realities? We have never experienced the perfect peace described. We live in a world where we feel the pain of loss, hurt, anger and more. It's hard to imagine the constant joy of eternal life. The whole reason we mourn, we grieve, we miss people is because of a spiritual gift - which is Love. We have spent a lot of time loving the people who have gone before us. They became a part of our everyday life and when they are taken away, there is a void that is not easily filled. That’s why St. Paul’s words are so comforting.  Paul who’s entire life was transformed in meeting Jesus Christ after he had been risen from the dead - Paul who because of that conversion suffered rejection, torture, and eventually would be beheaded for following Jesus Christ, tells us:

What will separate us from the love of Christ?

Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?

No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us.

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers,nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

                The joy of Jesus is what we have today. We can claim that peace in our lives knowing what is before us in life and death. We know that we will not be separated from the love of God. That is a promise. We must make the choice of believing it or not.

            All of that leads to the Gospel, where very simply Jesus as he reminds us that his entire mission, his whole reason for coming to earth is to proclaim the good news that “the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him on the last day.” It's a promise.

            The Church gives us these readings to remind us that the connections we’ve made in life are God’s gift, His blessing to us here and now. As we remember our loved ones today, and pray that they are beholding God in his glory - we are entrusting them to His loving, merciful care. It may be difficult to trust this at times, but the Bible encourages us to keep believing and trusting. We were connected to them in life. There is still a connection. Although different, through God's merciful Love, we continue to be united with them, both in this life and the next. They have impacted our lives and we are who we are by our loved ones' influence. We continue to live their legacy left behind. Our choices are influenced by our experience with them in this life. Not only do they “live on” inside of us, but they are truly living the life right now with God. The good news is that there will be a day when we will join them in this wonderful eternal life. No more tears, no more pain … only joy. It's a promise.

DON'T PUT YOUR IPHONE IN A MICROWAVE


Hi everyone - here's my homily for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time - OCTOBER 26, 2014.  The readings can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/102614.cfm  Thanks as always for reading, your feedback, and for sharing this blog on facebook, twitter and reddit.  Appreciate all of your support.  God Bless, Fr. Jim

HOMILY:
How many of you have the iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 plus? It’s a testimony to the marketing and ingenuity of Apple that for their fans and customers, from the announcement of the next version of their product to the day of release causes such anticipation.  Some of them describe this random Friday when the phones are released each September like Christmas morning. People stand in line for hours (in some places even days) to make sure they are able to purchase one before they run out of stock, which amazingly happens the first weekend they go on sale every year!

Part of the genius that makes the launch of each new iPhone is that they keep tweaking it each year. New features - different capabilities. So one year they added a camera not only on the one side, but the other side as well (making "Selfie’s" possible) another year they added something that the button on the bottom of the phone can scan your thumb so no one can use it but you. Another year they offered the phone in white and gold which really got people excited for some reason.

This past year though, something that was somewhat hysterical happened (actually, truth be told it’s a mean trick, and had I fallen prey to it I would probably wouldn’t think it was hysterical, but...) with the release of this new iPhone, there was an advertisement floating online that promised Apple users that they could wirelessly re-charge their battery by placing it in a microwave.  It looked just like an Apple promotion - with the pictures, fonts, everything resembling a typical ad by Apple and it was billed as the "Next Big Thing" and it was called WAVE.  The ad said: Wave is our latest and greatest addition which allows your device to be charged through any standard household microwave.  The ios8 contains new drivers that interface with your device’s radio-baseband allowing it to synchronize with microwave frequencies and use them to recharge your battery. Then it added for more authenticity: 60 seconds for microwaves at 300 w frequencies.  70 seconds at 800 w - DO NOT WAVE-CHARGE FOR OVER 300 seconds.
It was a terrible hoax that unfortunately pictures that popped up on twitter and the internet of burned melted phones showed it was believed to be true by too many people.  Even the Los Angeles Police Department had to send a tweet out warning people "DO NOT MICROWAVE YOUR IPHONES."  What made people fall for it? I’m sure that some people just naively believed that perhaps this truly was the next big thing (how that’s possible since practically every human being who’s ever operated a microwave knows not to put anything metallic in it, but I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt)   Most likely, people so wanted it to be true that they bought into it hook, line and sink - or in this case - Fry (as in the iphone getting fried on the inside). The need to plug the stupid thing into the wall for two hours to recharge it - that’s too long - we need it now.

No matter how evolved, advanced, as a society we’ve become as humanity, it seems somewhat in our DNA that we’re often looking for a short-cut. The faster, more efficient option. Why read a whole book when you can read cliffs notes (or for you kids these days, wikipedia probably has a free summary online).  We tend to want to cut to the chase; get to the point; not waste time.

That has a way of entering into all parts of our lives - even our spiritual lives as well. Which is what is happening in today’s Gospel. We’ve been hearing this back and forth dialogue/debate/inquisition between Jesus and the Pharisees for a couple of weeks now from the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus has been answering with parables - each time trying to probe them to go deeper.  Recognizing that they had been experts in the law of God - they had a lot of head smarts - he basically is trying to get them to expand their hearts more. To recognize perhaps they didn’t have "it" as much as they thought they had.


Which is why today’s question is so interesting.  After all this back and forth the Pharisee comes forward and basically is trying to bypass that reflection Jesus is inviting them to partake in - he’s not interested in stories, or riddles or parables. He’s a lawyer. He’s fixated on the law.  He wants to just get down to basics. "Which is the greatest commandment of the law?"  To give you  a hint, he was expecting Jesus to pick one from among 613 commandments of the law that had made the people of Israel - God’s People...

Pick one... now. Nice, efficient.  Whether he sincerely desired an answer out of his own curiosity to see if Jesus’ opinion aligned with his or was trying to trap him as well - we don’t know his heart. But despite the desire for a quick and easy answer, Jesus hits him - and us - with quite a punch:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all you mind... This is the greatest and first commandment. The second resembles it: You must love your neighbor as yourself.
Just think about what Jesus is saying to us.  He’s not giving an answer that allows any of us to pick and choose what we think is most important. He’s not saying here’s the fastest, most direct way to make God happy.  If anything it’s even more demanding. It’s all consuming. But there’s something amazingly beautiful in Jesus’ response. He’s saying to the Jews - you know why my Father has engaged you - given you all these laws in the first place; added to them as you grew and multiplied and things got more complicated as a result; seemingly hounded you through the prophets when you fell away?  It’s because HE loves YOU - with ALL HIS HEART, WITH ALL HIS SOUL, WITH ALL HIS MIND.  And how do I know that - because that’s why I’m here... that’s what my mission in life, even in my death - and ultimately in my resurrection - to demonstrate this truth.

Sadly, we need to have this reminder. It’s true - there are some who come to Mass week after week to fulfill a duty, thinking they’ve gotten something off their checklist and "made sure the man upstairs is happy" - while leaving this place and seemingly no different for the hour they’ve been here. It’s true there are some who think they never need to worship thinking "so long as I’m a good person that’s what matters the most."  I’m thinking of that guy a few years ago who made headlines with his rap you-tube saying "Why I hate religion but love Jesus." Can we truly differentiate religion and Jesus? There’s a reason we have both. The law – or all of the laws – were not set up to hinder our walk with Jesus. God never meant for us to be imprisoned with "you have to do this" or "you better not do that" but to live life abundantly. Which is what Jesus came to bring us: Freedom. We have true Freedom when we have a relationship with Christ. That’s what Jesus is getting at in this discussion with the young lawyer. When we love God and love others as ourselves, we fulfill the 613 laws established. The problem comes when we realize we can't do it. Our sin nature gets in the way no matter how hard we try to be good. But the point is – we have to at least try – we have to at least be desiring that, moving in that direction.

For us to fulfill the law, the commandments, to be good "Catholics" - there’s no short cut, there’s no "minimum requirements to be fulfilled’ other than giving back to God what He has given to us - our whole hearts, our souls, our minds. What would that look like in your life? Would it be a huge change or a bit of tweaking here and there? We were created to glorify God with all we are, think and do. Praising and worshiping him here at Mass is one thing we do to honor God. What can we do with the other 167 hours per week? Jesus isn’t trying to overwhelm us or be demanding. He’s doing the complete opposite. He’s inviting us to expand our vision, expand our lives, expand our hearts – share our hearts – with the one that created them in the first place – with Him who loved us into existence. We find that when we do, there’s no fast, easy, expedient way of dealing with God – but that’s the point… when you love someone, truly love someone, you don’t want to take a short cut in the first place;  You want to spend every moment with them – even eternity. Makes sense, don’t you think?