POPE JOHN PAUL II's GREATEST LEGACY

Back in April 2005, I was an occasional Op-Ed writer for Fox News' website.  When Pope John Paul II passed away, the editors had asked if I would write something.  I remember feeling intimidated by the request.  What could I as a priest at that point being only ordained 6 years say that others hadn't already said (in no doubt more eloquent ways)   Here's what I submitted which surprisingly was published.  

On this day when Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII are canonized as Saints, re-reading this I thought it still pretty much sums up my estimation of Pope John Paul II's Greatest Legacy.  Saint Pope John Paul II, Pray for us!

From Fox News (http://www.foxnews.com/story/2005/04/11/john-paul-ii-greatest-legacy/) 

I had just reached the part of the mass that most Catholics know by heart from attending Sunday mass—the Eucharistic Prayer.
Though the prayer is said in different languages around the world, the words haven’t changed in thousands of years. As I recited the lines of the prayer "Lord remember your church throughout the world; make us grow in love, together with ...", it hit me. I’m so used to saying "John Paul, our Pope," in that space. But, but now, just a few hours after he had died, I paused. There was no name to say in that place. The reality that the pope was gone hit me at that moment.
After mass, I realized that I cannot recall another pope’s name being said in the prayer. I was almost 5 when John Paul II was elected, and I can’t even remember that.
In fact, sadly, my first memory of the pope was the day he was shot. I was 7 years old. I
remember watching the news of the shooting on television, and crying as I told a neighbor that "they shot the pope."
My friend, a year younger than me and a non-Catholic asked "Why?" I remember replying, "I don’t know."
In my child’s mind, I could not fathom why anyone would want to hurt a man who loved and served Jesus. It didn’t make sense. Twenty-four years later, it still doesn’t.
I don’t recall hearing daily reports about the pope's recovery or the length and time he was in the hospital. In the next memory I have of him, he is recovered and recuperated. It was the day he went and forgave the man who shot him, Mehmet Ali Agca. The image of the Pope going to see this man in prison, and this man, who shot him, smiling as the Pope comes and offers forgiveness, is all that matters in my mind.
People can, and will debate, what will John Paul II's legacy be. For what will the global community most celebrate and recognize him? Helping to defeat communism? Bridging gaps between Roman Catholicism and other faiths? Being the most traveled pope in history?
People have been appropriately praising all of these feats. The "experts" will discuss whether John Paul II made the Church too conservative, or more balanced. People will debate whether the hierarchy of the Church has become too centralized in Rome, or if that centralization has helped unify the church. Those are all questions that history will answer – and not any time soon, but centuries from now.
However, it is the memory of the pope forgiving the man who tried to kill him that has forever marked my life. At the time it happened, I couldn’t comprehend it.
Growing up in an Italian-American household, the youngest of three boys, getting beaten up was a somewhat normal, ordinary occurrence. Forgiving one another was usually something we were commanded to do, as my father insisted we were going to be "the Love brothers." But the apologies and forgiveness were somewhat shallow; as soon as mom and dad were out of earshot, my brothers and I would claim to each other that we "didn't mean" our forgiveness.
Here, now, was this guy who didn’t "beat up" the pope; he shot him. But when the man said "I’m sorry," the pope said "I forgive you." Of course, I wasn’t there, but the smile on that man’s face as the pope left him that day told me that the pope had truly forgiven him.
That gesture of forgiveness—possibly the greatest teaching this Holy Father could have given to one of his son’s—has been something I aspire to, and try— with mixed results— to emulate. How it fitting it is that the pope's last words echoed the same lesson: "To humanity, which at times appears lost and dominated by the power of evil, of selfishness and fear, the Lord resurrected offers as a gift his forgiving love, reconciles and reopens the spirit to hope."
In teaching that lesson, this Holy Father has imparted the most important lesson to his son’s and daughters: That Jesus Christ’s love and forgiveness still has the power to change the most hardened of hearts.
In the end, John Paul II's greatness may be attributed to many things. But most important to the heart of the Christian was this Christ-like witness in his words and actions. Could there be any greater standard for a pope?

STEALING FROM THE POPE (Knowing he'll forgive me)



HAPPY EASTER!

JESUS CHRIST IS RISEN!ALLELUIA!!!!
Here is my homily (or rather some words I added to stealing Pope Francis’ homily – as you will read ahead) for EASTER SUNDAY - APRIL 20, 2014. The readings for today can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/ readings/042014.cfm - Thanks for reading, sharing on facebook, reddit and twitter and all your feedback. God Bless and HAPPY EASTER! - Fr. Jim

HOMILY

Yesterday morning I had an Easter homily that I had spent a fair amount of time obsessing over the three days of the Triduum. I wasn’t quite sure why I was spending so much time since I knew that we would have an incredibly small congregation in comparison to our usual sundays (one of the crazy inverses that we experience in Campus Ministry - here a Sunday when most churches are packed, we have the opposite as most of our students go home to celebrate with their families, but I digress) and worse still after all that time I wasn’t thrilled with what I had come up with, but figured it would be good enough.

And I don’t know - throughout the day I had a bunch of mixed emotions. I was kind of down. For a variety of reasons, not the least of which I was thinking back to friend of mine who had died back in September. He had been our landscaper here at Newman for about 6 years (and I knew him for 7 years before that from my first parish assignment). Between our new landscapers coming and hearing leaf blowers for the first time in 5 months after a long and harsh winter for our first Spring clean up and it being Tim’s birthday this past week, which I kind of skipped out of a gathering of friends – officially because I was so busy with Holy Week and all – but more honestly I just didn’t want to think about his death again. I know that was part of the reason I felt down.

At one point yesterday I wanted to just spend time in our chapel. And I had forgottenthat the tabernacle was empty since Good Friday...- as we await this celebration of Easter where the Risen Christ who is made real in every celebration of the Eucharist will once again be reserved in our tabernacle... but seeing the empty chapel, the empty tabernacle, the light from the sanctuary lamp as a perpetual sign of Jesus’ presence being extinguished it all clicked my mood - and the liturgical life of the Church seemed to connect: Darkness. We talk about it. We talk about carrying and enduring our crosses. But we forget how it can feel. How real that is. We can ignore wanting to acknowledge them - embarrassed by our continued weakness in the face of them. We can let our egos get in the way claiming that we won’t be crushed by them (or in a fake piety that we’re gently, lovingly accepting our crosses when in not-so-secret we hate them)

Perhaps that’s why I wasn’t feeling so inspired and surprisingly blah during these holiest of holy days. And really rare for a priest, I had "off" these days (which I doubt will happen again) - so I’ve been trying to make them a mini-retreat and have been worshiping at a parish in New York City - an "Anti-Cheers" - "Where nobody knows my name" :) ) So as I was standing outside the Church waiting for the Easter Vigil to start, I decided to read the Holy Father’s Easter Vigil Homily. And I found myself moved to tears on the sidewalk there reading it that I decided when I came home to throw out what I had prepared and heavily lift from his homily. (Steal/borrow/quote... whatever you want to call it... My heart was more moved by his words then anything I had prepared)

To set the stage the Gospel tells us that Mary Magdalene and the other Mary are in darkness. They are in darkness emotionally and spiritually - Jesus was killed right in front of their eyes. They are coming in darkness physically as the sun was only beginning to dawn. And we hear of an earthquake, and an angel who’s appearance is like lightning and white - scaring the hell (literally) out of the guards - rolling away the stone. And showing the Empty Tomb. JESUS THE CRUCIFIED - HE IS NOT HERE - HE HAS BEEN RAISED JUST AS HE SAID! This amazing news to the women, to the disciples who had been covered in the darkness of despair, of seeing their faith, hope and love die on a cross was just too amazing to comprehend. And here’s where Pope Francis’ words really touched me:

And then there was his command to go to Galilee; the women had heard it twice, first from the angel and then from Jesus himself: "Let them go to Galilee; there they will see me".

Galilee is the place where they were first called, where everything began! To return there, to return to the place where they were originally called. Jesus had walked along the shores of the lake as the fishermen were casting their nets. He had called them, and they left everything and followed him (cf. Mt 4:18-22).

To return to Galilee means to re-read everything on the basis of the cross and its victory. To re-read everything – Jesus’ preaching, his miracles, the new community, the excitement and the defections, even the betrayal – to re-read everything starting from the end, which is a new beginning, from this supreme act of love.
Pope Francis then continued reminding us that: For each of us, too, there is a "Galilee"  the origin of our journey with Jesus. "To go to Galilee" means something beautiful, it means rediscovering our baptism as a living fountainhead, drawing new energy from the sources of our faith and our Christian experience.

To return to Galilee means above all to return to that blazing light with which God’s grace touched me at the start of the journey. From that flame I can light a fire for today and every day, and bring heat and light to my brothers and sisters. That flame ignites a humble joy, a joy which sorrow and distress cannot dismay, a good, gentle joy.


In the life of every Christian, after baptism there is also a more existential "Galilee": the experience of a personal encounter with Jesus Christ who called me to follow him and to share in his mission. In this sense, returning to Galilee means treasuring in my heart the living memory of that call,
when Jesus passed my way,
gazed at me with mercy
and asked me to follow him.

It means reviving the memory of that moment
when his eyes met mine,
the moment when he made me realize that he loved me.
Francis then challenged us: Today, tonight, each of us can ask: What is my Galilee? Where is my Galilee? Do I remember it? Have I forgotten it? Have I gone off on roads and paths which made me forget it? Lord, help me: tell me what my Galilee is; for you know that I want to return there to encounter you and to let myself be embraced by your mercy.

My brothers and sisters - in a few days some of our members will be experiencing the Easter Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist which will be for sure a Galilee moment. Some of you have had life-changing moments, conversions (where you never knew Jesus before and now you have) or a "re-version" where the faith you had been given that you were baptized in you had drifted away and come back to the faith - which are Galilee's as well. 

What moved me to tears last night was the gentle and loving reminder that in many ways - you are one of my Galilee’s. And that gives me great joy. I’ve experienced the resurrection so many times I’m embarrassed that I can forget it... frustrated that the darkness can still get to me. And I suppose I’m not the only one who experiences and goes through that as well.

The Gospel of Easter is very clear: we need to go back there, to see Jesus risen, and to become witnesses of his resurrection. This is not to go back in time; it is not a kind of nostalgia. It is returning to our first love, in order to receive the fire which Jesus has kindled in the world and to bring that fire to all people, to the very ends of the earth.

WHO WANTS TO BE JESUS?

Hi everyone, here’s my homily for PALM SUNDAY OF THE LORD’S PASSION - APRIL 13, 2014 - The readings for today’s Mass can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/041314.cfm. As always thanks for reading, sharing this blog on reddit, Twitter and Facebook- and your feedback and comments are always appreciated. May you have a blessed Holy Week - Fr. Jim
 
HOMILY:
This past Wednesday, Newman Catholic along with the Council for Faith and Spirituality and Residence Life here at Montclair State co-sponsored a special program called "The Gospel of Mark." For lack of a better description it was basically a one man show - where the actor (an MSU Theatre Alum from the Class of 2011) in about 2 hours performed the entire Gospel of Mark in an engaging, interactive and very dramatic way. It was a truly amazing and moving experience. Philip Corso, the actor, had to move at times from being story teller/narrator (somewhat assuming the role of St. Mark) to different characters or groups of people that are featured in Mark’s account to portraying Jesus himself.
At the end of what had to have been an exhaustive performance, Philip generously gave us members of the audience some time for questions and answers. It was fascinating to hear his perspective about how it is for him "performing" this piece - the different feelings and emotions that go into it. One discussion really stood out for me. An audience member noted how the actor had to assume different roles at different times and asked why the choice was made for him to approach the Passion and Death narrative as the narrator to the proceedings rather than as Christ himself. He expressed legitimate concerns about how it could come across to the audience, the challenges artistically that it would present and then he said something that really hit me. Something along the lines of - that part of the story is so gruesome, really, who wants to be Jesus?
The more I thought about that - the more I thought - how true is that? Who would want to be Jesus? Sure there are elements of Jesus’ life that we think would be pretty amazing. Performing pretty amazing miracles like healing someone of a debilitating illness; feeding multitudes, thousands of people from just a few loaves and fishes - that would be cool (imagine how many swipes you and your friends could save at the Cafeteria) - raising people from the dead: who wouldn’t want to have the ability to do that.
But who wants to be Jesus -
when he is betrayed;
when people (including those who knew him and purportedly loved and followed him) lied about him
when he is persecuted;
when he is mocked and ridiculed;
when he is tortured;
when he is wounded;
when he is savagely, brutally attacked;
when he is crucified;
when he is abandoned and left for dead...
No one wants to be Jesus during that. Yet, if we are honest - if we reflect - if we allow ourselves to lower our defenses and the walls that we are so often good at erecting - who of us hasn’t? Who hasn’t gone through at least some of those, if not all of those experiences? Who hasn’t to some extent felt the chaos, the torment, the absolute darkness that this, Jesus’ Passion speaks to us?
We don’t want to be Jesus – and there’s a part of us that sincerely believes that We don’t want those things to happen to Jesus - but Palm Sunday of Jesus’ Passion forces us to be really honest and look at not only our own pain and brokenness but also the pain and brokenness we can commit to one another. That we move from being with the crowds crying Hosanna on one day to "Crucify Him" a few days later -- when we commit our sins, when we withhold compassion, love and mercy on one another, when we reject God whether overtly or subconsciously as we decide to go and do our own thing…
The good news is that Jesus’ love is strong enough to enter into our human pain to accompany us in our pain.
The good news is that the things that weigh us down, that sadden us and frighten us in the deepest recesses of our hearts: namely the sins that we’ve committed which are demonstrated in those wounds, those nails, those thorns inflicted on Jesus - yes they are real and painful and destructive - but they are not strong enough to cause Jesus to stop loving you and me.
May you and I have the courage to recognize the reality of these painful things in our lives to let Jesus into them. To truly embrace the cross, embrace the love of Christ. To want to become Jesus - knowing that when we do, he walks with us in our darkness, he leads us out of it into newness of life.
 
 

AND JESUS WEPT

Hi everyone, here is my homily for the FIFTH SUNDAY OF LENT - April 6, 2014. The readings for today’s Mass can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/040614.cfm .  Thanks as always for reading, sharing the blog with your friends on Twitter, Facebook and Redditt - and your feedback and comments.  God Bless, Fr. Jim

HOMILY

So a random fact-toid for you the next time you’re on Jeopardy or playing Trivia Pursuit. While the Gospel we just heard is somewhat lengthy one, within that reading was the shortest scripture verse recorded in the whole New Testament: John 11:35 "And Jesus Wept." In some translations, they even drop the word "and" – which would tie it as the shortest verse in the whole Bible. Those two words: Jesus Wept.

A couple of words that say so much.

Because think about it. What does it means when we say someone wept?

It’s more than just feeling sad.

It’s more than the act of crying.

You weep when you feel deep, intense feelings. Raw emotions for someone or something... You can feel it in the pit of your stomach. Your heart aches. You’re so overwhelmed by the feelings that you’re experiencing that you’re unembarrassed by the flood of tears.

On the one hand no one would wish this experience on another, knowing how hard and painful an experience it truly is. But on the other hand, weeping reveals something immensely important: when you’re experiencing that much pain, you know without a doubt that something has touched you that deeply to the core of your being that you realize the depths of love. When someone has wept, it’s because something meant that much to them.

Which is why this shortest of scripture verses is somewhat puzzling.

Jesus wept.
Jesus?

That this is recorded tells us how striking it must’ve been for the witnesses. It’s not like Jesus didn’t know what he was able and capable of doing and would accomplish for his friend Lazarus. He knew he could and would raise him from the dead. He didn’t weep for himself.

So why? Why did he weep? Some thoughts come to mind:

Jesus wept over the fear that His disciples still had after all this time they had spent with Him. After all they had seen that He could do, after all they had heard Him speak of a God who would not let anything, ANYTHING stop Him from attending to His children in need... Just look at this gospel - as soon as the disciples hear this news that Lazarus, a friend of Jesus, was seriously ill and needed Jesus their response to this news was but Jesus, the last time we were in Judea, people wanted to stone you...it’s not safe - They tried to talk him out of going back! So Jesus wept over that fear that gripped and still grips his followers.

Jesus wept over the distress Lazarus’ sisters had experienced in seeing their brother die and be entombed.
Their pain, pained him.
Their hurt, hurt him and so he wept. That’s how much Jesus loved his friends and loves his friends. Our tears don’t go unnoticed... no they evoke tears from Jesus.

Jesus wept because he knew that as much as his followers loved him and wanted to believe in Him, and did believe in Him to a certain extent... that it was to a certain extent. There was a limit, or a qualifier to their belief.

 Jesus wept because of that doubt. The doubt that came from seeing this dead man who was in a tomb. They were relying more on the harsh evidence of a sealed tomb than with the heart of the Samaritan Woman, or the eyes of the Man born blind that we encountered in the liturgy the last two Sundays that testify to the greatness of what Jesus wants to do for humanity... that Jesus has power over even death itself.

Jesus wept because he saw that the hoped for future promise of eternal life and resurrection of the dead wasn’t enough to remove all of this pain they were going through. His followers, despite all that was to come, despite his ultimate victory over death in His own resurrection would still experience the pains and sting of death.

Jesus wept because He realized that if the death of Lazarus could cause some of his closest followers such distress, He could only imagine what his passion and death on the cross would do to them. Yet He knew that He needed to endure that passion and death so that God would be able to do even more miraculous, life-changing things for humanity, namely saving them.

Jesus wept because in spite of all of that he would say, all that he would do, some would chose to remain entombed, some would chose to remain dead because they believed their sins were too big, too unforgivable.

Jesus wept over those who would refuse to hear His life-giving voice, calling them out of those tombs, rejecting the opportunity to experience newness of life in His radical gift of forgiveness.

Yes, Jesus wept because he Loved.

Jesus wept, because he Loves.

Jesus wept because he knows that for some people, the gift he offers of Himself so freely, so willingly, so selflessly - for some that wouldn’t be enough... Some would simply question, put their trust in other "gods." Reject the only God ever known to have come down and wept with us and for us, so much does He care for us.

That’s why Jesus wept.

And why He still does.