MOMS (one and only) SUNDAY DINNER FAIL

Hi everyone here's my homily for August 31, 2014 - the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time.  The readings can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/083114.cfm.  Many thanks as always for reading, for your comments and feedback - and for sharing the blog on facebook, twitter, & redditt.  God Bless!  Fr. Jim

--> PS - With Labor Day being tomorrow, we're ending our Summer Appeal for the Newman Center - this year with the funds helping us as the Archdiocese just purchased a second house for our use! We're so grateful for everyone's support.  If you'd like to make a donation and read more about it - check out www.MSUNEWMAN.com.  Thanks again!

HOMILY:

     Growing up Italian, I learned one of the most sacred of traditions … Sunday dinner. My Mother has continued to make the most valiant attempts to gather us all together as family for this utmost important event, but sadly, it slipped away for us and many other Italian-Americans here in the US. We still gather together as a family for a Sunday dinner, but maybe only once a month ... usually to celebrate someone’s birthday or a holiday.

     But I gotta give my Mom credit - she still tries really hard to get all of us to break away from our crazy, non-stop schedules of work, chores, and other commitments that we try to slip in on the weekends, and get us to come together more regularly. She’ll put out feelers to see if she can find a day we’re all available, then mix in some Italian guilt in here and there, and even bribe us with making one of our favorite meals. 

     One Sunday, about 13 years ago, was quite a memorable Sunday dinner. I was a parish priest at the time, and between the four different Masses, I had run up to my room for a few minutes and saw that my answering machine light was blinking. It was my Mom saying "Hi Honey - I just wanted to see if you had nothing going on this afternoon. I'm making lasagna." My ears perked up...Lasagna - really? Wow - I mean, even though I don’t know how to cook, I do know that’s like a really, really big deal. There’s so many intricate steps. My mom making a pot of Gravy (aka Tomato Sauce and meatballs) is always pretty special - you know it’s something that takes time and is delicious. But Lasagna - it’s so much more work - you have to boil the noodles, then you lay them out on these big trays as you try to pour the layers of cheese and meat and keep stacking them – which is a real pain to do since the noodles are wet and soft and slippery. I was really surprised that late on a Sunday morning that this was been the first I heard of this. 


     So I called her back and said "You’re making lasagna, really?" She said "Yes, I just had a taste for it, so I decided to make it." I asked her if my brothers were coming and she said - "No, it’s just your father and I - can you make it?" Quickly I looked at my appointment book: "Well I have a baptism after Mass, and I have a wake to attend, but I can go to the wake tonight instead of this afternoon, so I probably can swing it." She said "Good! I’ll see you then." The rest of the morning, I was eagerly anticipating Mom’s homemade lasagna... even tasting it as I drove home. As we sat down, Mom was already pushing meatballs and bread on me - which I was kind of dodging as I didn’t want to get full even before she took this tray of lasagna out of the oven.

     Again, I expressed my surprise that she had made it just for the three of us (and I wasn’t even a guarantee to attend till that morning) and Mom just dismissed it saying "Well, you can take a plate home and I can freeze and save some for your brothers..."As she brought the tray out, took the aluminum foil off the top - I just blurted out - "What’s that?" Somewhat defensive (which I guess after blurting out a question like that, she very simply responded) "Lasagna" - "But - What happened to it?" (At which point my Father is trying to stop himself from laughing and is shaking at the end of the table) My mother, with a knife in her hand just said "Nothing..." "Why does it look like that?" It kind of looked like someone had deflated a regular lasagna – like it was a flat tire... Angrily slicing it and serving it, she said "Just shut up and eat it...it’s good - just try it" - "Come on Mom... how could it be good, when it looks like... well, I don’t know what it looks like, but it doesn’t look like your lasagna - what happened?" Still denying anything was wrong with it, I got up and went to the garbage - which she tried to block me from doing... As I opened it, I found an empty box of what was labeled "No boil lasagna" - "AH HA - I KNEW IT" - "Just try it" she argued... which I did. I said "Mom - if I were making this, that would be one thing. That would be a massive feat for me to put these things together and make this thing... but there’s no way this is anywhere near as good what you normally make." To this day - she will not admit I was right. But a few weeks after this terrible incident, she made the real lasagna. When I said "See, I mean, come on, I know it’s a pain to make, but tell me you don’t see the difference" she simply told me to "just shut up and eat it." But she knows the truth- 13 years later she’s never made the no-boil lasagna again.As much as I probably sounded like a brat (which is what my mother called me that day)


     The reason we could have that honest of a conversation and be that brutally honest is because of the depth of love. My mother is a phenomenal cook... and my parents are incredibly generous to me – to all of us. My mom knows how much I love her that even my rudeness (and accuracy) could be quickly forgiven.

     The reality is that none of us likes to hear "You can do better..." If it’s just some random person who offers that unsolicited estimation we might be more dismissive "Who asked you, Jerk???" But if it comes from a parent, a teacher, a coach, or perhaps a really good friend – that’s quite a different thing, isn't it. In those instances, we realize it’s coming from someone who cares about us, who knows us, and probably knows - we’re capable of much more than whatever it is we’ve offered. 

     When we hear Jesus basically calling St. Peter "Satan" in today’s Gospel, that sounds like a pretty awful put down. There’s literally nothing worse someone could call someone else. Even the most diabolic of figures in history are often compared to him or assumed to be heading to or residing in Satan’s abode - Hell. And it seems even more shocking coming after what we heard just a week ago when Peter is declared to be Jesus’ right hand man. The sentences right before this Gospel passage was the conversation where Peter responds to Jesus question "Who do you say I am?" with "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God." In that moment of testimony, Jesus exclaims "Blessed are you Simon Peter! For flesh and blood have not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father! You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church" (Matthew 5: 18) Here we are, just mere momets later – and this"blessed" rock is being called "Satan." 

     Ouch! And I thought putting down Mom’s lasagna was bad! 


     The thing that struck me though is that Jesus had to have loved Peter and Peter had to have loved Jesus in order for Jesus to be that brutally truthful...laying down some "tough love"calling him to greater holiness, sharing with him his greater expectations, even in a way trying to foreshadow for Peter that not only will Jesus himself suffer and die a terrible death - so would Peter.


     Jesus is making it abundantly clear that being the rock, the "foundation" Jesus was building his Church upon wasn’t going to be a position of honor or prestige, but one of selfless, sacrificial service. In throwing out "get behind me Satan" Jesus is purposely being dramatic to illustrate just how crucially important it is that Peter – who he thinks so highly of, who he has such great hopes for and sees such great potential for -that he truly understand the implications in being this rock, being this foundation, being the first Pope. Scripture doesn’t capture for us Peter’s initial reaction - was he stunned? was he hurt? Was he confused? Was he disappointed in himself? We can only speculate. But obviously this encounter was memorable for it to have been recorded. And knowing the rest of the story, that Peter would still falter, and struggle throughout his ministry tells us that these types of correction while humbling (embarrassing even) didn’t destroy him. Peter wanted to be all that Jesus imagined him to be. Peter doesn’t lose sight of the love Jesus has for him with this fraternal correction.

     How about us? We know all too well how difficult, how challenging it is to follow Jesus Christ, follow his teachings ourselves. We struggle, we’re tempted, we fail and fall. Sometimes multiple times a day (an hour?) But hopefully what makes it possible for us to dare to come before the Lord here each Sunday for Mass is that in spite of those struggles and failures, we have experienced, we’ve come to know and believe in the immense love and mercy of God for us. We can’t forget that we’re one confession away from being washed completely clean of all our sins. As Pope Francis has said repeatedly "God never tires of forgiving us, it is we who get tired of asking for forgiveness." Jesus casting his light into our darkness isn’t meant to hurt or embarrass us. It’s the complete opposite. 


     Jesus is telling us we’re worth the time, worth the concern... He knows us, knows how capable we are - the potential we hold. And will not give up on us in pursuing us and calling us into deeper relationship with him. Are you experiencing that deep relationship with Jesus where you know he has the best for you in mind? If you aren't, I challenge you to seek that kind of closeness with him. He will always give you his best, and he wants your best for him. May we never lose sight that these corrections we experience are being offered in love. May we never forget that essential point in offering "Gospel corrections" to those we meet.

A POLL--ARIZED WORLD

Hi everyone!  Here's my homily for AUGUST 24, 2014 - the 21st SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (given at Holy Family Church, Nutley,NJ)  The readings for today's Mass comes from http://usccb.org/bible/readings/082414.cfm.  Thanks as always for your feedback and sharing this homily.  God Bless.

One quick commercial... our Newman Catholic Center had some phenomenal news recently... the Archdiocese of Newark purchased the house next door for our use!  Any help you can offer for our Summer Appeal, which is in it's last days are GREATLY APPRECIATED!  - Read all about it at www.MSUNEWMAN.com 


HOMILY:

      I have come to realize that social media has effectively evolved into mainstream.  That was underscored for me when my 70-something great aunt friended me on Facebook. Social media’s not just college students anymore!  Seemingly all of society is invited into this “family-like” culture of being on-line and sharing life.   It’s interesting to see how this internet-interconnectedness has changed our culture, how we relate or interact with one another,  even how it shapes opinions in both positive and negative ways:


- From the moment you log on to your computer, images and messages are flashed in front of you that invite you to “vote” or give your approval to something by clicking a “like button.”

- You no longer have to sit and write or type a letter to the editor with the hopes of getting published (and read).   Nowadays,   anyone can share their thoughts and feelings on any topic;   have friends, co-workers, family members or anyone else read them, “like” them, and share them with their friends with two quick clicks (even on something as convenient as a person's phone now!)   and Viola! … very quickly you can become an opinion writer with your own set of fans.


With all of these realities, major media outlets have tried to utilize this new world of social-connectedness for their own purposes too. Whether it’s television shows, news programs, or print media, they ask viewers and readers to “like” and share their stories, post feedback on their pages or tweet a response to a story.

One by-product of this is that we seem to have become a somewhat poll-centered culture … you might say polarized literally and sadly figuratively as well.  That’s because we’re not just being asked our opinion on what type of topping you like on your pizza or who should be the winner to a singing competition.  People are being asked to give somewhat instantaneous responses or reactions to serious, complex issues.   Just this past week, you could have found polls following pretty provocative headlines and graphic images that would ask readers, viewers to vote on everything from:

- whether you think the officer involved in the shooting of the young black man in Missouri should be indicted;
-  has the United States done enough to stop the Muslim Extremist group ISIS;
-  what should be done at the US-Mexico border?  or
-  whether you thought officials shared too much or not enough details regarding Robin Williams suicide.

Those and countless other examples share something in common. For the most part, we only know part of the story, and depending upon what combination of facts, personal experiences or biases we hold --  those stories can raise very different emotions and opinions from people.   It’s somewhat unfair that we’re given a startling picture; some selective reporting and even a little bit of marketing involved followed by asking each of us (the viewers and readers) to react instantly to questions such as, “What do you think?” Major media companies have been using this to try to get people engaged (and driving up ratings).

      But this poll-centered tactic not only gets people engaged, it can at times make them enraged; which is why our society, so interconnected seems so polarized as well.   Because the reality is we’re reacting, sometimes quite assertively and increasingly aggressively, to these controversial and emotional topics based on a limited number of facts.   That’s not saying that any one of us aren’t entitled to our opinions, to have emotional reactions to stories that touch us in different ways based on our life experience, and our personal perspectives. But I wonder if the overwhelming numbers of requests for our opinions has made us less humble, less open-minded to listen, to hear, to consider other people's perspective.   It kind of numbs us from being more civil and thoughtful and instead fuels some of the anger and violence we’re seeing in more and more dramatic and frightening ways as a society.  

While we seem to be experiencing this phenomenon of polls and polarization in real-time, with greater frequency and attention than ever before, in some ways it’s just expanding on something that isn’t such a new phenomenon:  In today’s Gospel, we can see how Jesus himself is quite a polarizing figure – and just like today, people have a whole variety of opinions about Him.

“Who do you say I am?” he asks his apostles. What’s the buzz, the chatter, the opinion of me on the street?  Being some of his closest friends, they probably omitted some of the less charitable responses that were being said of Him. But even the ones they state are pretty diverse themselves - some say John the Baptist - others Elijah - still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.

You don’t have to be a biblical scholar to realize that each one of those names brings up extremely different expectations, perspectives. People were responding these ways based on some facts, some aspects of truth that they were able to piece together along with their own personal opinions.  So maybe someone had experienced a conversion by meeting John the Baptist; then after John’s gruesome, horrific death they had felt his absence and couldn’t help but see some comparisons in how people were having similar conversions upon meeting Jesus.  Perhaps that’s what made them think “he must be back from the dead.” Others, being devout Jews had learned of Elijah the prophet from their youth, a prophet who was incredibly bold in his preaching, who at the end of his life didn’t die, but was taken up to heaven by God in chariots and horses of fire into heaven.  Perhaps hearing Jesus’ boldness, they had convinced themselves this had to be Elijah returning from heaven...The point is that all   these different “votes,”    these characterizations,   these reactions   while understandable, don’t get to the fullness of the truth.

Only Simon Peter’s reply. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” represents the totality of who Jesus is.

What is striking to me though is how Jesus responds to Simon Peter though. “Blessed are you Simon ... flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.”   That’s so critically important because  facts, opinions, experiences, biases all have a piece of this mysterious puzzle of coming to know who Jesus is, but an essential piece of coming to know, coming to understand, coming to love Jesus is a matter of faith.   Simon Peter had to have had those beliefs stirring in his heart for some time.  He heard him preach, he saw some miracles, he had his own one-on-one personal interactions with him.   More than likely Peter’s friends, his family had heard and seen Jesus and had shared their opinions. And maybe they were divided into those different camps - John the Baptist - Elijah - Jeremiah - as well.

The realization “You are the Son of the living God” comes from the eyes of faith, and the depths of the heart.

The eyes of faith, and the depths of heart are able to siphon out the wildly different polarizing opinions that people were (and continue to) offer and fight about.  

The eyes of faith, the depths of heart gives him the courage to make that declaration - probably while the head was still confused and would still wrestle with doubts and fears.

Which is why as Jesus raises Peter as our first Pope, the rock on which he will build the Church on, Peter remains an important figure for us.  Peter will go through his different moments of great success and great failures as He follows Jesus.  When the crowds and public opinion turns quite dramatically against Jesus, labeling him crazy, a radical, an enemy to the state, a blasphemer, all leading Jesus to the Cross, Peter will deny he even knows this Son of God.  Yet, when Jesus rises from the dead, and Peter is overwhelmed in guilt and shame, Jesus meets him in that place and is able to heal that failure, restoring his leadership as the head of His Church.

The eyes of faith, the depths of his heart would constantly allow Peter to encounter the Son of the living God no matter the twists and turns of life and public opinion would offer ... eventually to the point where Peter no longer was swayed by them. That truth he uttered this one day would become the single most important truth in his life  that Peter himself would eventually lay down his life in testimony to: Jesus is the Son of the living God.

Perhaps as you and I leave this place and find ourselves bombarded with requests or opportunities to like, comment, vote, express our opinions on everything from the superiority of the NY Yankees to the NY Mets to National Security, we’ll pause for a second before we click and see it as an opportunity for some self-reflection. Is the energy and reaction I’m putting into whatever topic it might be really deserving of this response?  Particularly when we recognize there are more important things for us to our energy and thought to:
Like if Jesus was posing that question to me (Who do I say He is?), what would be my response?

That we might identify a gap between our experience, our beliefs, our faith right now and what we want it to be, to genuinely and sincerely call him and believe him to be the Son of the living God is fine. But the reality is to be able to make that claim, to get to a place where we testify that is what we believe and demonstrate by our very lives isn’t something that will be verified by a tweet, vote or simple click of a ‘like’ button.

CALL ME THOMAS

Left, the "new" house... Right, the original Newman center


I hate to admit it, but I didn't think this would ever happen.  That the Newman Center would purchase the house and property adjacent to our existing center - it sounded like a great, logical thing for us.  The growth that the Newman Center has experienced has made our present facility -- as homey and comfy as it is -- way too inadequate.  I don't know how many dinners were shared in the middle of the hallway or on the stair case in the center.   The kitchen that we added a few years ago was a huge help, but for our serious chefs and bakers, there barely was room for one person in there.  And with our campus continuing to grow (presently appx 20,000 with a Catholic population of greater than 60%) The need for more room was obvious.

But there seemed countless reasons why things wouldn't come together or work out.  We've been investigating ways to expand Newman for a few years.  About 2 years ago after a considerable amount of time, energy, resources and studies - I sat at a meeting that lasted only 40 minutes and saw all that work go up in smoke.  That experience was difficult to take.  Although truth be told, I handled it better than I imagined at the time.  I truly felt in my heart The Lord saying "not now."

And, again - truth be told - when I reflect on this whole thing, it has been The Lord who has directed things.  Different individuals, from around the country, with various expertise, gifts, talents have generously assisted in ways that I could never have foreseen, predicted or put together:  From a family who paid for that initial feasibility study to professionals who because of that study became intrigued by our hopes and dreams that they started volunteering their time -- to countless donations from all across the country.

Despite how beautifully God has been slowly moving things forward - when I first received a phone call from our neighbor saying "Father, you had mentioned that if I was ever interested in selling my house, to let you know - well, I'm ready" - almost immediately I was plagued with doubts.

"Oh, that project-- I doubt will be able to come together again."
"Where will we get the funding to purchase the house now?"
or even more cynically "What's going to come along to mess this up?"

Yup, I guess you can call me "Thomas..." (The apostle unfairly dubbed "doubting, but I digress)

And yet, as this past year went along, this whole acquiring of the house was one of the most uneventful processes ever.  Housing appraisals were done, discussed.  Negotiations were professional and respectful.  The Archdiocese was enthusiastic in it's support and fulfilled every promise they made.  

And praise God - yesterday, August 5th, we closed on the house.

I'm beyond excited for the Newman Catholic Campus Ministry at Montclair State.  
I'm profoundly grateful by the support and generosity of so many who have made this possible - most especially Archbishop Myers, and the people of the Archdiocese of Newark who funded the purchase of the house.
And I'm sincerely humbled at how The Lord continues to surprise me and challenge me to deeper trust and belief in how he ultimately is leading and guiding us...  When we are attentive and obedient to Him.

I ask your continued prayers as we embark on this new chapter in Newmans history.  And for those who would like to contribute to assist us in our immediate needs as we "move in" check out our website www.MSUNEWMAN.com for a link to paypal to donate online.

Unless the LORD build the house,
they labor in vain who build.
Psalm 127:1