Hi everyone - here's my homily for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time - SEPTEMBER 28, 2014.  The readings for today's Mass can be found at  Thanks as always for reading, for your feedback and sharing the blog on Facebook, Twitter & Reddit.  Grateful for all your support!  God Bless - Fr. Jim


Imagine tonight that you’re walking home on your way home from Mass and a genie appears before you. He says “hey, you’re a good kid going to Mass on a Sunday Night with no one forcing you to go and all... I’m impressed. I want to grant you one wish.” What would you like? Maybe you consider something more pressing “uh - that I have another week to start to write my 10 page paper due on this Tuesday?” – check that, it’s a genie, right? “That you write my paper - and make it an “A” - for me for this Tuesday.” But again it’s a genie - “write all my papers for all semester, no for all four years - ahh let’s just make it that you get me to graduate in 4 years graduating with honors... Wait Genie - aren’t you supposed to give me 3 wishes?” The genie looks back at you and says “Whoa... I’m the genie and you didn’t free me from a lamp, I’m just being a good guy here - you get one wish... take your time... Why do you want to do well here at Montclair State?” You probably can think of a bunch of things: “Well, a college degree is important for me to be able to get a good job.” The genie asks “Why do you want a good job?” “Honestly, I want to make a lot of money...” “OK,” the genie says, and then asks - “why do you want to make a lot of money?” “You’re quite a nosy genie aren’t you... Well with a lot of money I can buy a lot of stuff, go to different places, have nice things - I can get the Iphone 6 and the Samsung...” And the genie asks “Why do you want all those things?” You think for a moment – “I don’t know - because I want to be happy...”

Ultimately if we thought about it - whatever our wish would’ve been - money, success, health - they are all ways that each of us deep within tries to satisfy that longing for happiness. And it’s a safe bet that tonight on your way home you won’t encounter a genie to grant you a wish (sorry) to help you achieve that goal. But when we think about it - isn’t that why we’re so often tempted to do things that we know aren’t good for us?
- or things that don’t seem right
- or even things that we know deep down inside are sinful – that’s a hard concept to deal with. Sinful things. We know certain things are sinful, or they don’t feel right or maybe we were taught that about things(and don’t want to believe it)   But this desire for happiness can open us up to being confused, easily swayed - tempted by short cuts.
Happiness is?

 “I wanted to write a good term paper, but that genie never appeared – I’m so busy, I got work, I got other classes, I had no choice but to plagiarize... and what’s the big deal anyway, who cares, no one will read it, everyone does it...” That’s not limited to the classroom either... People use alcohol, drugs, sex all out of this belief that if I take this, if I do this - that will be fun, that will be pleasurable - that will lead to happiness. And when the momentary feelings of pleasure disappear, there’s that choice to keep trying, keep doing those things to try to feel more pleasure, have more fun, experience longer-term happiness. It becomes an addiction. Questions about whether we should do something or not - whether something is sinful or not become harder and harder to answer when our motivation is about making ourselves happy.

Today, Jesus gives us a pretty straight forward parable. These two sons, their Father has asked them to do some work in the vineyard. One says No and then has a change of heart and decides to go do it and the other says Yes but never shows up. Jesus asks, who did his father’s will? And we look and say, well that’s easy - it was the first one.

But we have to look deeper at what Jesus is pointing out to us. This gospel isn’t about easy answers to straight forward questions, like, is it ethical to cheat in a class to get a good grade? Jesus is telling us that he knows it’s hard to do the right thing. We give ourselves reasons, explanations, things that make our own particular case different. In a way, we can relate on some level to both of these sons in this parable:

On the one hand, – It’s hard to choose to do the right thing. We want to do the right thing on one level - the level that identifies right and wrong, ethical or not immediately - instantly, we know it in our bones. So we say "Yes" to the Lord with our lips, we are going to turn away from the bad choice and turn towards what the Lord is asking of us - but then we struggle finding our way out there to the vineyard. It’s kind of hard to do what the Lord is asking me to do, when I got so much else to do, so many other things weighing on me. We become weak and self-serving. We allow ourselves to sit on the throne in our lives and move Jesus aside.

But truth be told, there are probably times that we know what the right thing is and we’re like the other son. We’re a bit more honest and say "No" - I know what I’m being asked to do, I know what the right thing is, and I know it’s difficult - so "No" I’m not interested - I don’t want to do it. Because we’ve bought into the lie that "the right thing" is a nice ideal and nice guys finish last. We don't want to be fooled or cheated. The challenge that Jesus presents to us is this. Can we look at him and see beyond the here and now? We use our human senses to say what is true. Jesus’ mission is to make God so real and present to us here and now so we will look for Him and be pointed towards eternity. To realize all of the decisions and choices we make on a daily basis contribute to whether we want to be with Him or not - whether we want to be a part of his Kingdom, his vineyard - or not.

 We start to realize that these daily decisions, battles, internal struggles we have over the right thing versus the wrong thing are all part of demonstrating what road, what path am I traveling on? But this isn’t about a "follow the rules or else" type of living - it’s about Jesus reaching out to you and me and showing us the bigger picture. The promises of this world, the pursuits of these things don’t lead to the happiness we seek. The happiness we seek will only happen by keeping our eyes focused on Him. Living for Him. Following Him. And yes, that’s hard to do.

Which is why it’s always struck me as profoundly beautiful that in this parable, the one Jesus holds up as an example for us is the son who said "No" to the Father’s request but then changed his mind and went. Think about it – Jesus doesn’t use examples of people who never stray, who never doubt or question. In fact it’s quite the opposite – The gospels are filled with examples of people who struggle, who disappoint, who fall away. People just like you and me.  And consistently, Jesus rejoices in the moment of conversion, holds up as an example the time when the person realizes they’ve messed up and turn back to him.

As we are bombarded on a daily basis with decisions and choices to make, it is difficult to navigate through them all, to consistently make the "right" choice. Pope St. John Paul II once gave an incredibly beautiful explanation on the pursuit of happiness: “It is Jesus that you seek when you dream of happiness; He is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; He is the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is He who provoked you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise; it is He who urges you to shed the masks of a false life; it is He who reads in your heart your most genuine choices, the choices that others try to stifle. It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives, the will to follow an ideal, the refusal to allow yourselves to be ground down by mediocrity, the courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves and society, making the world more human and more fraternal.”

  May you and I engage in that difficult, but eternally rewarding task of engaging in the pursuit for true happiness - living for Him, following Jesus.


Hi everyone - here's my homily for the FEAST OF THE EXALTATION OF THE HOLY CROSS - Sunday, September 14, 2014.  The readings for today's Mass can be found at  .  I'm always grateful for you stopping by and reading this - and for sharing this blog on Facebook, twitter, reddit -- for your feedback and comments.  God Bless ! Have a great week - Fr Jim

September 11... 911 …. Most everyone knows what it means. Here it is, 13 years later, and we are still living a post 911 life. As I was thinking about that, I realized that for many of you college students were between 4 and 10 years old. That means for many of you your memories of a pre-9/11 world are far more limited.  You might not remember a time where you didn’t have to get to the airport 3 hours before it’s departure; or when you could walk into Yankee Stadium without emptying your pockets, bags and practically getting frisked - all things that changed immediately after 9/11. And you might not even really recall the Twin Towers as being a part of that NY skyline that we can see right here from campus.

As the remembrances, commemorations, documentaries started popping up over the past week, it’s amazing how quickly memories flood back to that horrific day - particularly for us who live only about 15 miles from where the Twin Towers stood.  9/11 has become one of those historic, life-changing memories that practically everyone can recall "where they were" or "what they were doing" when they first heard the horrific news of the evil that was unleashed.

Those towers, as iconic and historic as they’ve in a sense become, really weren’t that old. They were built in the early 70's and opened in 1973 (the year I was born... see, they aren’t that old!) When they opened they were the tallest buildings in the entire world.  It was practically it’s own city - 50,000 people worked there and over 200,000 people would go in and out of there every day. It was so vast that it even had it’s own zip code. On a clear day visitors could see them from a 50 mile radius... you could make them out from Mahwah, Morristown or Sandy Hook... They became a symbol too - Newsweek magazine said:   Skyscrapers are an American invention, and the World Trade Center was among the last to reflect something of the visionary ideals of progress and technology that so defined the last century. How high can we build? How high can we fly? Can we reach the moon? We as a nation were dreaming big. The towers were a symbol of grandness.

Yet, in the course of two hours, those twin towers became symbolic of something extremely different: death, destruction, terrorism. Grandness was replaced by fear which changed security measures in our country. Not too soon after the towers were destroyed, people began to openly discuss and debate what to do on the site of the World Trade Center. And it was pretty quickly decided that yes they would re-build  - but no they would not rebuild the Twin Towers.  The argument being that they had come to represent such tragedy that a majority of people wouldn’t want to visit let alone work there. It’s amazing how quickly that symbol’s meaning changed in people’s hearts and minds.

Today - September 14th, the Catholic Church commemorates the finding of a sacred artifact-- and what was a tragic and heart-wrenching symbol.  The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Back in the 4th Century, the Emperor of the Roman Empire, Constantine, becomes a Jesus Freak. He's converted. This is huge! At that time, Christianity went from being a religion of people persecuted –  where thousands upon thousands of our earliest ancestors were martyred – to becoming the official religion of the Roman Empire. St. Helena, who was Constantine’s mother went to Jerusalem in search of the holy places of Christ’s life. Upon excavations there, workers discovered three crosses. Legend has it that the one on which Jesus died was identified when its touch healed a dying woman. On this day, they dedicated a Church on the place where Jesus died and for the centuries since, we’ve marked this feast day.

But more than that history lesson, it’s really a feast that calls us to focus on the Cross.  We see it as a universal symbol of our religion, but for the earliest Christians, that wasn’t the case.  The early Christian artwork (which I was blessed to see on my recent trip to Rome and to the Catacombs) would portray the Good Shepherd (after the parable of Jesus rescuing the lost sheep) as a way to represent Christ and Christians.  The Cross would’ve been too horrific for the Early Christians to look at.  Early Christians going to attend Mass (in secret) would likely have walked past crosses with decaying bodies hanging on them as a threat and a warning to anyone who dared to defy Roman authority and refused to sacrifice to the pagan gods of Rome.  The reality of the horror that Jesus endured would have been all too familiar as they witnessed their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ suffering the same cruel death.

But it’s interesting to see how that symbol’s meaning changed in people’s hearts and minds. While the horror of the cross and crucifixions - the cruel, inhumane, grossness of it was abhorrent, the reality that Jesus willingly suffered that for us, for our sins is difficult to take in. Eventually Christians began to see that this instrument of torture which spelled the end for thousands of people in the Roman Empire and seemingly did for Jesus as well for a couple days before His Resurrection in a new light. Those words from today’s Gospel took on deeper meaning:   just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.   Christians began to recognize Jesus being "lifted up" on the Cross - his suffering, his victory over the Cross as the path to eternal life.

That’s not to whitewash the cross. Which is why in every Catholic Church we don’t see an empty cross but one with the Crucified Christ on it. We don’t lose sight that Jesus suffered and in that, we’re able to relate to him in a very human way.  That is one of the great equalizers among all humanity - that we suffer. That we struggle. That we are all carrying a cross.

Are you carrying a cross right now?  Is it an illness of someone you love? The death of someone you love? Turmoil in your family? Maybe it’s just being here at Montclair State University - being in a new place far from home - and not feeling like you’re fitting in? Maybe it’s the fears of what will happen after college? There are so many heavy burdens that all of us are carrying, that can weigh us down that represents a cross in our life. Think about the origin of your cross. Is it evil initiated by another or self-inflicted? Either way, it is an attack. And if we were to see those things illustrated as a cross - we’d probably have a complex mix of emotions in response to it. Maybe we’d want to throw it or smash it... Maybe we’d try to ignore it, pretend it wasn’t there. Maybe we’d simply break down and cry.

The cross you are carrying can be exalted in your life and take on new meaning. All that needs to happen is for us to focus on Jesus’ cross. We have to experience and relive that demonstration of pure selflessness, humility.   "The Cross of Christ invites us to allow ourselves to be smitten by his love...Only in Christ crucified and risen can we find salvation and redemption. With Him, evil, suffering, and death do not have the last word, because He gives us hope and life: He has transformed the Cross from being an instrument of hate, defeat, and death to being a sign of love, victory, triumph and life. There is no cross in our life, big or small, which the Lord does not share with us.(Pope Francis) God turns our struggles and challenges into freedom and victory. He makes our crosses beautiful symbols in our lives.

When moving furniture, one person always has to carry the heavy end (except for pianos, all ends are heavy). God desires to take the heavy end of the cross, but will we let Him? We think we can take care of it, it's our cross and our responsibility … we have everything we need to "fix" it. That's our choice … will we continue to carry, drag or be completely stopped by our cross as we try to use our limited power, or will we allow God to take over? Jesus' cross is the symbol of victory and that's why it is exalted.

Our cross is not the answer...

But His is.

September 11 - A reflection 13 years later

What got me choked up this morning was the kid--  who looked to be barely a teenager.  I had tuned into the September 11th Memorial on television and there he was up on the dais in Lower Manhattan reading the names of the victims - including his father - savagely killed by terrorists today 13 years ago.  As the names flashed by that I felt connected to - cousins Brett Bailey and Bobby Coll - who's grandparents were parishioners of mine - I remembered being at their memorial Masses.  (We couldn't have a funeral at the time since their remains hadn't been recovered)  While a flood of memories and questions about both of their families ran through my mind, the image of Bobby's baby son in his mother's arms at that Mass is what really came back to me.  He's a teenager by now.  Probably around the same age as that other young man reading names up there.
And that's when I started to cry.  

People like to say on September 11th "We will never forget" - but for some reason I find myself grappling with the reality that I can not ever forget.  As much as we as nation have adapted to what is a "new normal" in a post-9/11 world, which I suppose as human beings we do in every age after every tragedy to some extent -- there will never be a day when September 11th will be somehow "normal" again.

It will forever be a day when I think of the brave men and women of the FDNY, NYPD & PAPD and their selflessness and sacrificial acts to serve their fellow citizens; I will think of my brother priest Fr. Mychal Judge, the Catholic priest, the Franciscan Friar and FDNY chaplain who was killed that day ministering to people at that tragic site who is listed as the first official victim of the 9/11 attacks in NYC; I will think of the victims -- that seemingly endless litany of names that take over 3 hours to read each year who's lives were robbed from them from evil people; and I will think of the families -- and kids, like that teenager - who never got to know their mom or dad because of that day.

As I was looking on my hard drive for something, a homily I had to deliver a week after 9/11 (which I thought had been lost) I discovered... thought I would re-post it here.  That evening with over 1,000 people packing our Church and the silence of those 1,000 people gathered together are another vivid memory.

Eucharistic Holy Hour for Strength and Courage in Time of Sorrow and Trial 
18 September 2001 
Fr. Jim Chern

HOMILY: A priest of the Archdiocese of Newark lost 66 of his former co-workers and 9 parishioners...  The rectory phone kept ringing yesterday giving us this list of 15 individuals from the thousands who are missing asking for prayers for this evening... The stories go on, and on and on...  They frighten us, depress us, enrage us.  This isn’t some terrible event that took place in an unknown country to people we have never met that we read as we thumb through the newspaper to which we could sit comfortably removed from.  This isn’t some horror movie that someone has come up with.  This is real.  This really happened, less than 30 miles from here, to people we know and love and care for and miss.  And so we are frightened, and so we are depressed, and so we are enraged.  And we have good reason to.
Because we are rational, logical, loving people.  We have a Faith that is rooted in Reason.  And what occurred a week ago today defies all those categories.  There was no rational, logical or loving thought that wreaked this havoc on us.
There is only one way to describe it: Evil.   What happened last week was evil.  The people who committed those atrocities embraced evil as a philosophy, evil as a theology, evil as a way of life.  As American’s, evil is something we rarely talk about.  Perhaps out of our concern of being judgmental, or wanting to give the benefit of the doubt.  And as such, we as a culture, as a church even tread lightly when the topic of evil comes up.  It’s true, myself included, that rarely is a homily given on Hell or evil.  Usually because as priests, our aim is to preach about things that are part of our normal experience.  And in the process, we have allowed ourselves to become numb to the presence of Evil.  Of the many ways we have changed since September 11th, the melting of that numbness is one.  We know evil exists.  We have seen it all too well.
There are voices inside each of us right now.  Voices that long for vengeance – Kill them.  Voices that want isolation – Get rid of them.  And as much as they are understandable, as much as they are shared by many people all at once, being here tonight, we know that we are rational, logical and loving people.  And so we cannot allow those voices to take hold of us.  We come here to remember the victims, we come here to offer our prayerful support the families and neighbors who have lost so much, we give thanks for the extraordinary efforts of men and women, our heroes, many from our own town, many who are here tonight who were part of that massive rescue effort, and we pray for our nation’s leaders as they plan th in the days ahead.
And because we have these competing emotions, competing voices, we realize that Love is the stronger voice.  It is Love that causes us to have this collective grief and mourning, because if we didn’t love, than the destruction of lives wouldn’t hurt us.  It is Love that makes us think of others as we pray for so many people that we don’t even know.  It is Love that is the stronger voice, it is Love that is the stronger emotion, it is Love that will conquer the evil that has invaded our society, it is Love that conquers even death itself.
For that is what it means essentially to be a Christian.  That crucifix, that visualization of Jesus suffering and dying on the cross is there to remind us of the atrociousness of what evil can do.  It can attack the most innocent of all.  But because God has the final say, because God wouldn’t allow death to mock him or his son, God raised his Son from the dead, and That Body of Christ, alive in our midst, exposed on that altar, proves to us what Love can do.
As American’s, we are being called to rally around the Flag, to unite as a nation.  Which is a good and necessary thing to do.  Christ calls us tonight to rally around his Cross, to unite as a people of God, and recognize our profound need for that Cross to expel evil not only from our midst, but in each of our lives, to quash the voices of vengeance and destruction in each one of us.