THANKSGIVING DISASTER AVERTED - NOW FOR AN ETERNAL ONE...

Hi everyone, hope that you all had a blessed Thanksgiving and Happy New Year!  That's right, tonight the Church begins it's new "Liturgical Year" with this season of ADVENT.  Here is my homily for the FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT -November  30, 2014.  The readings can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/113014.cfm.  Thanks as always for reading this blog, sharing it and your feedback.

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:


A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine called and asked "what are you and your family doing for Thanksgiving." Even through the phone I could hear his shock when I told him I was hosting my family.  Quite simply, he knows me well enough that cooking a "Hot Pocket" can be a bit of a challenge at times and that my improvisation in the kitchen could include me trying to google if there’s a way to cook a Turkey on a George Forman grill.  At any rate, I quickly confessed that I had planned to order everything pre-cooked from a local supermarket. About a week and a half ago, I ran over there to put the order in. I never realized how complicated even ordering a meal could be.  Do you want an organic-antibiotic free bird that’s been brined? (What? Ah, yeah, that sounds fine...) What sides do you want. You need to order 2lb minimum per side (okay is 2lbs of mashed potatoes enough for 6 adults and 3 kids?)

I was getting antsy just making these choices but it seemed like it was going okay. Then the lady asked me "Father, when do you want to pick this up? Wednesday night? Because Thursday from 6- 8 in the Morning it’s going to be a mob scene here..." I thought for a second - I didn’t want to get everything the night before and then have it sit till the next day - I mean, again, I’m not a cook, how would I fix it all so that it still tasted fresh from the oven/stove overnight? So I said "well what’s the latest I can come and pick it all up?" She said "well I’m not sure how late the store is open till, but our department will only be here till around noon" - so I said "Okay, how’s 11:00 on Thanksgiving?" She stopped and said "Well, yeah, we can have it ready for you then." Perfect... I thought. Then she asked a strange question "What time are you having everyone for dinner" - I’m not paranoid or anything but was thinking why is she asking that, is she looking for an invite or something? But I let that random thought fly out of my head and just responded "1:30/2:00" She then said "you do know that you have to cook the Turkey..."

Uh.... what?

And then she pointed to the text just above all the different bird options that clearly said "OVEN READY TURKEY" - meaning they have it all set for you to cook. "OH NO - NO NO NO" - "Father it’s really not that hard..." as she pulled out the directions. After I explained this was definitely not going to be my year to experiment cooking a Thanksgiving Dinner and that if need be I would go to Boston Market, buy a bunch of there rotiserre Chickens and pass it off as Turkey, she came up with another Turkey option which didn’t involve cooking the bird.

In a lot of ways I’m extremely grateful that she pressed me on the details. The fact that I hadn’t really paid close enough attention to something clearly stated right in front of me could’ve resulted in a lot of anxiety, frustration, embarrassment on Thanksgiving. (I’m imagining that I would’ve decided to double the temperature of the oven to cook the bird in record time) If not for this stranger’s care and concern, Thanksgiving dinner could’ve been a bit of a disaster.

In tonight’s Gospel, we hear words of care and concern - not from a stranger, but rather the one who knows us most intimately: Jesus Christ. And he’s offering this very short, somewhat abrupt little parable to help us avoid not some kitchen nightmare but a real, eternal disaster for us individually. 

Are we prepared for the day when we meet Jesus Christ face to face? We don’t know if that will be at the end of the world (whose date is a mystery that only God himself knows) or our own "end" (whose date is also a mystery that only God himself knows). But in either case, this Gospel opens up a new year in the Church - a new season in the Church called "Advent." It’s hard with Black-Friday, Cyber Monday and all the other Christmas commercialization for us not to apply that here as well. Advent isn’t meant to be the pre-Christmas season in Church...  True, Advent will (the last week of the season) recall the anticipation of the world at the first coming of Christ at the first Christmas.  But Advent means a lot more than that. At it’s core, Advent is about welcoming Christ not just back then- but knowing and anticipating his return at the end... and the best way to do that; to be prepared for that is to welcoming him here and now. 

That’s why this brief Gospel parable of the master of the house, Jesus gives us the perfect summary of what Advent is about. Waiting.... Watchfulness... Readiness.

Jesus calls us to realize our responsibilities in the present as we dare to look forward to the promise of the future. As many times as we’ve heard similar messages, we realize we can sometimes miss by obliviously moving through, thinking everything’s fine, we’ve got it covered, we’ve got plenty of time to get all that we need to do.

But Jesus reminds us that we simply don’t know how much time we have.  And the preparations we need to undertake really vary from person to person - because it’s not holiday preparations like gift buying, sending cards or even cooking a Turkey.   Things like Love and Compassion... Forgiveness and Healing given to and received from those around us... yeah that’s hard, difficult work, without real time-tables attached to each of those things. Jesus tells us to watch and not be found asleep. It's easy to fall asleep when surrounded by blessings, like a turkey dinner. Life can get so comfortable that we can nod off. But in doing so, we are missing the brunt of what is needed; we need to be aware and ready.

But here’s the thing, Advent isn’t meant to add stress to our already stress filled lives. We’re not to anxiously run through all those things in a mad dash to check them off our list, but rather to reflect, and confront with the preciousness and fragileness of our lives what choices, what values, what beliefs are important enough to LIVE for.  Because in the end, life is a constant Advent experience:
the world is not as just,
not as loving,
not as whole as we know it can and should be;

we are constantly waiting to become,
to discover,
to understand,
to change,
to complete,
to fulfill.

Hope, struggle, fear, expectation and fulfillment are all part of life's Advent. The coming of Christ and his presence among us -- as one of us now -- gives us reason to live in hope:
that light will shatter the darkness,
that we can be liberated from our fears and prejudices,
that we are never alone or abandoned by our merciful Father in heaven.

He walks with us through the advent opportunities He gives to prepare ourselves for His return. What a great day of celebration and feasting that will be!

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.