WHY CELEBRATE JESUS' BIRTH ON DEC 25TH?

Merry Christmas!  My prayers and best wishes to you and yours on this holy feast day!  This homily is based on the Gospel (John 1: 1-18) that is designated for Christmas Mass during the Day (there's 4 different options) - http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/122515-day.cfm  .  As always thanks for sharing this blog on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and elsewhere on Social Media.  I'm grateful for all your feedback, comments and support.  Merry Christmas!  God Bless - Fr. Jim
Quick commercial - A couple of weeks ago, we had a quite unexpected and unwelcome "surprise" - the boiler at the Newman Center went kaput.  Thankfully with mild temperatures and quick response from our plumber, we were able to have a new system installed rather quickly.  Unfortunately that was another $9,000 unexpected expense to an already stretched budget from our "Tree Falling Incident" back in May.  I'm grateful for all those who've already made a gift to NEWMAN CATHOLIC in our Annual Christmas Appeal.  The generosity of alumni, family members of our students and friends of Newman makes a tremendous difference.  To make a contribution, please check out www.MSUNEWMAN.com Many thanks for your kindness and consideration.

HOMILY:
One story that seems to make the rounds every year around Christmas – whether on the internet, newspapers or television – is the discussion of how December 25th became the day we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. For the most part, it’s agreed that there’s no clear cut evidence that puts this historic event on this precise date with the certainty that we could with say some other historic events - like when we mark July 4, 1776 as the birth of our nation with the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

There are some theologians who have done some pretty interesting biblical scholarship that does support the celebration being today ( for example: http://taylormarshall.com/2012/12/yes-christ-was-really-born-on-december.html) But for so long, people have heard that the celebration of Jesus’ birth was simply placed on the calendar to counter pagan celebrations that were occurring on or around that date – that these ancient celebrations were simply "Christianized" – that has become, for the most part the generally accepted theory behind how we came to seeing Jesus’ birthday as December 25th.

One of those celebrations that has been claimed to have been usurped by Christians is the events surrounding the Winter Solstice - the annual occurrence when in the Northern Hemisphere we experience the longest night of the entire year. This is the day when the astronomical phenomenon of the tilt of the Earth results in the fewest hours of daylight and the most hours of darkness. Here in the New York City area this occurred this past Monday where we experienced the shortest hours of daylight for the entire year - only 9 hours 15 minutes and 16 seconds.... For Trivia sake, the summer solstice - happening in June will be 5 hours and 50 minutes more sunlight on what is considered the longest day of the year)

Some look at this "transforming" of celebrations or traditions as something controversial. Arguing that this was a successful co-opting done by Christians to usurp other ancient traditions (which if that’s true, one can argue, the secularists have done a pretty good counter-attack to Christmas in recent decades). Others who see Christianity as completely untrue will cite this questionable day as another piece of evidence of some grand conspiracy where the entire Christian story is held suspect.

For me, though, whether we could ever have the exact certitude or not of December 25th being the day that the Blessed Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus Christ in a manger... it does seem to be the perfect occasion or time of year to celebrate this event which has forever changed the human race.

This time of year, which particularly in our modern era has been made so busy in our elaborate celebrations of whatever holiday you wish - Christmas - Boxing Day - New Years - Festivus... Kind of distracts us from the dreariness that the ancients faced with the winter solstice. In fact, wait... in a few weeks when these celebrations are completed and we may have gained only about 10 or 15 minutes of daylight, stories will be making the rounds of how people are experiencing what are called the "Winter blues."

Nature with the long nights and short days conveys a sense of gloom. Despite our desires, our preferences for that not to be the case... In spite of our advancements and modern conveniences (Yes, a huge shout out to Thomas Edison and countless others who’ve created lights and found ways to illuminate streets and buildings as the sun sets...) - we can’t change this natural phenomenon. Those inventions have provided ways to deal with it, compensate for it, make it a bit more bearable. But we can’t ever truly defeat it. This darkness.

Nature will, as nature does, take care of this phenomenon itself... just as it does every morning. The sunrise casts the light. The new day vanquishes the gloom. And come June, the Sun will be seen as the victor - reigning a full 15 hours and 5 minutes of daylight on the longest day of the year in the Summer Solstice. But that seems like a distant - far off event as we see street lights turn on at 4:30 in the afternoon!

Which is why it seems like naturally the best time of the year to celebrate Christ’s birth into humanity. There’s no shortage of things to point to that fills us with a sense of fear, anxiety, sadness... people talk about it like a "dark cloud" over them - over all of us. We see violent, horrifying terrorist attacks; we hear angry rhetoric on all sides of the political aisles; we see neighbors pointing at one another as the reason for unrest, instability, division... We experience or have loved ones and friends going through "painful" Christmases- the death of a loved one; illnesses and sicknesses; turmoil from lack of jobs and increased debt... Yes, there is great darkness. Which sadly, nature hasn’t been able to vanquish with each passing day of the lunar calendar.

Which is why we celebrate Jesus’ entrance into humanity. Not just at this time of year, the darkest time of the year. But each and every day... each and every year since that first Holy Night... As St. John proclaims to us in the Gospel today: What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Yes - brothers and sisters, we all experience darkness. Some of us are experiencing incredible pain and suffering; some have real fears that they try to run from throughout the day and keep them up throughout those long nights... and some live in dread that at some point this darkness will catch up with them as well.

But Jesus comes.

Jesus is born into this.

God steps into his cosmos in a unique way to set a different course.

Nature speaks supernatural truths: that we have the real hope of that sunrise; we have that certainty of the longest night becoming the longest day... we have the promise of his eternal light, eternal life radiating and transforming all those corners and remnants of darkness we experience in this world around us.

That is the light that shines.

That is the light the darkness has not - and will not overcome.

We see it in the love that often reveals itself in moments of darkness. We see it in that movement of our hearts and souls to help another - that calls us out of our isolation, out of our selfishness, out of our darkness into light. We see it in those acts of generosity; in movements of sacrifice; in humility; in meekness; in tenderness. When those actions, those movements occur, we find ourselves entering into the Christmas mystery: the smallness of God becoming one of us; the tenderness of the Baby Jesus who makes himself so readily accessible we can’t help but want to encounter the God who comes to seek us, comes to love us.

Pope Benedict XVI a few years ago in one of his Christmas homilies shared this thought: God’s sign is his humility. God’s sign is that he makes himself small; he becomes a child; he lets us touch him and he asks for our love. How we would prefer a different sign, an imposing, irresistible sign of God’s power and greatness! But his sign summons us to faith and love, and thus it gives us hope: this is what God is like. He has power, he is Goodness itself. He invites us to become like him. Yes indeed, we become like God if we allow ourselves to be shaped by this sign; if we ourselves learn humility and hence true greatness; if we renounce violence and use only the weapons of truth and love.

May our annual commemoration of the historic birth of Christ renew ourselves in this great mystery - that Jesus has come, and remains with us... offering us the light to dispel all darkness, today and always. Calling you and I to be that light bringing His Joy, His Peace, His Love to the hearts of all men and women..

Merry Christmas.

"DO IT AGAIN...DO IT AGAIN"

Hi everyone - here’s my homily for the FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT - December 20, 2015. The readings for today’s Mass can be found at: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/122015.cfm. Thanks as always for reading; sharing this on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit; and all your comments and feedback. Always grateful for your support. God Bless! Fr Jim


Quick commercial - This past week, we had a quite unexpected and unwelcome "surprise" - the boiler at the Newman Center went kaput.  Thankfully with mild temperatures and quick response from our plumber, we were able to have a new system installed rather quickly.  Unfortunately that was another $9,000 unexpected expense to an already stretched budget from our "Tree Falling Incident" back in May.  I'm grateful for all those who've already made a gift to NEWMAN CATHOLIC in our Annual Christmas Appeal.  The generosity of alumni, family members of our students and friends of Newman makes a tremendous difference.  To make a contribution, please check out www.MSUNEWMAN.com Many thanks for your kindness and consideration.


HOMILY:
Yesterday it was announced that Mother Teresa would be canonized a saint next year. In most corners of the world, many people probably thought "we already knew that" or "didn’t that happen already" or "what took the Church so long..." What made her a saint was that she made Jesus Christ real in some amazing ways... We still see these graphic images of her working among the poorest of the poor; the sickest of the sick; the ones least cared for and acknowledged. We marvel at her selflessness - admire it - are even made uncomfortable by it, realizing how revolutionary this one single soul was to the entire universe by simply, selflessly "believing what was spoken to [her] by the Lord." Following his invitation to love and serve him in that amazingly particular way.

While we are moved seeing that example, we as human beings can’t help but fall for the comparison game. We see her life, her example as impossible to attain. The bar has been set too high. We marvel at what she did and just consider her life as some divine miracle seldom experienced... maybe once in a generation... perhaps never to be seen again.

Just like this gospel that was proclaimed: Mary and Elizabeth. Two cousins gathering together; two unlikely women– Elizabeth believed barren, the other a hill-country girl - who will give birth to John the Baptist, the last prophet who will make ready the way for his cousin - Jesus, the Messiah. Reflecting on the story, particularly on Mary, we see her as Elizabeth declares her to be – "Blessed are you among all women." Her selflessness, her "yes" to God again we see how revolutionary this one single soul was to the entire universe by simply, selflessly believing "what was spoken to her by the Lord."

Again - a high bar... something we admire from afar and just don’t see attainable.

Yet, Advent comes each year not to pretend we don’t know what happened and re-stage the story where we are waiting for Jesus to be born in Bethlehem. That happened 2,000 + years ago. Jesus was born, He lived, He suffered, He died, He rose, He ascended - He changed the world forever. But as much as that single man, single handedly has transformed the world in that single event; we see in countless ways by people like Mother Terersa that God is never a one-and-done thing. He has given the path... the instructions... the model to follow. He has shown us what can be done. And he wants his Christ born again today...

G.K. Chersterton, the amazing Catholic writer, made this beautiful observation that fleshes that out observing how children play with adults: "Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again"; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again" to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never gotten tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we." 

Advent is God’s invitation to "do it again" to give birth to Christ again. Not as Mary did. Not as soon to be St. Mother Teresa did. But to believe what the Lord is speaking to you and me... to look for opportunities to be selfless, generous and loving. Yesterday I stumbled upon this video of NYPD police officers who had gone to the Ronald McDonald House - a residence for seriously sick children from around the world who are getting treatment at several NYC hospitals and their families (see it here at: https://www.facebook.com/NYPD/videos/942221349187981/?theater) . They had asked the kids what they wanted for Christmas, used funds they contributed and raised themselves, bought them and then played "Santa" to the kids and their families. Just seeing the joy on these kids faces - forgetting how sick they were for a moment and lost in the excitement of these strangers stopping, noticing, caring for them - had an incredible effect. They brought together these people, united them, created a world of prayer, compassion and generosity - in a somewhat ordinary and simple way. 

That’s the call of Advent and Christmas. For us to feel God’s excitement, His desire to "do it again" – to be born again - to see our sinful broken world made new by the eternal, loving Father. For you and I to listen to his invitations on how he wants us to believe in His word looking to conceive His Christ in us. That we will realize the depth of His love for us, his enduring dream of a people transformed in that love and his constant invitation to unconditional reconciliation, forgiveness and Mercy. May we discover how God wants to use us to make that dream real once again.

WHAT SHOULD WE DO? GET OVER INDIFFERENCE FOR STARTERS

Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT - December 13, 2015. The readings for today can be found at: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/121315.cfm . Thanks as always for reading, sharing this on Facebook, twitter and redditt - and your feedback and comments. God Bless - Fr Jim

Quick commercial - This past week, we had a quite unexpected and unwelcome "surprise" - the boiler at the Newman Center went kaput.  Thankfully with mild temperatures and quick response from our plumber, we were able to have a new system installed rather quickly.  Unfortunately that was another $9,000 unexpected expense to an already stretched budget from our "Tree Falling Incident" back in May.  I'm grateful for all those who've already made a gift to NEWMAN CATHOLIC in our Annual Christmas Appeal.  The generosity of alumni, family members of our students and friends of Newman makes a tremendous difference.  To make a contribution, please check out www.MSUNEWMAN.com Many thanks for your kindness and consideration.



HOMILY:
A few years ago, this incident happened that really bothered me. It was around 1:00 in the morning.  I was brushing my teeth, getting ready for bed, and I had the radio on listening to the news on 1010 WINS.  A disturbing report came on talking about how police had discovered, yet another body out on Long Island, making 6 murder victims who had been identified in just a few days all in this one particular neighborhood. Investigators realized at this point that they were dealing with a serial killer. They started to put together a profile of the victims - all were women, they were all close in age, and had similar features and appearance. It also turned out that all of the victims were prostitutes. Already this was a sad and disturbing story. But what came next on this broadcast has troubled me ever since I heard it and is probably the reason that – despite the fact that we hear horrible things on the news on a daily basis - this story really troubled me.

The reporter interviewed a woman who lived in the neighborhood and asked her how did she feel about this serial killer and these attacks happening right where she lived. She said, without even a second’s pause, that she had been worried about it when she first heard about the murders, but once she learned that all of the women who were killed were prostitutes, she was relieved. As soon as she heard that, she said, she and her family and friends could relax and go back to life as usual.

It was startling to hear – this horrific thing was occurring right in her own neighborhood, terrorizing her community - but suddenly it didn’t matter at all to her - all because she felt that since she and those closest to her didn’t fit the victim profile, they were "safe."  Perhaps she’s watched too much CSI or Criminal Minds and thinks the "unsub"wouldn’t go after her.  I doubt I’d ever feel safe if I knew that there’s a homicidal maniac killing people running around my town or neighborhood. As I spit the toothpaste out and yelled at the radio saying, "Hey Genius – killing people isn’t exactly a logical thing to do, perhaps one day this killer might decide to kill someone other than prostitutes..."


Besides that initial rant, what was stunning to me was that sense of disengagement from the horrific thing that was occurring right in her neighborhood. She was genuinely relieved as she spoke to the reporter. As horrific as murder is, this lady revealed something that is equally destructive to humanity: indifference... What concern is this to me? It’s not my problem... who cares?

In a lot of ways, many of us Catholics kind of coast through Advent... It’s the pre-Christmas of the Church who keeps telling us not to sing Christmas carols yet... not put up the decorations... not to buy into the marketing and worldly version of Christmas. Which if that’s the goal -we’ve obviously failed (I include myself in that as the entire Newman Center has been decked out with Jesus in the manger since the beginning of December... and yes the statue is there, it’s not like that event hasn’t happened yet and "Jesus isn’t here yet" - uhm he’s right there in the Eucharist, in the tabernacle all the time, so... ANYWAY)

But Advent is much more than that. We do try to slow down the Christmas celebrations to get in touch with what preceded that:   Advent is about our recognition of our Need for God.    That deep, deep longing within ourselves that can never be fulfilled by a present under the tree. That restlessness that even in a detached, indifferent world longs for justice, for peace, for (as Pope Francis so perfectly identified it) MERCY.   But we have to not just believe that those longings and desires can be fulfilled - but we need to get in touch with that part within ourselves that wants to experience them too. And that means we have to move out of our own indifference.

See that’s what the crowds going to John the Baptist in today’s Gospel have done. Just for some context: There were a lot of horrible things going on in the world back then. They saw the corruption of their religious leaders, experienced the oppression themselves as Rome had taken over their lands. And in so many ways there were extremes of anger, hatred, division that might appear oddly familiar to us in our day and age.

John the Baptist -who we hear last week is way on the outskirts of civilization - no power, no authority to speak of (at least in worldly terms)... But the Word of God had come to Him. And the human heart which is created by God for God is drawn to hear that word of God. The crowds identifying that they needed something other than what they were experiencing in their day to day lives go out into the desert and they ask John What are we to do?

That’s an important question.  It recognizes that we have to do something . If we want to experience Emmanuel - GOD WITH US, if we want His kingdom ushered in - that kingdom of Justice, of Love of Mercy - well that’s not just something that happens.  We can’t simply cast a vote saying "yeah I’m for that" and expect that it will happen because someone, out there will take care of it for us. God created us with way too much love and respect. He created us with the freedom to choose to respond or even (shockingly) to reject Him.  So hopefully the fact that we are here already reveals on some point that we are with the crowds asking John the Baptist - what are we to do?

And when we listen to the responses from John, there’s something shockingly ordinary about it. He’s not calling us to go and get even with our oppressors; he’s not suggesting counteroffensives or anything offensive.  No, he’s ordering things that seem basic, common sense, common decency: share with those who go without; act justly; be humble.  He is calling us to strengthen our virtues - to pursue a good life.

Those things call us out of ourselves, our self-centeredness - our indifference to the hurts, the worries, the fears of the world around us. That’s when we start responding with Mercy. As Pope Francis pointed out in his talks leading up to the opening of this Jubilee Year of Mercy: "A little bit of mercy makes the world a little less cold and a little more just." When we do that, when we start to choose to be vulnerable over isolated, and stop deluding ourselves that that somehow makes us safe and secure; when we choose friendship with God over distrust over every stranger we meet - that’s when we start to see the face of Christ in the poor, the sick, the suffering, the imprisoned, the lonely.  That’s when we ‘do’ something.  That’s when we begin to encounter Christ ourselves.

Something tells me that, if the woman who the reporter interviewed knew one of the victims who had been found murdered by the serial killer, she wouldn’t have felt relieved or disinterested. Knowing and caring about the person would have radically changed her perspective, her feelings, her reaction.

The Gospel tells us - we do know the person - because we know Jesus Christ. And if we truly want to have deep friendship with Him, we have to ask ourselves What should we do? Realizing we have to do something for all those around us in whatever need, to the best of our abilities, knowing that when we do, it will make all the difference.

BE MERCIFUL JUST AS YOUR FATHER IS MERCIFUL (Luke 6:36)

Today to celebrate the opening of the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, here at the Newman Center, we had what we call a "Dogmatic Dinner" - where students cook a meal and discuss a different topic.  Everyone - from those who prepared, served and cleaned up the meal, to our presenter did a terrific job, and those who participated had some great questions.  So I thought I'd put together a "cliffs notes" version or a brief guide explaining the Year of Mercy for those who couldn't join us.

FIRST OF ALL - WHAT IS MERCY?

Just asking "What is Mercy" a lot of times we get synonyms that are partially correct.   The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines Mercy as:  The loving kindness, compassion, or forbearance shown to one who offends (e.g., the mercy of God to us sinners). 


WHAT IS A JUBILEE YEAR?
"To proclaim the year of the Lord's favor"
In short it's a time of Joy!  We see the origins (as with most things in the Catholic-Christian faith) of Jubilee's coming from the Old Testament.  It was meant as a time, a period set apart for remission or universal pardon.  So prisoners would be freed, debts would be forgiven, it would be a time of reconciliation  (You can read about it in the Hebrew Scriptures Leviticus 25: 8-13)  

This tradition fell out of use in Judaism, but began in the Catholic Church in the year 1300.  In 1299, after a period of intense suffering from plagues and war, the Pope saw the start of a new century for people to experience that tradition of a "Jubilee year" and encouraged Catholics to make pilgrimage to the city of the Apostles (Rome) and to the holy sites - the tombs of St Peter, St Paul - and repent and experience the joy of the forgiveness of all their sins,   The experience was so historic that the intention was for this to occur every 100 years.  But then some argued that there was a great likelihood that people might never have an opportunity to experience this universal occassion that a "Jubilee Year" was.  So there was another Jubilee year held 50 years later.  The intention was that there would be another Jubilee every 33 years (representing the 33 years Jesus was on this earth).  But the third Jubilee year that was held in 1390 was so large that Pope Boniface IX announced another Jubilee Year 10 years later in 1400.  At that point it was decided that there would be a Jubilee every 25 years.  Which has been the case.  The last Jubilee was ushered in by Pope John Paul II for the New Millenium - the year 2000.

WHAT IS UP WITH THIS "HOLY DOOR"?    As Catholics we like sacramentals... it's in our DNA that something of this earth points us to something of God.  In Jesus Christ, God became Man, He became one of us - and Jesus used things of this world to help explain universal truths.  Whether it was in parables where he would use seeds to illustrate the growth of faith; or in action where he would stoop down take a bowl and water and wash his apostles feet to demonstrate humble service - Jesus new the importance of us having visible, tangible things to explain universal, transcendent realities.  

So you may have seen pictures of  the "Holy Door"  that Pope Francis opened on December 8th as way of starting this Jubilee Year.  This  particular doorway is in St. Peter's Basilica (one of the 4 Major Cathedrals in Rome, this one being where St. Peter was buried) that is only opened in a Jubilee Year.

The symbolism of it is to remind us that each and everyone of us that our lives are ultimately a Journey to our Father's House (Heaven).  The Church is meant to be "The Father's House" here on earth.  We go to the Church to experience the Father's love, mercy, forgiveness.  The Door - between God and Humanity is Jesus Christ Himself.  So going to Rome, on a pilgrimage is meant to remind us of the spiritual journey that is life; Going to the Basilica is to remind us of our ultimate hope (that is going to Heaven) and the Door is Jesus Christ.

Now - the Church in her wisdom realizes that not everyone can afford a couple of thousand dollars to go to Rome on a pilgrimage (if you can, you absolutely should as it is a  life-changing experience.  Just search on the top here ROME and read all my homilies the last 4 years that I finally got over my fears of flying and went)  So the Pope has also asked every Archdiocese to have a "Holy Door" in their Cathedrals, so that people can join in this experience of pilgrimage right in their own home dioceses.  So this coming Sunday (December 13 at 12noon) the "Holy Door" will be opened at Sacred Heart Basilica in Newark by our own Archbishop John J. Myers - and there will be spiritual events throughout this year so people can experience some of the special spiritual graces the Lord bestows on His people during this Jubilee Year.
WHY DO WE NEED A JUBILEE OF MERCY?
So we just had a Jubilee year 15 years ago... the year 2025 is only 10 years away.  Why bother with another Jubilee year?  Pope Francis in the 1000 days he's been Pope (which happens to be today, December 8th, the Opening of this Jubilee of Mercy)   has been speaking boldly and directly about the difficulties, the challenges, the struggles the world is facing and that the Church is facing.  There's intense persecution of Christians throughout the world.  There's been scandalous failures in the Church by some of her leaders that have caused disillusionment and betrayal.  There's frightening and atrocious examples of evil on display and to be seen (and shared) thanks to our modern technological advancements. 

Pope Francis in decreeing this Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy said: 

I am confident that the whole Church, which is in such need of mercy for we are sinners, will be able to find in this Jubilee the joy of rediscovering and rendering fruitful God’s mercy, with which we are all called to give comfort to every man and every woman of our time. Do not forget that God forgives all, and God forgives always. Let us never tire of asking forgiveness. 


WHAT CAN WE DO TO CELEBRATE THIS YEAR OF MERCY?
One of the best things to do is to perform what are called the CORPORAL WORKS OF MERCY and SPIRITUAL WORKS OF MERCY:  
The Corporal Works of Mercy are:
  • Feed the hungry
  • Give drink to the thirsty
  • Clothe the naked
  • Shelter the homeless
  • Visit the sick
  • Visit the imprisoned
  • Bury the dead
The Spiritual Works of Mercy
  • Admonish the sinner
  • Instruct the ignorant (This and the next work are extremely pertinent categories today, when so many people are confused by what the Church teaches on contraception, abortion, homosexuality, etc.)
  • Counsel the doubtful
  • Comfort the sorrowful
  • Bear wrongs patiently
  • Forgive all injuries
  • Pray for the living and the dead

LAST ONE ANYONE WOULD PICK

Hi everyone.  Here's my homily for the Second Sunday of Advent - DECEMBER 6, 2015.  The readings for today's Mass can be found at:  http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/120615.cfm.  As always, thanks for reading and sharing this on Twitter, Facebook and reddit  - and all your kind feedback and comments.  God Bless - Fr Jim

HOMILY:
It was fourth grade. I was in Gym class and we were playing baseball. Our teacher, Mr. Hanson, picked two kids - Frankie and John, both of whom were Little League All Stars - to be the 'coaches' and asked them to pick, from the rest of the class, the members of their teams (I’m sure this scenario isn't unique just to those of us that went to Frank K. Hehnly Elementary School); and, so, you can imagine, the drama began.

Of all the people that were 'chosen' to make up teams, the real drama was for those who were picked first - and for those who were picked last. For the 'coach', this selection process is important - does he go with friendship and pick his closest, best friends? Or will his competitive nature win out, with him picking one of the best, fastest or all-around top athletes, regardless of friendship or loyalty?

In the cut-throat world of elementary sports, those two moguls of the sports world went with the best. Frankie picked Lee - probably one of the best Little League pitchers - and John, well, he went with Tom, who even in 4th grade was a huge kid who could connect for some monster hits. As the baseball draft continued, the anxiety level rose. My anxiety level rose. Standing on that gymnasium floor, watching as each pick was being made, after a little while I stopped hoping I'd be on the team with the most number of my friends on it and simply had one hope, one wish – that I wouldn't be the last person picked.

Now, being chubby, out of shape and painfully un-athletic (oh, my brothers could tell you stories - painfully embarrassing, but highly entertaining stories about how un-athletic I was - for example, one time I did sit down in the outfield and start picking grass), THE POINT IS I can look back now and, reasonably, I really shouldn’t be surprised that I was the last kid to be picked. 35 years later and after some therapy, those wounds have healed - I have made peace with that, and in fact, I can even understand it.

Because - if you want to win, if you want to be the best; you look for the best; you pick the best. And so as all line-up picks go - you start with those who would seem to be the All-Stars, the future Hall-of-Famers. As you finish making your selections, you try to limit your damages as best you can when you’re looking at the last person anyone would pick.

Today’s Gospel is interesting because it seems to turn this playground principle on its head. We see the complete opposite of that happening here. God has something important to tell the entire world. Something, no rather, Someone big is coming. So in these millennium before Twitter, Facebook or the internet (in these millennium before a printing press) how is God going to get His message out?

In the Gospel passage we hear today, St Luke begins by recounting a couple of names that will be familiar (or rather infamous) - Pilate, Herod, Annas and Caiaphas. Yeah - those guys - the same ones who will figure prominently in Jesus’ passion and death. Knowing the story as we do, it's understandable that they might not be high on our list of favorites. But if you’re God and you've got something, someone important to share you have very important information that you want to get out to the greatest number of people - we can’t just dismiss these people. Because these were the political and religious leaders of their day.

They commanded power, and had authority over their people. They wielded major influence. It might have been a difficult decision, which one to choose – the religious or the political leader? But, again, this is God, so couldn’t He use both? In any event, one of these leaders (or a combination of them) would seem to be a logical choice, would seem to make the most sense.

Yet, St. Luke sets the scene where we hear that of all those who might have been considered the best 'players' to chose, all of those best options for success were bypassed and, instead, Luke says very beautifully that the word of God came to John . . . in the desert. Definitely the last place you would think of to broadcast a message of universal and eternal importance. Surprisingly, the word of God came to the last person anyone would pick, Zechariah's at best eccentric son, the kid living off of locusts and honey in the outskirts of civilization.

God seemed to know what he was doing (surprised?). All those other leaders, who knows, maybe they would have tried to use God to advance their own agendas. Maybe God had tried, but found they were too preoccupied with themselves, and with what they thought was essential, to busy themselves with Him.

John had nothing. And, because of that, John proved to be a perfect messenger announcing the coming of Jesus to a world that desperately needed Him then (and if we delude ourselves and forget in our day to day distractions, perhaps the evil unleashed in yet another terrorist attack this past Wednesday reminds us, this world desperately needs Him now... )Jesus was (and is still trying to come to) a world waiting for its own salvation, but not prepared to receive it.

John, despite his lack of power, authority, position or influence... despite his austere surroundings, He was open to the Word of God. He received it and was consumed by it to the point that he would spend the rest of his life bearing witness to the fact that GOD IS COMING TO HIS PEOPLE, and telling anyone and everyone who would hear him, PREPARE THE WAY OF THE LORD.

We know that the proclamation of this Gospel is more than just a retelling of a historical episode. The Word of God is still alive. The Word of God is still active. So try to imagine St. Luke speaking this in our day and age - it probably would start out - In the 7th year of the reign of Barrack Obama when Chris Christie was governor of the Jersey which is New... and Susan Cole was tetrarch of Montclair State University (I think Tetrarch sounds cooler than President) During the pontificate of Francis, and episcopacy of John Joseph Myers, Archbishop of Newark... the word of God came to...

Came to who?

I can already see people saying "not it." Putting up walls; "Yeah, not to me," "Oh, I hope he’s not talking to me," "Does this mean I’m going to have to join a committee or something?" or even things like, "I’m not worthy," "I’m not holy enough," "There are other people who are better qualified, better speakers, better people," "God certainly doesn't want me."

The reality is - yes He certainly does... Well, I should qualify that. His word is coming to us - and - He does desperately want us to GET OVER OURSELVES. Our sins are not that original (and definitely not unforgivable - John’s cousin Jesus will prove that). But are we actually open to receiving His word... His commission? Or are we simply going through the motions? Or playing an amazing round of dodge ball?

It’s amazing because you are part of a generation that in particular desperately wants to be noticed, wants attention, wants what they do - when they do it - to be acknowledged, appreciated it, LIKED, RETWEETED, shared... The entire culture is consumed with sharing every petty thing we do looking for affirmation like it matters - when for the most part it’s daily distractions. While in the meantime we see people are angry - so angry - over a lot of things. And that energy is being displaced all over. Some of your peers for example learned some unpleasant things about President Woodrow Wilson’s life and they want to remove him off a plaque at Princeton as if that gesture somehow changes anything- and have been spending a lot of time trying to get that accomplished... It’s meaningless. It’s a misuse of people’s energy... people’s passion... And if we’re honest - if each of us is honest... so many of us do the same thing here in our corner of the universe in Upper Montclair New Jersey. Don’t we? Obsessing over meaningless stuff. Hung up on grudges, hurts that we’ve nursed and convinced ourselves we’re justified to be hurt and angry over them... And while we do that, we ignore that - The Word of God is coming to us... here and now.

John the Baptist didn’t desire that his fame, his sanctity would outlast every other name mentioned as he testified to that word - that was just a result of his sharing God’s Word and prepared the world to receive Jesus. And the same is true today. Valleys can be filled in, mountains can be leveled at the command of The Word of God - nothing can stop His coming to us - except ourselves - except our being closed to His word. our being closed to His Action and His Love, here and now. The Word of God came to John. The Word of God is coming to me and to you, for a reason. Can we stop looking at our faults, at our imperfections, at our 'unworthiness' and, instead, see our value in the Eyes of God? Can we stop seeing ourselves as 'the last person that anyone would pick'?

HAVE YOURSELF A MERRY LITTLE ADVENT

Hi everyone and Happy New Year!  Today we begin the holy season of ADVENT - which is a new liturgical (church) year for Catholics.   This is my homily for the First Sunday of Advent - NOVEMBER 29, 2015.  The readings for today can be found at:  http://usccb.org/bible/readings/112915.cfm  Thanks as always for reading, sharing the blog on Twitter, Facebook and Reddit - and all your comments and feedback.  God's Blessings today and always - Fr Jim

HOMILY: 

If you have seen my Facebook time line recently or are following me on twitter (@FatherJimChern) you might have noticed what a relative of mine said to me over the Thanksgiving weekend - you’ve been fired up. That wasn’t just a general observation, lest people think I need rage management or something. It was directed at something specific. My frustration has been directed at the so-called "war on Christmas." But it’s been different than in previous years.

In years past, seeing atheists taking out billboards mocking Christianity this time of year; people renaming events and things to remove the name "Christmas" and making it "Holiday" and any utterance of a certain baby being born at a certain time in a certain place that had any connection to this time of year (just in case you didn’t know, I’m talking about Jesus) all of that would rile me. 

But it’s different for me this year. First it was the fake outrage over coffee cups (stupid). The fact that this "controversy" (for those who would be offended if I don’t call it that) occurred at the beginning of November a good 9 weeks from the blessed event that the theoretically offended are preparing to celebrate just annoyed me. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older - that did happen the day after I turned 42, so it’s possible. But somewhat funny to me a tweet that I made about this "story" made in frustration – 5 days later ends up in two different story’s that The Star Ledger wrote with one ending up on the front page of their print edition (for the few people who still read that). Wasn’t quite sure what to make of that. That was the morning of November 13. By that evening, after terrorists attacks in Paris, few people seemed to care about that faux controversy. And one minor hope from that horrendous evil was that perhaps Christians around the world would take a step back and see the real war on Christmas - the real war on Christ, on God’s Kingdom - is a war on things that are beyond the confines of our religion - they are assaults on goodness, humanity.


Yet before we knew it, we as a nation blew past the meaning of another holiday to gear up for "Black Friday Eve" (which used to be known as "Thanksgiving" the day for the people of this great nation to pause, give thanks to our creator by whatever name you want to call Him - for the countless blessings we’ve received). Instead, once again we saw people slugging it out for 50% discounts on 60 inch televisions littering wherever we receive our news as people were shopping for the more inclusive "holidays."

That’s when I said we really need to stop even being remotely offended when people don’t call this the "Christmas season" because - in this era where everyone has a seeming basic human right to be offended and demand action from the rest of the world (that’s a sarcastic comment about another issue for another day) - it is offensive that the celebration of Jesus’ birth, the celebration of the historic moment where God enters humanity has been simply reduced to arguments over coffee cups; choosing to buy into the narratives that people who really don’t understand what we’re celebrating who we’re celebrating on December 25th are convincing us to find the meaning of Christmas at "Big Lots." I just had this image of Jesus’ second coming actually occurring on December 25th and finding most of the world so exhausted at the preparations (or looking for receipts on how to return the gifts they received which were supposed to call our minds and think of the real gift that humanity received at Christmas) that Jesus would end up being alone on His birthday.

I’m not advocating the burning of Christmas decorations; overthrowing Santa and his reindeer; banning elves on shelves (although that one seems really creepy to me, but I digress) I’ve been properly schooled on inclusion here (haha) Seriously, though - we don’t have to become curmudgeons to prove our Christianity. In fact that’s the worst thing we can do - is somehow become holier than thou, self-righteous, elitist.

What we need - you and I -is Advent. To truly enter into this season. The Church is so, so wise... Which makes sense - one of Jesus’ gift to us is the Church. And listen again to some of the first words we heard at this Mass that the Church gives us at the start of Advent: Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God, the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ. For centuries, the people of Israel awaited the coming of the Messiah who would save them. That’s what that whole first really big part of the bible called "the Old Testament" recounts: God’s creation, humanity’s rebellion; God’s love trying to help his rebellious creation - and humanity realizing they need God to step in and save them from themselves. Obviously, we still do. So the Church reminds us Advent is about meeting Christ. How? St. Paul tells us in the second reading: May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all... strengthen your hearts to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus. Who Jesus Himself tells us in the Gospel will occur at a time, at a day, at a moment we least expect.

When we hear that, I think a lot of us treat it like this bumper sticker I once saw (in of all places a shopping mall) it said "Jesus is coming, everyone look busy." I laughed at it, but it’s true. We treat that as a far off event. Something we will get to when things settle down, calm down. Once "the holidays" are over - maybe in Lent - yeah that’s when we’ll get serious (but then Spring Break interrupts and St. Patrick’s Day) and the vicious cycle continues.

But the reality is that "end time" will come – for all of us. This past Wednesday night, in the middle of the night I got a call from my cousins - my Uncle had a massive stroke, was on life support and they were hoping I could come and offer him Last Rites - which I did at 1:30 AM. By 3:30 he was gone. It wasn’t something any of us could have predicted.

"Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man" Luke 21: 36
That’s not meant to scare us. But our reactions to that tells us something - Advent is reminding us that at the "end" whether it’s the end of the world or our "end time" we’re going to (finally) find ourselves face to face with Jesus. If we’ve been seeking Him every day of our lives, if we’ve been desiring union with him, if we’ve been trying to follow His call in our daily lives (whatever that call looks like - whatever state of life we’re in: students, sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters, siblings, classmates) if we’ve gratefully received His grace and His love and tried to respond to it in how we’ve related to Him and to others - then that End time is something we anticipate, we long for as the people of old once longed for their Messiah.

If, however, we’ve been preoccupied, if our vision has been obscured, if we (kind of) know Jesus’ voice is out there, somewhere, amidst the 'sound and fury, signifying nothing' which is all around us - if we have treated His call as only one possible call among equals - then we live in fear of that day - it’s the deadline we know is coming, although we do not know when.



Advent calls us to "prepare for the Lord" - not simply to study or make a historical remembrance of Jesus’ entrance into our chronology; nor to live under the gloomy cloud of end-time worry, living in fear of that day when human history will end. We are to prepare for the Lord - with fear and joy - today and always. We are to be focused on the things of the Lord, to make sure He is our greatest priority, our one 'ever fixed mark'; to make certain that, when He does returns, He will find we have been ever seeking Him, that we have been truly and deliberately 'busy' doing His work on earth, and are, at last, overjoyed to be united with Him, finally, for all eternity.

THEY'VE GOT GUNS BUT WE HAVE FLOWERS

Hi everyone... here's my homily for the SOLEMNITY OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, KING OF THE UNIVERSE - November 22, 2015 - The readings for today can be found at:  http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/112215.cfm.  I'm grateful for you reading my blog; for sharing this on Facebook, Twitter, Redditt - and for all your feedback and comments.  My best wishes to you and yours for a Happy Thanksgiving.  God Bless - Fr Jim

 HOMILY:
          In the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris France last week, and the second wave of terror coming in the form of video threats, further scares and evacuations, live action footage of arrests and abject, understandable fear gripping well beyond the city borders of Paris - came a touching and moving exchange that hopefully has gone more viral then some of the more horrific violent images we’ve seen.

It was a less than 2 minute interview in front of the theater where the greatest loss of life took place at a concert last Friday night that had become a make-shift memorial. A reporter goes up to a Father with his young son and asks the little boy:  Do you understand what's happened? Do you understand why these people have done this?   Questions most adults would be at a loss as to how to respond too.  But the little boy responded very simply, but with profound honesty and understanding: Yes, because they are very, very, very bad. Bad people aren't very nice. And we have to be very careful - he then shares what his deeply felt, understandable feeling  ...we need to move our home.

The father interrupts and says to the boy:   No, don't worry, we don't have to move. France is our home. To which his son asks  But what about the baddies, Dad?   His father responds There are baddies everywhere. There are bad guys everywhere. To which the little guy argues But they've got guns. They can shoot us because they're very, very bad, Daddy.  At that, the Father very confidently and seemingly matter of factly says: They've got guns but we have flowers.

The first time I saw this the clip of the video ended there - but the interview actually continued with the boy continuing to question his father - arguing But flowers don't do anything. They're for... they're for... they're for... as he tried to find a word to describe flowers... And the Father interrupts: Look, everyone is laying flowers here. And the boy acknowledges it: Yes. The Father says It's to fight against the guns. The Boy asks : Is it for protection?  And the Father answers: That's right.  To which the Boy continues: And the candles too?  The Father explains : They're so we don't forget the people who have gone.  Boy: Oh. The flowers and candles are there to protect us? Father: Yes.  Journalist: Do you feel better now?  Boy: Yes, I feel better.  [see the video here:  http://www.independent.ie/world-news/europe/paris-terror-attacks/they-might-have-guns-but-we-have-flowers-french-five-year-old-interviewed-about-the-paris-terror-attacks-warms-26m-hearts-34212134.html ]

           There’s a reason that well over 8 million people have viewed this exchange on line.  In the face of unspeakable human evil, we are often at a loss as adults to understand it, explain it. We struggle with the questions of right and wrong; protection versus isolation; we fight, argue, debate over how to respond - and often times after all of that, don’t get that right either.  Then as we look at these little ones, our children; after trying to address our pressing and immediate fears over protecting them from “the baddies” and mean people; we are rendered helpless in wanting to shield their eyes from disturbing images - and speechless to answer their fears, worries and confusion.  That’s why seeing this father and son so honestly discuss such horrifically real things catches our attention.

           Of course it’s also spurred dialogue and debate... “What do flowers do?” Just as the little boy looking for assurances of protection wants to know;  there were others wanting to dismiss the Father’s answers as a form of naivete... silly... overly optimistic. It felt similar to those who wrote advancing the argument “Don’t pray for Paris.”  That in part originated from some cartoonists from the French magazine, Charlie Hebdo, the targets of a terrorist attack in France earlier this year. They wrote in a posting:  Friends from the whole world, thank you for the #prayfor paris, but we don’t need more religion. Our faith goes to music! Kisses! Life! Champagne and joy! Parisisaboutlife 

           What do flowers do? What do prayers do? On the surface - one can argue the doubters have a point. A wall of flowers will not stop a bullet, a blast from a bomb, or the blade of a knife. And merely hashtagging “PrayersforParis” can be somewhat trite and meaningless if that’s all it is - a hashtag.

           And here’s where living as people of faith, we struggle with the notion of living in the world, but not of the world.  Of recognizing what we celebrate today - Christ our King.  Because it’s an either or kind of thing - Either we meant what we say or that too is a trite saying:  Either Christ truly is our King or he’s not.  And that is a tremendously complex thing.

Which we can appreciate in this Gospel passage.  Pilate as the Roman Governor, has been put in charge of continuing to occupy this Jewish territory and keep the Jews under their control. Pilate has little personal interest in Jesus. His question “Are you the king of the Jews?”  is a reaction to his pragmatic, immediate concerns. He is basically asking himself - Is this guy a potential threat to Rome? Why is he getting the Jewish leaders (who Pilate wants to keep quiet and under his control) so angry?

           Jesus pretty quickly alleviates Pilate’s concerns. Just on the surface, it’s obvious he’s not a threat.  Jesus has been dragged in front of Pilate shackled as a prisoner; there’s little defense being offered - no armies to speak of, no one out planning an attack or offensive to free Him.

But Jesus doesn’t dismiss his Kingship - He explains that His Kingdom, a kingdom of truth - is not of this world. Pilate sees Jesus isn’t a threat. Pilate knows Jesus’ innocence.  In other Gospel accounts, we even get the sense that Pilate has some fascination in Jesus. Perhaps he perceives that far from being a threat, Jesus actually loves Pilate - just as he loves those calling for his crucifixion and death. Jesus loves because that is His truth... That is what He has come to testify to. That is the Kingdom of God - a redemptive, salvific, eternal love for humanity - which Jesus has come to usher in.


         Yet Pilate can’t hear it, or comprehend it  Why? Jesus tells us:   “ Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate’s too worried about his career. He’s too interested in his success, in prestige to be bothered with this seeming pre-cursor to “flower people.”

           And so that remains true today. “We have flowers” - can’t be seen as some magic phrase to make everyone all feel better.   That symbolic gesture - observed and shared between a Father and Son was meant to teach an important, essential truth to the young boy (and remind all of us grown ups as well) that good will ultimately triumph evil; Love will always, always conquer hate.  But in order for that to be true, in order for that to be real, in order for that to resonate, we have to be doing more than just laying flowers down and instagramming an Eifel tower with our variation of prayers that are trending.

The way of goodness, the life of Love - true goodness, real, authentic love which our King demonstrates on the Cross and continues to give us as we are continued to be nourished on that selfless gift as we eat His very Body and Blood in the Eucharist confounds the world, and confounds us.  Pope Francis noted this the other day.  He very emotionally reflected on how Jesus weeps because we continue to choose the way of war, the way of hatred, the way of enmities... and that this is illustrated “while arms dealers go about their business, there are the poor peacemakers who, empty themselves in helping another person and another and another - they spend themselves utterly, and even give their lives as Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta did - against whom the powerful, worldly cynic might say “But what did she ever accomplish?  She wasted her life helping others on their way to death.”    With great sadness, the Pope added “the world has not understood the way of peace.

We have trouble with that too.  In the face of Evil - unadulterated, vile, hateful evil - after we’ve done what we can to defend, protect ourselves and re-establish a semblance of security, the temptation to vengeance is intense.  We find ourselves doubting the possibility of peace -- of  love -- as our fears over threats real or imagined multiply.    And so this gospel passage we hear of Christ as our King, standing in front of Pilate about to be sentenced to death upsets us, angers us... Doesn’t exactly resonate.

But even if we look in that chaos, in that terror, in the fear of Paris - we still see members of His kingdom standing out. who confound the world and confound us in their acts of selflessness.  They give life to what Pope Benedict once said “God does not have a fixed plan that he must carry out; on the contrary, he has many different ways of finding man and even turning his wrong wasy into right ways… the feast of Christ the King sis therefore not a feast of those who are subjugated but a feast of those who know that they are in the hands of the one who writes straight with crooked lines.”   In the midst of the horrors in Paris, we saw that as medical staffs risked their own safety rushing from their homes into the hospitals to assist those in need; or in people in local neighborhoods who saw people terrified running for their lives and instead of barricading their doors and hiding under the beds went out and brought people into safety; or - as they so often do, day in and day out -- police and military who once again laid down their lives to save others.

Those actions only are possible if you believe in true goodness; authentic love; which is at the heart of God's Kingdom.  That’s when the eyes of faith begin to see the way of peace; and the people of faith go after it; share it; make it real to the world.  That’s when we understand the deeper meaning expressed in the sentiment:  we have flowers...

So how can we live our life with this understanding? If we  take on the role of a peacemaker for Jesus then our life won’t make sense in light of the terrorist attacks or any other struggle for that matter. The world wants to be “practical” where they think that prayer and good acts towards others won’t win a war. But, the real battles being fought are spiritual … unseen. And those in Christ know how to be equipped to fight and it doesn’t look like the battles we see. However, we know that the spiritual battle is ultimately already won.  Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe has secured that victory in rising from the dead.  His reign extends beyond our day, our time, our space into all eternity.  And our living as members of His Kingdom, gives us the confidence and the strength to take up the call, the challenge and engage this battle daily knowing we have already won.

ITS THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT

Hi everyone.  Here's my homily for November 15, 2015 - the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time.  Today's readings can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/111515.cfm  Thanks for reading, for sharing this blog on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit - and for all your comments and feedback.  Grateful for your support.  Have a great week - God Bless - Fr. Jim

HOMILY:


A few weeks ago, a student here at Montclair State University had warned me that the end of the world was coming. He knew it was true because he read about it on Facebook. I’ve read the article about a dozen times, and still remain unsure of how this group of Christians came to this conclusion with the certainty that they had. Because it wasn’t just some mysterious, hidden open-ended time frame like "any day now." No they had a specific day- Wednesday October 7th . When Midnight passed and we made it safely to October 8th (one side note, does it have to be midnight in the Eastern Time Zone?) They began to recalculate and adjusted the date to October 14th. With today being a month and a day later, they have once again conceded they got it wrong. Perhaps they should’ve carried the one and subtracted the 8 and that their dates might be off again - so they’ve revised the prediction of the end of the world to soon.

I don’t mean to across as flippant about the end of the world. The fascination bordering on obsession for some over fears of the end of the world has been around for centuries – even before Christ’s warnings were first uttered in today’s Gospel. The Jews experiences of the great flood, of being in exile, being in slavery all contained elements of it being "the end of the world as they knew it" - and unlike the 90's rock band REM - they didn’t feel fine any time they occurred.

Jesus’ prophetic words to his followers, which he first shared right before his Passion were jarring for his listeners to hear and ultimately to experience for themselves... as many scholars agree He was predicting the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. That was a pretty terrifying experince. There was a massive rebellion between the Jews and the Romans who had occupied their land. Historians disagree over the specifics of this devastation. Some Jewish historians claim that more than a million Jews were killed and only 30,000 survived. Others quote Roman historians who put the number at 115,800 bodies being carried through this one gate. Was it 100,000 - 200,000? Did it feel like a million? Was it a million? Not to disrespect any of the lives lost, but in one sense, the actual number isn’t as important as it most definitely felt like it was the end of the world. Think of it this way, 14 years later, we in this New York City metropolitan area are still reeling from the deaths of over 3,000 on September 11th 2001. So if it was "only" 100,000 - well I’m sure that felt like a million were lost. And I’m sure it felt like the end of the world to be sure.

So Jesus was no doubt trying to prepare his listeners for that horrific day... Yet we know the Gospel transcends time and space and specific historical experiences. You can read this entire Gospel passage as another foreshadowing of his own personal tribulation which would’ve made the disciples freaked out as well. Jesus being led to a cross and crucified is described in the Gospel of Matthew as the powers of heaven shaken and darkness covering the whole land. This could explain some of the earliest followers expectation after Jesus resurrection that the end of time was imminent. As generations of Christians died before Jesus’ return, and that "end time" failed to materialize, people often looked throughout the centuries to these end-times passages for clues to see when the end of the world would come.

When different plagues struck in the Middle Ages, for example, and again, millions died horrific deaths from disease - or during other times of terrible wars, or natural tragedies of earthquakes, tsunamis, volcano erruptions – survivors were often times believing that the world was coming to an end. I had finished working on this homily Thursday night - never imagining the horrors that these evil, horrendous terrorists would unleash on hundreds of people in Paris France Friday evening. Just terrifying evil, violence, murder... This a week or so after terrorists would shoot a plane out of the sky killing hundreds. Not to forget these barbarians who have been slaughtering Christians with beheadings, crucifixions, burning people alive, raping women and children. Pope Francis called all of these things pieces of "A Third World War." That’s not being said for dramatic effect. Some might want to be blind and oblivious to this and wish it to go away - and we all do - but you can’t be blind and ignorant to this real evil that is marching on. And all of that has the ability to breed, once again, this thought that the world is coming to an end - this time, for real...

All of which is understandable. Whenever there’s suffering.... whenever there’s loss... whenever there’s pain, we as people of faith try to understand what is God’s plan in this - Where is God in all of this? It’s not uncommon even for those who wouldn’t necessarily describe themselves as faithful, devout people to all of a sudden be demanding answers from this omnipotent, transcendent being who they never really believed in before (and now feel more justified then before to not believe in)

And we don’t have to look at the horrors of the world outside to be asking those questions. When you lose someone you love... When you learn someone who is close to you has been diagnosed with a serious illness... When divorces occur... When relationships end - when we experience brokenness... in many ways its not just a dramatic turn of expression for us to say we feel like "it’s the end of the world."

Which is why this Gospel can sound so troubling. Most people come here, come to Mass looking for God - looking for answers... looking for Hope. The last thing I want to hear when I’m looking for those things is for Jesus to talk about the sun being darkened, the moon not giving light, stars falling - heavens shaking. No Thank You! Give me something good Jesus. Give me some Hope!

But that’s a word that’s been so mis-used (among many in this culture) that it’s important to distinguish what Hope is ... This great priest named Fr. William O’Malley, who’s been a High School English Teacher, written books and I think is in his 80's by this point– once explained it like this. He said, "I’ve learned the big difference between optimism and hope. Optimism is 'Annie' [that’s the little orphan with the curly red hair] belting out, 'The sun’ll come out tomorrow! Bet yer bottom dollar there’ll be sun.' Good luck, kid. The forecast says rain for the rest of the week. Hope’s different. Hope says, 'Okay, so it’s gonna rain. We’ll get the job done anyway.' Hope says, 'It’s the last inning, and we’re down by three, but let’s go out swinging!' Unlike optimism, hope knows that quite often nice guys do finish last, but that it’s a helluva lot better to be a nice guy than to be first."

The reality is when we are in the midst of whatever our struggles are, most of the time we want optimistic words. We want someone to tell us it’s going to be alright. Everything’s going to be fine. We want things to go back to the way they were. 'The sun will come out, tomorrow.' And if it doesn’t? Then what?

If things don't turn out the way we want them to, we don't have to give into pessimism. But we do need to be honest. Which is why today’s Gospel is so important for us to read and hear and reflect on because Jesus is honest; He doesn’t sugarcoat this truth. Yes, there will be tribulation and darkness - not just at the end of the world, but probably through many moments of our lives. Things might get so terrible that we feel things will 'never be the same.' But – wait for it - here are the words of hope from tonight’s Gospel – listen to them once again:

Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.

If we’re looking for something optimistic, words that will make us feel better, or a quick fix, then those words will pass away. Because Jesus isn’t promising a quick fix. He’s not promising to make things the way they were before, or the way we would like them to be in the future. For many of us, His words probably are not going to get you a job tomorrow morning, immediately cure that illness or miraculously pull up your GPA or heal whatever that brokenness that you’re suffering from.

The point is, if that’s all we’re looking for - a quick fix, an increase of pleasure and a decrease in pain - we will, ultimately, be disappointed in life - disappointed not just by Jesus, but by the latest self-help guru or any who market the 'power of positive thinking' as a religion, or tell us the Gospel is all about 'prosperity' ('pie in the sky when you die, and steak on the plate while you wait') conveniently bypassing - the cross.

The Gospel, Jesus - who is the Word of God- is all about Hope... But we can only experience that Hope if we recognize God’s presence and activity in our lives. And that means accessing our memories to recall:

-How He loved us into existence.

-How He has sustained us, protected us, provided for us even when we’ve fallen or turned our back on Him...

-How He continues to call out to us, to remind us of His eternal love for humanity despite the terrible things that happen because of man's inhumanity to man.

-How He reveals himself through the countless, selfless, sacrificial examples of love offered by His followers day in and day out - who do so simply because they are responding to His call in their lives.

Yes, in the reality of the struggles we face, where we may be discouraged, or let down by others, Jesus Christ promises us - even though the road ahead of us may be difficult, will be difficult - that He will never leave us, and that His words of hope will never pass away.

So no matter what natural disaster, what whirlwind, what 'world' of ours 'ends' - now, or at some time in our futures - let us never forget what comes next, Who comes next - let's keep in mind, when hearing these 'end times' readings, Who it is that ultimately comes in glory, Who it is that heals our world and heals our hearts - Jesus Christ. May we let His Second Coming into our lives start right now.

A FOOLISH, RECKLESS LOVE

Hi everyone - here’s my homily for the 32nd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - November 8, 2015. The readings for today’s Mass can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/110815.cfm. Thanks as always for stopping by to read this blog, for your comments and feedback and for sharing this on Facebook, twitter, reddit and elsewhere through social media. Have a great week. God Bless - Fr Jim

HOMILY:

A few years ago, one of my closest and oldest of friends – we’ve known each other since I was 4 and he was 3 years old – called me. We don’t get to see each other or talk on a regular basis, but it’s the type of friendship that we can go months without talking and seem to be able to simply pick up where we left off. So I wasn’t alarmed or surprised when I saw his name on my cell phone as it was ringing. But I could tell something was wrong by the sound of his voice. He simply said "Hey buddy - listen, I just wanted to call to tell you, my dad died a couple of nights ago." 

It was a pretty sudden shock. Mr. Ashley hadn’t been seriously sick. So I was pretty stunned. In the days after I found myself recalling different memories of growing up 2 doors down from my friends. When something like this happens, you might be surprised at how many memories you can have locked away in your heart and mind. Especially when you know someone basically your whole life. All of a sudden it was like taking a photograph book out and looking at pictures (something us older people did before digital pictures were saved on hard drives...)

Some things came back with all the details - Like I could remember Fourths of July where Mr. Ashley would light up the entire backyard with M80s, bottle rockets, and other illegal fireworks he had gotten. At Mr. Ashley’s memorial service, Brett told a story about how one day he pushed his father’s leaf blower, this gas powered piece of equipment that you’d push around (like a lawn mower) right into their in-ground pool. And how his Father didn’t kill him for doing that. As Brett was telling this story, I could see the entire episode replaying in my head (I had been there when it happened but had completely forgotten about it. Can’t quite recall exactly what my role in that whole experience was. Something tells me I wasn’t shouting "No Brett - stop, don’t...")

Other memories though, I realize now how much detail was missing. Only now learning the full story, can I appreciate the beauty of those mental pictures so much more. For example, Brett talked about this one summer when I was maybe 8 years old. Brett was probably 7 his younger brother Drew was about 5 and their family took this cross country trip in a Winnebago. I remembered them being away all summer - you remember when one of your closest friends is gone, especially when they have an in-ground pool. 



But at the Memorial service, Brett explained the reason for the trip. They had just gotten news that his younger brother Drew had a relapse of Leukemia. With this relapse, and fears over Drew’s prognosis, Mr. Ashley decided to sell his business, buy this Winnegbago and go and take his family to every National Park across the country. I had remembered hearing about the trip when they had gotten home – looking at pictures of them fishing, hearing stories of places they had visited together. But I didn’t realize why this was such an important trip or how much it had cost Mr. Ashley until his son recounted it at that memorial. You have to imagine that some of his friends, family members, colleagues at the time probably thought this was a reckless - even foolish thing to do. On one level, people probably would think it sounds sweet. But upon hearing Mr Ashley’s plans, I’m sure many tried to "talk sense" into him. Arguing, "You’re just being emotional" - "you’re not thinking clearly". To put your livelihood, your career aside for a trip?

But the thing was, it wasn’t about a trip. It was about a Father wanting to give all that he 

could for his son, for his family. When you have this little guy fighting a deadly disease. When you’ve gone to all the doctors, done all that you could do, and you’re not sure what’s going to happen, what is a Father left to do? So he completely emptied himself of all that the world tells us is necessary like finances, career. He let go of things like time and energy in order to obtain those things... And he offered them for his family, realizing that whether Drew was alive a year from then or not, he would never regret offering not just something, but everything he could out of love for his son.

That is what is at the heart of this beautiful Gospel story- offering something out of Love.

Not just something - everything...

This widow, this lady is as poor as poor can be. Her entire life savings basically amounts to one cent. And what does she do with that one cent? She gives it to the treasury (basically an offering to the temple)

The right sides of our brains is ready to pounce: What difference is that going to make to the temple? There are wealthy people making offerings of far more substantial amounts. You could see some billionaire dropping a million into the collection. That’s not a small deal, is it? Now this widow puts her penny’s in – so instead of having 1 million dollars they have 1 million dollars and one cent... So now they can build that new temple? That one cent sealed the deal? Meanwhile, she can’t afford to do that! That’s all she has left... what’s she going to do now. Yes the right side of the brain is pretty clearly judging that this was quite a foolish and reckless thing for her to do.

But you know what - she didn’t ask us for our opinion. She didn’t even ask for recognition on the list of donors (notice we don’t even know her name) This isn’t about her contribution being compared to another on some spread sheet. It’s simply her way of putting her money where her mouth and her life is... She’s come to the realization that the only thing that matters to her is God. Yes her husband has died, she’s lost a lot already. Yet, that didn’t make her bitter - it made her cling to the one thing - the ONLY thing she knew for certain she had in her life - which was God. And so, out of love for him, she offers all that she has. She gives the only thing she physically possesses – a seemingly insignificant amount of money.

Over the last 16 years of being a priest I’ve come to realize that many people have never experienced true love so they don’t know how to offer it themselves. A guy hooks up with a girl for a night and they whisper "I love you"– that’s not Love. A parent makes outrageous, guilt ridden demands and says "If you love me you’ll do this" - that’s not Love either. People look for assurances of love from others in gifts - in possessions - and somehow can’t make the connection that despite getting those things why they still don’t feel fulfilled - because that’s not love either. And there are countless other stories or examples of destructive, or manipulative behavior that people have been told or led to believe is loving behavior which is not - which is in fact quite the opposite and which is shockingly sad.

Unfortunately for many who’ve gone through such experiences, all of what I’m talking about probably does seem unreal or like a fairy tale. The rational, reasonable arguments from the world saying "how foolish and reckless these people offering their entire selves out of love are"- suddenly seem valid.

But the reality is my brothers and sisters, you can’t read the Gospels, you can’t read the scriptures and not walk away with an overwhelming, earth shattering revelation.: Jesus Christ loves us with this foolish, reckless love. God loves us like this.

The creator of the Universe - who LOVED YOU AND ME INTO EXISTENCE. He keeps loving us by giving us His son Jesus Christ - by telling us we are to follow Him and His example - which is a life of complete self-emptying, giving up his life, giving up everything for you and for me.



That’s why he’s touched and moved when he sees the poor widow acting with that same foolish, reckless abandon. He sees that she gets it. She’s been changed by the God who has so foolishly, recklessly loved her, and She loves Him back like that - by giving all that she has left to Him, knowing he won’t abandon her or let her faith be shown to be foolish or reckless.

I know for my friends, Brett and Drew, as much as they still mourn the loss of their father, they have been forever changed by their dad’s loving example. They are two of the most generous, selfless men I know.

What about us? I don’t think Jesus is putting to us a challenge -- where he sends us home to "prove" whether we love him with that selfless, self-emptying, giving love for him tonight or not (and saying, if you do, you’ll empty your savings accounts to show that – anytime you hear a preacher recommending that, run away as fast as you can). Love isn’t something we can put a dollar amount or any other quantifiable measure on.

The Gospel is not about our bank accounts. It’s about our hearts. And that takes a lifetime for us to truly offer to Him. The challenge then is more basic,- do we actually believe that Jesus loves us like that?