WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO BE A PRIEST?

Hi everyone, here's my homily for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time - January 25, 2015 - http://usccb.org/bible/readings/012515.cfm.  Thanks as always for reading; your feedback and comments; and sharing this blog on twitter, facebook, redditt and whatever other ones I've missed.  God Bless - have a great week - Fr Jim

HOMILY:

"What made you decide to become a priest?" 

I’m often taken aback, not by the question itself, but sometimes the times and places where it’s asked.  A couple months ago I was sitting with a relative at a bank who had asked me to be a co-signer on an account of hers and to go over some other sensitive financial stuff.  The lady from the bank was going through the paperwork we needed to fill out.  Asked the usual questions - name, date of birth, social security number, occupation.  When I said "Roman Catholic Priest" she said "Oh, wow... really? Can I ask you something - what made you decide to become a priest." I’m not sure what people expect in those types of scenarios - if they think it’s like a cliffs notes 30 second story variation of a story the Old Testament, one day Moses sees a burning bush, hears the voice of God, that forever changes his life - that then is responded with "Wow, that’s really cool... so I’m going to need you to sign these papers here."  Usually in those situations I simply and truthfully answer – it was something that was really in my mind and my heart - for as long as I can remember.  Which is very true. I can tell you stories that are vivid memories many years later:

- Like in Kindergarten when our Pastor had made a house visit on a Sunday afternoon when we weren’t home and left a note for us... At the end of the note, he said "make sure you keep bringing little Jimmie to Mass every Sunday."  To a 5 year old, the youngest of 3 boys, it blew my mind that that priest who was all the way up there in this big church filled with so many people knew who I was and cared about me. That impacted me greatly. I can see how God was able to use Fr. Whelan to teach me about His love for me in that same way at such a ripe young age.

- Like in Second Grade as we were preparing for First Holy Communion and I started to learn what the Eucharist was - really Jesus’ body and blood - and the importance of Mass, how I really, really wanted to be an altar server, just so I could be up closer to everything that was going on (plus they got to wear cool outfits, and it seemed better than fighting with my two brothers throughout Mass and avoiding the weekly contest "who was going to get in trouble for misbehaving at Mass this week") When my Mom took me to Msgr. Flusk after Mass one Sunday and asked how I could become an altar server he said "I’m sorry Jim will have to wait till he’s in 4th Grade." I remember my parents being disappointed, thinking this would deflate my interest in Mass, in the Church. But very out of character for me then, I simply accepted that and really didn’t talk about it again till the beginning of 4th grade when I said "Now I can be an altar boy" - which surprised my parents as they said "You’re still interested in doing that?"

There’s a bunch of stories that I can recall that demonstrate the different ways the idea of priesthood was planted in my heart.  How it was always "on the table" of consideration whenever I thought about "What do you want to be when you grow up."  That I kept feeling drawn, attracted to it through high school and college... that different events and experiences would keep renewing my interest in being a priest, imagining myself being happy as a priest - it wasn’t incredibly shocking to my parents, or to my closest friends when they learned I was applying to enter the seminary after college, that I would get accepted by the Archdiocese of Newark and start right away. On some level, people hearing that would be satisfied that I’ve answered their question "What made you decide to become a priest." 

But honestly, what makes me feel awkward when people ask me that question, is that I realize I didn’t just decide to become a priest. I know that I’ve been called to this by Jesus Christ. A seed was planted in my heart by God when I was very young, and He watered it with many situations, and my desire to become a priest grew. I know that I would not be happy doing anything else. 


Not happy... that’s not a good word for it. Happy – if you’re ADD like me you have that annoying ‘Happy’ song in your head – Happy is feelings of pleasure... I’m happy when I have a nice cup of coffee in the morning. No it’s not that I would not be happy  doing anything else, I would never be fulfilled as a man, as a person doing anything else. I would feel that I missed the mark that God had designated for me.

That realization only came when I almost left the priesthood about 8 years ago. The ins and outs of that story aren’t really that important... My prayer life was terrible. I was frustrated with different things that were going on - things weren’t going according to my plan, how I wanted them to go, thought they should go... My prayer life was terrible... I was really jarred by the fagility of life having to go to the funerals of two men killed on 9/11 who were right around my age... oh and my prayer life was terrible. When things aren't going our way, we have a tendency to pull away from the source of what we hoped, and in this instance I pulled away from God and prayed little. I should have turned the other way and prayed more, for God is my Helper, Refresher … He had living water to give me if I would have paid attention... but I digress.

I really thought I was done with the priesthood.  I had taken a "leave of absence" - I had another career about ready to take off, I had been accepted by the FDNY to become a firefigher (another dream job growing up) I had started to tell myself – even while my prayer life continued to be terrible – that this had to have been a sign from God that this was what I was supposed to do. That this would make me happy.

This one day I had gotten the acceptance letter, all I had to do was sign it, return it and report to Randalls Island where the Academy was located on November 1. And I couldn’t sign it – something gripped me that I couldn’t explain – It wasn’t fear or panic. It really was this bizarre experience of having this pen in my hand, and almost feeling unable or prevented from signing it. I was frustrated and didn’t know what was the matter with me. I put it aside figuring it would pass in a day or two– A family crisis arose, so I ended up deferring taking the firefighter job – and then I found myself praying again. First for the family crisis. But once you start praying (or start praying again), it’s hard not to start talking about other things as well. And I started to wonder "What was up with that" - why couldn’t I sign that letter that day?

Months later, after talking with my spiritual director, and a lot of praying, it just came to me. I’m a priest. I remember it being somewhat anti-climatic to me.  I was somewhat expecting a burning bush story type ending myself... but it wasn’t anything dramatic like that. It was that Jesus had indeed called me to share in his priesthood- so the unsettledness, the restlessness, the tension that I was experiencing... The reason I couldn’t sign that letter that day was because I had heard that call, I had responded to it, and I couldn’t turn away from it.

It was precisely this Gospel story we just heard.


Jesus calling these men to come and follow him. Jesus reaching out to these very, very different personalities.  Seeing something in them that they couldn’t see themselves. Looking for their willingness, their openness, their desire to become something much more than they imagined, dreamed they would ever be. That he would utilize them in such a way that not only their lives, but the world would be forever changed by their Yes.  They would be the first ones to share the Gospel message they experiences and witnessed for themselves: of how much God loved the world, that He would send his only Son to not simply share that message, but to be that message - by laying down his life for the salvation of the world. The Kingdom of God would be established where we creatures are now called Sons and Daughters of a loving Father... which would make us brothers and sisters called to care for those who suffer.

This Gospel message would break forth from that ancient world to you and I, here today, not because Simon, Andrew, James and John... nor Fr. Whelan or Msgr. Flusk or even me - decided to become a priest. It’s because Jesus called us to do so and we responded yes to his invitation...

Perhaps you already have received the call on your life and you are heading in that direction. If you haven't, tonight’s Gospel is meant to remind us of the need to pray about it. To ask God to open your eyes to His perfect plan for you.

The reality is, my story is unique in that it’s my story... but it’s also very, very common.  I hope in your heart of hearts that you not only have heard - but that you believe, that you know - what I learned from a very young age, that even with the billions upon billions of people, that in this vast galaxy of ours, that God notices you, cares about you.  And when you come to recognize that, you realize that he has a special purpose for you.  What is it?

He’s calling some of you right here and now to do the same. There are young men he’s calling to priesthood. There are young women he’s calling to religious life.  There are many others who will be called to married life - that in the selfless, sacrificial love of a husband and wife laying down their lives for one another, they proclaim God’s love in a radically beautiful way too.  So much so that new life is born of that dynamic vocation.  And outside those life commitments, the call to discipleship -to be the best Catholic-Christian we can be in whatever state of life we find ourselves, in whatever job or career is very real as well.

Just as he calls these four in tonight’s Gospel to something, there’s specific things he has in mind for you to do.  That’s what this time of college is supposed to be about.  Not simply you answering a question "What do I want to be when I grow up" - but even more, asking God a question - "Lord, what do you want me to be?"  Praying for the desire to want what He wants; the perseverance and the courage to say yes to whatever that is and the humility to remain aware that Jesus must remain at the heart and in your heart as you move forward in pursuing what it is you’re called to. 

Because He still looks to us to be the ones to share this good news not simply by passing along words, but by our dropping our nets - leaving the things of this world and radically offering our lives in service to Him. That’s not simply the result of our deciding to do it - but hearing His Call - knowing the intimacy and specialness and uniqueness of His voice speaking to our hearts - and recognizing that in saying yes to Him , we are promised to have fullness and fulfillment in this life and the next.

For another blog post on priesthood posted this past Friday "POPE FRANCIS SHOWING THE HEART OF A PRIEST" : http://newpriestnj.com/3/post/2015/01/showing-the-heart-of-a-priest.html 

WHAT DO YOU WANT?

Hi everyone - here’s my homily for the SECOND SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME - January 18, 2015. The readings for today’s Mass can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/011815.cfm Thanks as always for reading, your comments and you’re sharing this blog whether on twitter, facebook, reddit or whatever the newest social media thing is that I haven’t heard of yet... I’m humbled looking at all the stats and "traffic" on this site (especially whoever you readers in Sweeden, Croatia...India... Russia? That’s just so cool..) Please feel free to drop a comment or an email. Would love to know how you stumbled on this blog. Have a great week - God Bless, Fr Jim

HOMILY:



I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the easiest person in the world to buy a gift for. Around November with my birthday coming up followed by the beginnings of Christmas shopping, the question will usually come from Mom, "What do you want, honey?" Sometimes other family members will ask the same seemingly simple question as well: What do you want? To be completely honest, when it’s one of my brothers, calling the day before my birthday while walking around the mall, it sounds more like Whaddya want? (with just a bit of exasperation in their voices). But you get the idea.

I always feel bad because I never really have a good answer. They are asking because they want to do something meaningful, something special, something that will fulfill a need. Usually I say, "I don’t know" - because I really don’t. I suppose it’s harder to buy something that is meaningful, that is useful, (that fits!) for adults than it is for kids. When I was little, magically Santa knew the right size, what I needed, what toy or game I whimpered about every time I saw its advertisement or saw it at the store.

Being grown up, and a priest at that, it’s harder for my relatives to be creative. How many pairs of black socks, black pants and black shoes do I need? They’re never too sure what DVD’s I have or want, or what book I might be interested in - so I realize that it’s hard for them to surprise me. Often when they ask me, "What do you want?", I’m usually thinking I don’t really need anything, so I don't have any good suggestions for them and usually end up saying, "Whatever you get me I’ll be happy with."

At Christmas, my family got me some really nice gifts. But, there were two that I needed to return. One was a fleece that I had pretty much had a duplicate of, and the other was a nice shirt from Hollister, which even though was an XL, because I have more than 2% body fat, it really didn’t fit me comfortably. So here I am at the store. I’m returning these things - with receipt in hand (my family knows me well enough now to just include the receipts as well) and because the person at the cash register can’t give me money back, I come full circle as she asks me the one thing I still don’t have an answer to – "What do you want?"

"What do you want?" – Maybe you’re as unsure as I am when you hear that question. Whether it’s trying to decide what to order off a menu in the restaurant, which major to finally declare, which job to take, which house to purchase - we can often be stuck without an answer to that seemingly simple question, What do you want?

We want to consider the options, see what’s possible, find out who’s asking it and why – and then try to give a good and definitive answer.

It’s fascinating that in the Gospel of John, which is tonight’s Gospel, the very first words Jesus utters, the very first question he asks his new disciples is a variation of that question, "What do you want?" (in other translations, it’s "What are you looking for?" [NAB]; or, going back a few years, simply, "What seek you?" [Douay-Rheims version]).

John the Baptist had told his disciples who Jesus was - the Lamb of God - and immediately something told them they needed to follow him. After listening to John preach about the need to go into the river and repent of their sins, and about the one who was coming after him who was mightier than he, John's disciples feel compelled to leave him and to follow Jesus Christ. John the Baptist saw Jesus walking by and pointed him out to his disciples saying, there’s the Lamb of God - there’s the one I’ve waited for and been preparing you for all these years. It's time to follow him.

We heard tonight that, immediately, these two disciples follow Jesus, and Jesus turns around and asks, why are you following me, what are you looking for, what do you want? And it’s almost like they don’t know what to ask for, don't know what they want themselves. They turn it around (perhaps stalling for time) and ask him the seemingly off topic question, Where are you staying? And it is then that Jesus invites them to "come and see."

The great thing about this Gospel passage is that it’s perfect for everyone: For those who believe they’ve been following Him, following His commands, following His call. For those unsure who Jesus is and are curious about the man. This passage even works for someone stuck in the middle – whatever place you find yourself in, Jesus turns to us today [tonight] and asks;

What do you want?

Just hearing that directed from Him can really be unnerving, can’t it? Immediately, we turn to our lists: I want a job; I want nice things; I want my relationships to work out; I want my family to be healthy; I want... I want... I want... we know our 'wants,' – we know some that are really, really important, some that are trivial (like hoping the New England Patriots lose this weekend)... some that are somewhere in between and perhaps we're not sure what we want first.

But Jesus Christ isn’t some 'genie in the lamp' looking to give us three wishes. Which is why we don’t get hung up on that question about what do we want and instead listen to his invitation – to "come and see."

Once we’ve recognized him as the one we need to follow - the one who has all the answers - the Messiah, the Lamb of God, and all of those other terms and titles we don’t fully understand (yet somehow know are a big deal) - we need to go to him, go with him ... and in order to find what we're truly looking for, we need to stay with him.

And in learning who Christ really is, by seeing and staying with him, our true desires, our deepest longings, our truest selves start to fully be revealed. Because what we find is that God wants to be with us - and wants us to want to be with him. Really, what more could we want?

Did Pope Francis say "JE NE SUIS PAS CHARLIE HEBDO"

One of my favorite weekly (daily?) activities is been fielding questions about something Pope Francis has said or done.  It usually starts with a shocked "Did you hear what the Pope said..."?  I usually refrain from responding by asking "do you mean - did you hear what this reporter/news agency/ blogger with some agenda has said the Pope has said?"

One of the recent examples was a press conference the Holy Father had on his flight to the Philippines.  When he was asked about the Islamic-terrorist attack on the editorial board of the french satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo last week where 12 people were killed by these lunatics, he said (according to the Associated Press):


"If my good friend Dr. Gasbarri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch," Francis said half-jokingly, throwing a mock punch his way. "It's normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others."


The headlines were all over the place -including one that said "Pope in favor of limiting free speech."


I tried responding to a few people via twitter and facebook explaining a few things, and then found that 140 characters won't do...So here goes:


1 - No - the Pope isn't expressing his desire to see the legal restrictions to freedom of speech - he's expressing a very Catholic understanding of Freedom. To some of my friends on the more conservative side -- do you remember what Saint Pope John Paul II said about freedom? I'll never forget it because he said it here in the Archdiocese of Newark at our Cathedral Basilica when he celebrated Evening Prayer with us on October 4, 1995 (my first semester in the seminary). He said "Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought"


Pope Francis is trying to make a similar point. For a Catholic, we need to responsibly use the freedom we're entrusted with - not to incite, not to provoke especially for the sake of provoking.


2 - No the Pope isn't advocating violence by saying he'd punch this guy out -- talk about people not having a sense of humor. Lighten up. He was making a joke to make a point. (And if you don't think that's appropriate, then you probably have a problem with Jesus (check out Matthew 5:29 - if you're right eye causes you to sin...) His point was pretty straightforward - people's faith, people's religious belief are things that are very personal, very intimate, very important to them. You can't simply mock them and expect people not to passionately react to them.


3 - No the Pope isn't blaming the victims of the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo's offices for that atrocity.   From the day it happened, the Pope condemned this most recent example of barbarism. He was responding to questions from the press that were talking in a casual manner about a lot of different things. When this topic came up, he was speaking casually - as he likes to do. Which comes to my next point...


4 - Stop simply reading the different reports, "tweets" or provocative headlines that are being highlighted by certain people/media sources. You can go to NEWS.VA (the vatican website) download "The Pope App" and get access to everything that the Pope is saying direct from the Vatican - which will usually correct some of these misreports.


Seriously, Pope Francis has said a lot more "controversial" things the last couple of days (at least I would think they would be considered such by some in the media) that hasn't even been mentioned as this manufactured controversy continues.


5 - Pope Francis is, as my friend Lino Rulli would put it, "pope-ing" in a great way. No matter where you fall politically, religiously, etc - he's going to provoke you to think and open your mind and heart to think about important things in a different way. He's talking a lot about the environment and care for the environment. Does that mean that he signs on with the Democrats in vetoing the Keystone pipeline? NO - Does that mean we have to stop looking at the environmental issue in purely political terms and those on the other side of that issue might want to ask how is our stewardship of the earth saying something about our love of God and His creation? that would be a massive YES.


All of that aside, a final personal thought to the title of this piece - Did Pope Francis just say "JE NE SUIS PAS CHARLIE HEBDO" - No he didn't... but I am.

I mourn the innocent people who were killed that day... I hate what was done to those individuals who were simply at work when these mad men felt justified to silence them forever... I hate the terror (remembering how frightening it was here on 9/11/01 and thereafter) that was instilled in another global city hearing gun shots in the daylight as these monsters calmly and coolly killed their targets and anyone who got in their way...As they shed more blood in a Jewish supermarket a few days later.

But I can't say "Je Suis Charlie Hebdo" - and it's important to point that out and note that distinction.    Anyone who takes a quick look at Charlie Hebdo would recognize the contributors, etc - they are blasphemous to people of all faiths. There are some atrocious things this magazine has done towards Catholicism that I find absolutely repugnant.   Is that protected by "freedom of speech" - yes - and because as an American, I know the importance of protecting free speech (which sadly, for example, means that pornography is able to spread with reckless regard to what that is doing to our society).  But as a Catholic, that's why I appreciated the Pope's words...  Catholics, Christians, people of all faiths, need to recognize their responsibility to God for the gift of life and the freedoms we enjoy -- coming from Him, as the Declaration of Independence, one of our founding documents so eloquently states - and which we sometimes forget -- the freedoms come from God, not from any government...


Which is why I can say I am against terrorism, I am against violence, I am against murder, I am against bullying but no, I'm not Charlie Hebdo.

Not sure if I just hit over a hornets nest, but, I still live in hope that we can have thoughtful debate and even more thoughtful personal reflections on these things.

LETTING GO (NOT a "Frozen" reference)

Happy New Year - and Happy Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God.  The readings for today's Mass can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/010115.cfm   Thanks as always for reading, for sharing, and your feedback.  My prayers and blessings to you and yours for a happy and healthy new year...God Bless, Fr. Jim

HOMILY:

Probably one of the most difficult things, hardest things, challenging things for us as human beings to do in life is "letting go" of old hurts. How often have we heard someone say, or even said ourselves "What you did to me – to my family, to my friends – I cannot forgive that or forget ..." Often times those things aren’t over arbitrary squabbles... they come from a place of real pain and hurt. 

When we think about it, this isn’t just a challenge on a person to person level. With some distance and objectivity, sometimes you can see how groups of people, even countries can hold onto past grievances with the desire that "maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow... but someday, they will pay for this." When it comes to our being wronged, it is amazing how efficient our memory is. Individually or collectively, memories can go back decades, even centuries, old and looking for revenge.

The thing is, the anger, the bitterness, the vile that we can allow ourselves to hold onto, which at first is something unpleasant; in time becomes part of who we are and in a sense we grow comfortable to it in a sense we allow it to change who we are.

Rather than trying to conceive of another "new years resolution" the scriptures today invite us to look at this New Years Day and ask ourselves an important question: What is it that we’re holding onto in our hearts?

Because, even though as you go pass Malls and see Christmas items reduced to 75% off and Valentines Day displays popping up (seriously – I saw it myself, Brookdale ShopRite on December 26th, already had Valentines cards out so you can beat the rush) as Christmas trees are discarded and Christmas music disappears from airwaves, the Church is still basking in the wonder of this Feast. We are still trying to unpack the wonder of the magnitude of this great Christmas gift God the Father has bestowed on us -the gift of His Son Jesus Christ. And right in the middle of this ongoing celebration, as we reflect on his humble, meager beginnings, our gaze today goes to Mary, the Mother of God. In this feast, one of the lines that jumps out from the Gospel is that all of these amazing things that occurred in the birth of Jesus that we’ve been celebrating – St. Luke says very simply and profoundly - Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.

It was the joyous, miraculous, wondrous things she kept in her heart.
-There’s no mention of her remembering the check-in guy at the Inn who wouldn’t let a pregnant woman ready to give birth a place to stay for the night. 
- We don’t hear Mary complaining that the best this guy Joseph can do is find this smelly place where animals are kept for her firstborn child to be born. 
- She’s not wondering who will get even with those who worked with diabolical fervor to try to destroy this child (and killed thousands of other innocents in the attempt to do so). 

Mary treasures the amazing things – she allows those memories to fill her heart and in doing that, well, that leaves no room for the disappointments, angers and hurts. With that, Mary’s soul simply, beautifully and eternally glorifies and praises God.

What about you and I? Here on this New Year, we have yet another opportunity, another chance to start over again (it seems we get so many of them, doesn’t it?) Are we willing to let go of whatever it is that hurts, that angers, that we continue to feed?

Mary, the Mother of God – and our mother gives us a parental example, a pattern to follow which can change our entire outlook of the year that has past and all that is to come. To treasure, to embrace, to keep in our hearts all of the glorious ways our God is actively blessing us. In doing that, we are called to forgive those who have "sinned" against us and not allow that negativity to have any more space in our lives. To not bring those burdens with us into this new year of 2015. Mary our Mother challenges us not to think about making that type of move, but to do it... today. In making her example our reality we find that we can truly give birth to Christ in our lives, in our families, in our workplaces, in our world...and not simply say it, but truly have a Happy New Year