A SHEPHERD WHO CHANGES DIAPERS

Hi everyone, here’s my homily for - April 25, 2015 - Fourth Sunday of Easter. The readings for today’s Mass can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/042615.cfm Thanks as always for reading, for your feedback and for sharing this on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, etc. Have a great week - God Bless, Fr Jim

HOMILY:

The picture that floated on my facebook feed looked like it could’ve been one of many of the students I minister to at Montclair State. That’s probably why it caught my attention: this young guy, dressed like he just came back from being on the beach, holding this beautiful newborn baby boy. Was this a current student with a new brother or nephew? Maybe an alumn holding his son? And then I noticed the headline attached to the picture: 23 year old Australian student adopts pregnant, homeless 17 year old cousin to ‘give her a chance at a better life.’

Tommy Connolly who was an aspiring athlete went to track down his long-lost cousin before resuming studies at the University of the Sunshine Coast.  It had been almost a decade since he had last seen her, but never in his wildest imaginations could he have imagined how much had changed for her in those years.  She was sleeping outdoors near the coast; 32 weeks pregnant; the father of the baby was in jail; the girl’s parents being heroin addicts themselves were not a part of her life (as Tommy describes it, "She's spent more time on the streets than anywhere else, and knows the police better than she knows her own family")  She was practically illiterate, no phone, no shoes. So Tommy made a bold decision:  he took his cousin into his home during her last weeks of pregnancy; and then began to sell fruits and vegetables in between studies to cover the cost of moving into a new, bigger space and to prepare to welcome his baby cousin. 


Most of this would’ve remained anonymous, had it not been for Tommy’s older brother starting a go-fund me page to help them get a little more secure. As his brother describes it: Without giving a second thought Tommy took her in and spent all his spare time working to get her clothes, medical needs and government assistance. At the age of just 23 Tommy took in our little cousin and found them both a place to live that was safe and could house them both plus the new born baby. He did all of this whilst studying, training and working long hours to make ends meet. A month ago our little cousin gave birth to a health baby boy and the first person he saw that cut the cord was my brother Tommy. So dedicated he was that he sat patiently in the emergency room finishing his University assignments while he waited for her to recover from the birth. As you can see by this picture mum and baby are perfectly healthy and happy and Tommy was there for the whole thing. [The GO-FUND Me page can be found at http://www.gofundme.com/helpmybrotommy]

Every year on this Fourth Sunday of Easter we hear one of Jesus’ "The Good Shepherd" gospels. Being removed from farm life, not knowing much about sheep or shepherds, the full weight of the symbolism, the meaning, the significance of all that can fly over our heads. But for Jesus and his original listeners, it would’ve resonated quite profoundly. 

Shepherds are by their nature protective of these simple, needy, lovable creatures, these sheep.  They become so protective that they end up sleeping in front of the gate of the pen to make sure they don’t wander off or, even more, to keep watch to make sure that some other vicious animal - like a wolf - preying on these weak animals, don’t come and attack them.  Should one of the sheep get lost, the Shepherd would know, and the sheep would be able to identify their shepherd by his voice, by his smell as they were being sought after by the Shepherd.

Sadly that dedication seems foreign to many in our day and age. We might be more accustomed to the image of the hired hand - who works for a period of time, does his "job" - but his mind, his heart is elsewhere.  Taking care of the sheep, feeding them, getting them to their pen, yep - fine, but 5:00 its quitting time - see ya sheep. And you can bet if there’s some wild, ravenous wolf on the scene, he’s out of there.  Which is why Jesus makes the contrast - For the Shepherd, his life is tied to His sheep. Good times, bad times, they are his and he is theirs. The shepherd knows that in his heart, as do the sheep, who hear his voice and follow him.  So throughout these 7 short verses, Jesus keeps repeating I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
We know the depth of the meaning of those words to Christ as we look at the Cross. We see the standard he has set. And while on some level those images - whether they be sheep and shepherd or the cross on Calvary are familiar, and speak to us on some level, they still seem removed, still seem like a distant, foreign example for us to comprehend or ever begin to emulate.

Which is why stories like 23-year old Tommy Connolly are important for us to hear.  Interestingly, his older brother shared that previously Tommy had volunteered to work and raise funds for a school for underprivileged children in Ecuador.  No doubt most people would look at doing something like that as making him a "good person" – almost fulfilling some unwritten expectation that would place that title on him – and see this recent act, of putting himself out to the extent he has might even be dismissed or characterized as "extreme"  (I can almost hear some friend or relative saying to Tommy "that’s sweet Tommy, but don’t get involved... That’s not your worry...") Yet, when we think about it, to go to the lengths he has, taking on his cousin’s burdens and new cousin’s needs – truly laying down his own wants, his own needs, his life–  all with the single hope of trying to help the little boy have the life his mother never had seems to be the personification of being a "Good shepherd."

His cousin beautifully expressed her gratitude (where else but on facebook) as she said: Since carrying this gorgeous boy, all of my friends kept telling me that he would be taken away from me. This made my pregnancy very difficult. All I wanted was to give this little man a better life than I had – a second chance was all I wanted. Thank-you, Tommy for everything, and for helping me with my spelling.
To give birth to that kind of hope, to reawaken a faith – not even in God, but just in humanity, in her own family – that wasn’t something that could’ve been accomplished simply with a few generous donations or the perfunctory actions that any number of hired hands could’ve offered.  No, like Jesus, our Good Shepherd, Tommy seemed to know there was a call to lay down his life for another.


For you and I, we know that we’re being called and challenged at this very moment to do something for someone…  Who is it that we’re being sent to go out and seek? Who is it that is lost, scattered, forgotten that we need to bring back?  Who are the people filled with fear and doubts who need to have rekindled within themselves their great value, gifts and talents?  How are we being asked to bring the peace and justice of God into our relationships and communities? Jesus is giving us this true model of leadership – of humble, selflessness – of being Good Shepherds ourselves. Will we answer that call?

TROUBLED? WHO SAID I WAS TROUBLED????

Hi everyone, here's my homily for the THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER - April 19, 2015 - given at NEWMAN CATHOLIC CENTER AT MONTCLAIR STATE UNIVERSITY (www.MSUNEWMAN.com) The readings for this Sunday's Mass can be found here .  Thanks as always for stopping by this blog, reading these homilies, sharing them throughout your social media sites (facebook, twitter, reddit) and for your feedback and comments.  There always much appreciated.  God Bless - Fr Jim


HOMILY:

Why are you troubled?

Jesus asks that question in a very particular context in tonight’s Gospel passage.  In case you missed it, he had been unjustly tried, horrifically tortured, even more grotesquely crucified, abandoned, left dead in a tomb.  And now, three days later, risen from the dead, has appeared to Mary Magdalene, the disciples in the upper Room, the two on the road to Emmaus, and now again in the midst of the disciples.  This roller-coaster course of events has got to be a lot to take in.  And as he simply appears in their midst – He first says “Peace be with you.” He knew peace was probably a struggle for them at that moment. God knows this about us, that is why He wrote “Fear not” throughout the Bible … He knows we have a problem with fear.

To help ease their minds, Jesus eats with them clearly showing that He is not a ghost  - yet not like the rest of us who haven’t experienced the resurrection yet - the word Jesus uses to get a sense of the room seems appropriate – why are you troubled? I imagine the disciples thinking, “Why are we troubled? He asks … after all that happened. How can we not be troubled?”

But here in this space, some one thousand nine hundred and seventy seven years or so later - in this liturgy where the Risen Christ is real, is present both in this Word being spoken and soon in the bread and wine becoming His Body and His Blood, Jesus asks you and me the same question:

Why are you troubled

It’s not Are you troubled - it’s Why - because the reality is that each and everyone of us has things that trouble us – that frighten us - even that startle and terrify us.   Is it something in the short-term? Maybe an exam.  Maybe it’s more than just an exam in a course, maybe it’s a medical exam that you or someone you love is going for.  Is it life questions? Where am I going with my life?  Where is this relationship going?   Why do I feel so alone?  Why does this thing still hurt so much that hurts so much?  Is it about someone else - I’m worried about my Mom, my Dad... What can I do to help my brother, my sister...  The less control we feel we have, the more troubled we seem to feel.

There’s a reality that many of us experience in that we do a great job of hiding, dodging, deflecting whatever it is that troubles us.  It's awful to feel troubled. It takes a lot of emotional energy from us. At the same time, in the fast-paced world where there’s a premium on all things pleasurable, where we are bombarded with messages, alternatives, options that promise us pleasure, the unspoken thing that many of us can pick up on is that most people don’t want to know, won’t ask Why are you troubled?  For some that might be because they feel unable, ill-equipped to do anything about it.  Maybe because they’re afraid that in asking someone else about that pain, the place I’ve buried the things that I’m troubled about will burst open and not only don’t I want to deal with your troubles, I most certainly don’t want to deal with mine.

It’s interesting, just thinking about all this reminded me of a story from a few years back.  There was this Church in England that had been built in the 1960's which had this large sculpture of a crucifix – the image of Christ on the cross removed from the outside of the church after one of the clergymen said it was disturbing to people.  The 10 ft. sculpture crucifix, which had been mounted on the front of St. John’s Church according to parish leaders, was "a horrifying depiction of pain and suffering" which was "putting people off and scaring children." It has now been replaced with a new plain, stainless steel cross. The leaders of the Church said that in survey’s they had conducted on the crucifix the results came back with every comment about the sculpture being negative.

Reverend Souter, the vicar of the church said: "Children have commented on how scary they find it and [parishioners remarked] how off-putting they thought it was as a symbol outside the church. As the key exterior symbol for us it made people more uncomfortable rather than having a sense of hope and life and the power of the resurrection."  The sculpture was removed from this Church and placed on a wall in a Museum. The curator of the museum observed that it was a very powerful image displayed in that sculpture of Christ in pain. He remarked "That today isn't an image which a lot of churches want to follow. They'd much rather see an empty cross where Christ has risen," he said.

Pain, suffering are indeed troubling.  The image of Christ crucified is troubling.  But for Easter to make sense... for the Resurrection of Christ to become real to you and me... for us to become people who witness these things - we have to face these things, deal with these things.  Or rather, we have to allow Jesus Christ to enter into our lives and help us face and deal with these things - trusting that He who has come back from the dead can in fact do just that. 

Consider something:  over the last few Sundays we’ve been hearing in the different Gospel accounts amazing things about Jesus Christ risen from the dead.  Jesus in his resurrected body is able to get into these locked rooms without a key and seems to appear and disappear with relative ease, sometimes without even saying goodbye, he just seems to vanish from their midst (which is why people think he’s a ghost) Yet he makes it very clear and says to them No, I’m not a ghost – touch me and feel that I am flesh and bone; watch me as I eat (he seems to like Fish a lot). So there He is in this glorified body, that enables Jesus to do all kinds of things that we aren’t able to do. And yet, there’s one important detail we hear about –

He still has the wounds on Him.

The nail marks that pierced his hands, and feet, they’re still there. Did God the Father forget to fix that? I mean, if you’re raising your son from a horrific death like that, you would think that you’d want to clean up all those wounds, those marks, those terrible reminders of what happened. But perhaps there’s a reason they’re still there. Maybe those wounds, are there for a reason.

Why are you troubled Jesus asks in the Gospel -- and then He makes a point to them to say - look see my hands and my feet... It’s almost like Jesus saying - I haven’t forgotten what Good Friday is like - I know you are going through your own Good Fridays. When you’re feeling abandoned, alone, abused. Like the whole world has turned it’s back on you and leaving you completely broken. I know you’re troubled. I know you have questions. I haven’t forgotten how that feels. I haven’t forgotten you.

And as our first taste, first experience of the resurrection in our own lives, He tells us when we turn away from our lives of sin, when we bring to him all the things that make us feel unloved, unworthy, he says you are Loved, you are worthy “Be forgiven.”

We look to the wounds, we look to the image of the crucified one in this season of Easter joy because we can relate to the wounds, relate to the crucified one.. we who are experiencing Good Fridays in our own lives... and see that true victory is there as Jesus comes in the midst of that and offers us His peace. And as we turn to him, embracing those glorified, pierced hands of His - we are with the ultimate “winner” trusting that he is with us, we become true witnesses that from the horror of Good Friday - Easter Joy and Hope is born. So we look at the crucified one, we remember those wounds not as defeatists, but to remember that what God has done for His beloved Son, He will do for us, His beloved sons and daughters.

If we believe that and have our faith and trust in that, could we have any greater sign of hope and victory than lovingly, joyfully beholding the crucifix? Understanding Jesus died on the cross to save us and that there was no other way, brings great triumph in His sacrifice in the resurrection. A win that lasts forever.   Alleluia!