A LESSON FROM 'HELLS KITCHEN?'

Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 30, 2015.  The readings for today can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/083015.cfm .  As always, I’m most grateful for your reading this blog, sharing it with your families and friends on Facebook, twitter, reddit - and your comments and feedback.    Tonight is “Pre-Season” here at Newman Catholic... we have students beginning to arrive with classes starting Wednesday.  I’d appreciate your prayers for all of us, especially the students at MSU that they will be open to the voice of Christ in their lives... and that all of us here at Newman will be that voice and loving presence.  God Bless - Fr Jim

HOMILY:

For the most part I really can’t stand reality TV shows. Despite the name of the genre, they seem so, I don’t know, fake to me. Whenever I get a chance to sit down and watch something, it’s usually for a diversion from my own “reality” – so why would I want to be sucked into the “real world” drama of someone else?

But one show that I can’t help but watch is “Hell’s Kitchen.”  For those of you who have not seen this show, there are two teams - a Red Team and a Blue Team. They work under the very critical eye of expert, world-renowned chef Gordon Ramsay.  In any event, the two teams compete to prepare dishes in a restaurant for the hungry customers. Before any of the meals go out, they need to be scrutinized by Chef Ramsay. For some reason, as someone who can’t really cook at all, I find the whole thing hysterical.

Because he’s runs this competition like a Boot Camp, complete with him waking the chefs up at random hours for another competition, forcing losing teams into punishments like going through trash and picking out recycling; and he’s constantly barking orders at the competing chefs and expecting responses that begin and end with “Chef” (like those in the military are required to use, using the word “Sir”) “CHEF, YES, CHEF.”

He’s demanding, and temperamental. If it’s not cooked to his standards, or doesn’t look the way he thinks it should look he starts screaming like a lunatic. Half of the words are bleeped. To one woman he said “I’d rather eat ‘poodle’ BLEEP than to eat that crap.”

Maybe one reason the show is appealing is that for any of us who’s had a meal at a restaurant that was badly prepared (and been afraid to send it back out of fear of retribution) it’s refreshing to see some criticism of the meals. “THAT’S RAW” he yelled about a pork dish that was about to be sent out - “LOOK AT THIS, WOULD YOU PAY FOR THIS” he screamed about some fish dish.

In the heat of the competition, obviously, people get angry. And you can’t help but wonder why do these chefs even put themselves into this situation to be treated like this.  But for a lot of these competing chefs enjoy the experience because they know Chef Ramsey knows what he’s talking about and that he’s simply “telling it like it is.” As one former contestant put it: Gordon Ramsey is constantly searching for that green apple that fell from the tree and is looking to become ripe. That’s what he wants…he prefers to mold raw talent. [And] If he’s going to have someone working for him, he’s going to need someone he can continually build…The will to never give up is the key…If you have a solid cooking foundation and a will to not give up, you find yourself to be more successful than others on the show. He wants a soldier…he doesn’t want anyone who succumbs to his [barks like] ‘you stupid donkey’. The most challenging thing is…understanding how important it is to let go of ego. Letting go of ego is key...

This particular chef reflected: Ego became the hump for me. I learned how important it is to be able to let it go and, perhaps, accept the fact that the flaws in your game make who you are a bit more penetrable.

Listening to someone who tells it like it is and letting go of one’s ego isn’t simply the way to win 'Hell’s Kitchen' but a great recipe for life (bad pun, I know) and essential in our spiritual lives as well.

In today’s Gospel, we have these Pharisees. And they remind me of chefs who thought they knew everything about cooking. They consider themselves the experts in living a good Jewish life; the experts in holiness. And like little kids who see another little kid messing up and are excited to tell the teacher, we hear them today saying “Uh, Jesus… JESUS – do you see that? Your disciples are eating their meals wrong, they’re ‘unclean’ – they didn’t wash their hands right.”

The Pharisees were going beyond a hygiene issue. They were upset that the disciple’s weren’t following the exact letter of the “law” of their ancestors. They were pointing out that they weren’t being attentive to some of the minor traditions that had been past down. They took these minor infractions and made this leap, this judgment, and condemned the disciples, saying “Jesus your disciples aren’t good Jews. Jesus these ones who follow you, who are your closest friends aren’t holy people. Jesus these people are in fact ‘unclean.'"

Now the Pharisees have pretty big egos, and probably weren’t expecting Jesus’ to tell it like it is. He doesn’t really deal with the disciples' cleanliness but, rather, turns it around on these infraction-finding Pharisees and asks, "Is that really what’s most important?"

Because the Pharisee’s were hung up on how they looked, how they appeared, they wanted to be applauded for following the letter of the law. Meanwhile, in their hearts, where was their love for God?   Because if they truly loved Him, searched for Him, longed for Him, they would have been like the disciples, who had left everything, including their egos, and were following God’s son – were growing in love of Jesus day by day as they listened to him constantly “tell it like it is” so that they could grow into the true sons and daughters God the Father had created them and was calling them to be – rather than just being worried about a minor infraction.

Jesus is telling it like it is, and it makes the Pharisee’s uncomfortable and should make us uncomfortable as well, because 2,000 years later, it’s possible for us to make that same mistake. We can go to Mass on Sunday, say some prayers, wear a crucifix and have hearts that are far from God. Making sure that our appearances are perfectly Catholic, while not dealing with the sinful thoughts, actions and desires holding us back – particularly that jarring list he offers at the end of the passage.  Listen again to Jesus' words :

From within people, from their hearts,
come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder,
adultery, greed, malice, deceit,
licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly.
All these evils come from within and they defile.   
Jesus is warning us that these things sabotage our desire to be God’s beloved sons and daughters, blocking us from experiencing true joy, true happiness, true peace.

What a gospel for us at the start of a new school year!   Walking on campus today as we welcome new “Red Hawks” - bumping into returning students you can feel the excitement, the enthusiasm... but also the tension, the fear (especially for parents leaving their sons and daughters here for the first time) What will their days, weeks, years here be for them?  The temptation to “look” right, to “fit in right” is in overdrive right now.  In this environment, even the exterior appearances that Jesus warns us not to congratulate ourselves on accomplishing – just coming to Mass or wearing that crucifix - those things can be incredibly challenging.

Somehow though - we made it here.

Somehow we were able to hear that gentle voice that tells us not to give into the loud shouts of many loud egos that can surround us and question or mock this choice.

In this Mass, in this His word and in the Eucharist, where we receive His Body and Blood, we find Jesus meets us, embraces us, encourages us to persevere in our faith and in fact to go deeper.  To see that, yes, the surroundings, and the environment around us can make it difficult to live the life He calls us to. But in those choices, those decisions are made in our hearts. If we are able to let go of our egos, let go of ourselves and our preoccupations - we too will be able to hear Jesus speak his loving word, his challenging word... Hear him continue to tell it like it is.

WHAT'D YOU DO THIS SUMMER?

“What’d you do this summer?”

These last days of August as summer slips into Autumn, where the (mythical, in my book) slower quieter days of Summer yield to calendars packed with events, meetings and STUDENTS flooding in and out of the Newman Center - that’s an often asked question “What’d you do this summer?”

This year here at Newman I can say - quite a lot - and a lot more than we ever imagined.

For those who don’t know, the very last day of the 2014-15 Academic Year - Commencement Evening when our thoughts were turning towards a summer of rejuvenation and preparation for this new year - an Old Oak Tree behind our recently purchased 100 + year old house (affectionately known as “Newman II”) decided to “drop in” - literally.  It simply dropped - and crushed about 1/3 of the Third floor.

From the emergency work to get the tree off the house - to contractors rebuilding the dormer and rafters- to replacing the entire roof; painting - and then doing some additional preventive measures (removing a slew of trees encroaching on Newman II and Newman Classic) it was quite an unexpected ordeal.

This on top of our already scheduled-contracted work of removing some 50 year old wall paper in both houses and having the walls repaired and painted; a Bathroom-laundry-pantry- (the students were calling a BLANTRY) in Newman II being renovated to solely a bathroom and a laundry room being retrofitted to the basement; repairs made to our stone walls/35 brick steps staircase; having some major work done on the radiators in both Newman II and Classic...along with a bunch of other “side projects” - it turned into a long, very busy - but very productive summer.

Just going through all of the receipts for all this work, I realize over $100,000 of work was done at our two buildings.  While the tree-incident was obviously an accident and a bulk of those bills were paid through insurance - that incident caused us to replace the entire roof of the building which wasn’t covered.  Thankfully through the support of the Archdiocese of Newark, that $26,000 bill was covered.  Along with some of the other scheduled work.

But I’m also grateful to our Families, Friends, Alumni and Benefactors for their generosity to our two Annual Appeals (one in the Summer and one at Christmas).  Their generosity over the years has made all kinds of projects to make these centers more inviting, welcoming and usable to our ever growing program.  One generous friend for example is donating a gas fireplace to make the fire-place/chimney in Newman II workable/usable - which I think will be a further draw to students to feel more welcome and comfortable down here.

These closing days of Summer -as I reflect on all we did - I’m thankful to all of you who are making it possible.  To donate, please check out our website and click the paypal link: http://chernjam.wix.com/classisite#!summerappeal/cbjb
or checks to the Newman Catholic Center can be sent to “Newman Catholic; 894 Valley Road; Montclair, NJ 07043"

"...REGRETS, I'VE HAD A FEW"

Hi everyone.  Thanks for visiting my blog.  Here's my homily for the 21ST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - AUGUST 23, 2015.  The readings for today's Mass can be found at:
http://usccb.org/bible/readings/082315.cfm   Thanks as always for stopping by and reading, sharing this on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit - and for your comments and feedback.  As always it's much appreciated.  Have a great week - God Bless, Fr Jim

Quick commercial - the Newman Catholic 2015 Summer Appeal is coming to a close.  We're grateful for all the support as we continue our mission here at Montclair State University.  For more information - www.MSUNEWMAN.com
HOMILY:


It’s been observed that with all the different social media sites how people are in a way sharing more and more about themselves to greater detail then ever before. There’s a lot of theories as to why, but whatever that root cause is, it’s somewhat shocking how revelatory people can be. For example there is a site where people can post all their "Regrets": the users of the site look back on some of the missed opportunities, the bad choices they had made and shared it with the world - either as a warning to others or as some form of public confession:


- I wish I could go back to when I was 22. I would have stayed in LA and taken the marketing job right out of college...


- I would have bought the condo in Long Beach for $60k that I was looking into. When I see how much it’s worth today, ugh...

- I would go back to 16 and chosen a different university for my engineering degree…

Some were a bit more serious, for example, one individual said: I would go back to when I was 20 and NOT smoke that first cigarette. There were more than a couple of people who agreed with that post.

Some were truly heartbreaking, like this one: I wish I could go back and marry the only person I really cared about and never let the stupid things that ended it affect us.

"Regrets," we can sing along with Frank Sinatra, I’m sure, we’ve all had a few… Some in the grand scheme of things aren’t too big a deal (I should have gotten that car in blue instead of green); while another might be a life-altering moment that puts us on a different track - that, in hindsight, is a bad decision. A decision that because of our blindness, stubbornness, ignorance, whatever the reason – we made that choice and it has affected us for the rest of our lives. And because we’ve experienced those regrets in our own life, it’s almost sadder to watch others – children, friends, relatives, co-workers making a choice we know inevitably they will regret later…

For the last month we’ve been hearing from John Chapter 6 in the Gospel for Sunday Mass. It is called Jesus’ Bread of Life Discourse, and by way of brief reminders, the whole "discourse" began with one tremendous miracle. Jesus feeds thousands of people with five loaves and two fishes. UNBELIEVABLE! That was utterly amazing to the crowds. It was impressive to a whole bunch of Jesus’ disciples who had been following him and thought they had been impressed with him already!

But after this incredible experience, Jesus challenges them to go deeper and tells them to look beyond their stomachs. To see the hungers in their hearts, their souls, their lives and that yes – He could give them the nourishment that would satisfy that too. Jesus would give His Flesh to eat and His Blood to drink. And he follows that by saying that the only way to have those hungers fulfilled is to feast on His body and blood. "That can’t be," some thought… "What do you mean?" many asked – wondering was this a parable, some symbol he was referring to or metaphor for something else… Yet Jesus continues to say it over and over – I am the Bread of Life – you must eat my flesh and drink my blood…

And so after these weeks where we’ve been hearing this back and forth dialogue between those who were awe-struck-filled-with-wonder-and-amazement disciples and Jesus, we read some pretty sad words: Many of Jesus’ disciples who were listening said "this saying is hard; who can accept it?. . . as a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.

I’m sure for Jesus that it was hard watching someone (or a whole bunch of someones in this case) make a decision that he knew, eventually, they would regret. Because it is such a definitive moment whether or not to stay and continue to follow Jesus. It’s clearly and definitively a choice whether or not they would continue to believe, to trust, to follow Jesus. It’s clearly and definitively a choice, a decision whether or not to love Jesus. That was true then and it’s true now. Up until now, they were following because they liked it when Jesus was doing things they liked (free Fish! Free Bread!) Or saying things they liked...

But if it’s just about getting what you want, when you want, how you want on your terms - that’s not love. That’s called using people.

Jesus’ who is Love incarnate -wants to teach the meaning of true love. To do that he will offer his flesh and his blood - on the Cross - He will make that real to us in the unbloody sacrifice of the Eucharist where the bread and the wine become his body and blood – given freely, generously to us.

Yet, regretfully some leave. Some because that ultimate expression of selfless love is mind and heart blowing - it’s going to demand a selfless, generous response from those who receive it. But in making that regretful choice - whether out of fear, out of selfishness, out of believing the lie that there’s something or someone else in this world that could satisfy the deep longing, the restlessness inside them, – they will never find the joy, the love that every heart and soul is seeking.

The thing is, and it’s good to remember - the choice to stay with Jesus didn’t mean that the doubts disappeared (really, we are going to be eating your flesh?). The choice to stay didn’t mean perfect understanding that what Jesus was saying would eventually come to light (how does that piece of bread that cup of wine at Mass become Jesus’ body and blood?). But choosing to stay in spite of those doubts, that is an act of faith, an act of love. And that’s what Jesus is looking for. Not to blindly order them to follow him because he told them to, but because everything he had done up until that point was giving them glimpses of what a relationship with Him would offer.

Pope Francis a few years ago explained it like this: Being Christian is not just obeying orders but means being in Christ, thinking like him, acting like him, loving like him; it means letting him take possession of our life and change it, transform it, and free it from the darkness of evil and sin. ... Let us show the joy of being children of God, the freedom that living in Christ gives us which is true freedom, the freedom that saves us from the slavery of evil, of sin and of death! (Audience, April 10, 2013)

May we follow the example of another Pope - this time the first Pope - St. Peter. He like each of us, struggled with his doubts, his confusions, his outright failures. But he remains with Jesus... Stays with and follows him. And in that, he comes to learn and experience how each of those struggles become opportunities for him to know and trust Jesus’ promises of love and forgiveness. To the point where he ultimately is able to lay down is life totally and completely in testimony to Jesus. He probably had no idea that was in his future on this day when he makes his spontaneous testimony of faith. That was born of his remaining, his following, his receiving Jesus. May you and I persevere in the face of our own obstacles, temptations, doubts, disappointments and failures. Knowing we will never regret remaining (and when necessary) returning to the Lord, because, making Peter’s words to Jesus our own – We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.

SAYING WHAT YOU MEAN. . .

Hi everyone - hope you’re enjoying your summer.  Here’s my homily for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 16, 2015.  The readings can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/081615.cfm  Thanks as always for reading, sharing this blog on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit - and your comments and feedback.  God Bless - Fr. Jim

HOMILY:

Growing up, one of many expressions that was drilled into my brothers and I by my parents was to “Say what you mean and mean what you say”.   Even at a young age, it’s pretty simple and self-explanatory to understand.  Perhaps because it was so drilled into us, I find it incredibly frustrating when that doesn’t happen in my daily life.

This summer for example, at the Newman Center we’ve had to get all kinds of work done after a tree crashed in.  So all summer it’s been construction people, insurance agents, inspectors, and on and on coming and going.  Appointments have been delayed, missed, forgotten about on a regular basis - which sadly for the people who work with me on a daily basis, knows makes me crazy.    A painter tells me “We’ll start the work at the end of July and it should be about a week” - in reality turned into starting this past Monday and as of yesterday afternoon there’s still drop cloths all over the place and it’s a big old mess. (*I should note, my frustration here isn’t just that what they said didn’t come to pass, but that now with people moving back in and the start of the semester coming, I had specifically wanted to avoid all this going on right now)

But even apart from the adventures at the Newman Center... I see I have a Doctors appointment in a couple of weeks on a Monday morning at 10 am.  By now, I know that this routine, in and out thing is anything but.  So even though it says 10:00, I know not to have anything scheduled till after 1:00 because I’ll be sitting and waiting, to get into the exam room, waiting for the nurse to come in to tell me the “doctors running a little late”; waiting for the nurse to come back again to tell me “I’m the next person he’ll see”; waiting after he has seen me for the nurse to come back to give me a printout with my next appointment/ followup stuff and then waiting to square up my insurance/bill stuff.    That 10:00 appointment is more accurately an 11:45 appointment...

That’s why I’m grateful when I encounter the opposite - when people truly keep to saying what they mean and meaning what they say – Like I have a person who’s coming for spiritual direction on Tuesday at 2:00 PM - who will be at my office by 1:50 PM, who’ll email the night before to confirm again... He’s a pretty reliable guy.  I know I can count on him when he says he’ll be there at 2:00 - He’s there.

It seems somewhat trivial thing, but it often reveals something that’s not trivial.  We often come to realize people in our life that we can be confident in their word.  They have proven consistently that - they say what they mean and mean what they say.  Whether it’s something routine like setting a time for an appointment or in matters that are much more important.

Like when you’re going through a crisis or a trauma.  You will often have people who will say “if there’s anything I can do for you - let me know... I’ll be there.”  I’m sure everyone means that on some level, but unfortunately, they are missing in action soon after.  At the same time, there will be others, who will go above and beyond what any of us could have ever imagined in those moments of crisis - shining forth as true, best friends.

Reflecting on today’s Gospel you get that “Saying what you mean and meaning what you say” vibe...  For the last few weeks we’ve been reading this section of the Gospel of John where Jesus has been speaking more and more about the need to consume the bread that endures for eternal life; the food that will sustain us for eternity... And now today, Jesus is even more direct saying that we need to “eat his flesh and drink his blood.”   This point - this quote is one of the biggest differences between us as Catholics and those who’ve left the Catholic Faith and become one of the hundreds of Protestant denominations over what we believe in terms of communion.  Because some will argue:

He can’t mean what he says and argue that Jesus was speaking symbolically or metaphorically.    Yet, Jesus has said this, what, 7 times in this section of John.

Well he must be talking figuratively or poetically – that this is some form of parable some will counter.    Yet Jesus never interrupts or corrects the “confusion” of the moment.  We don’t have Jesus  clarifying  that this is a parable or that he meant this as a symbol or re-interpret this to mean anything other than what he very bluntly, shockingly has said to his followers.

So the disciples were left with the incredible realization that Jesus really does means what he says and says what he means...  And why not?  Jesus has never given them any reason not to trust his word.  He’s preached words that have touched their hearts and souls.  He’s astounded them with miracles that cannot be explained...

Yet, this call to faith, this miraculous, intimate gift that he’s offering - His very Body and Blood given to us to be consumed by us becomes very troublesome for these followers of Jesus.  So much so, that in next week’s gospel, we’ll hear how this will be a moment of departure for some... and continues to be.

It is hard for us to believe that God means what he says and says what he means at times.  Often times that’s  because we approach things from our own view of the world.
I want this person to find a job...
that relative to be healed...
that friend to be more faithful...
and when things don’t happen the way that we want, we immediately assume God isn’t faithful, isn’t listening, isn’t keeping His promises to us.

Yet, Jesus keeps inviting, offering, giving His very self to us.  Trying to break us out of our own self-centered view of the world to receive Him and His vision, His view of the world.

Eat my flesh... drink my blood.. Whoever [does so] remains in me and I in him.. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father...
   
So in one of those topsy-turvey, didn’t see that coming revelations - Jesus points out to us
- we say we are his followers and that we believe in Him
    and Trust in Him
    and Have Faith in Him.

    He asks us - do we mean what we say and say what we mean????