WHEN DID ASHLEY MADISON BECOME ACCEPTABLE?

Hi everyone, here’s my homily for September 27th, 2016 - the 26th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - the readings for today can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/092715.cfm Thanks as always for stopping by to read this blog - and for sharing it on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and elsewhere. I’m blown away by the numbers of visitors and where you’re all from. Thank You! And thanks for the comments and feedback. God Bless - Fr Jim

HOMILY:
A couple of years ago, I was driving around and listening to the radio (I think it was the Comedy Channel) and there was an advertisement where I learned about a company I never wanted to hear about - Ashley Madison. Being it was on the comedy channel, I really thought it was a joke - but their was no punchline... it turned out to be very sadly - very real. 

Quite simply it’s a website designed specifically for people who want to cheat on their wives and husbands. A company designed to help adulterers (or people thinking about becomeing adulterers) a "meeting" site for people to have an affair. I remember kind of staring at the car radio and seeing the website name displayed and hearing an advertising jingle that went along with it. Not long after that there were billboards popping up for this same company with the tag line "Life is Short... have an affair."

In a day and age where there’s little left that can shock our sensibilities anymore - this one absolutely did for me. Honestly, I’m not some naive innocent priest who doesn’t know that affairs occur. Even if I didn’t know people who’ve suffered from that experience, any reading of the bible tells us this has happened before. What was shocking - what is disturbing to me - was that there was a comfortability with sin that seemed new... that seems brazenly arrogant.

It used to be that people who had an affair knew it was wrong - felt it was wrong  - and out of human weakness, or for whatever reason they gave into the temptation. Now it was being advertised, advocated, normalized - being offered as an authentic, legitimate option for people to participate in: "Sign up now". I remembered thinking this is going to go horribly, horribly bad.

In recent months, it did. A group of computer hackers were able to crack into the "safe-secure" computer site where millions of people had made their profiles looking to cheat on their spouses and steal their names, email addresses and other sensitive personal information. These hackers first tried to blackmail the people who owned and ran the site - which obviously infuriated the owners over all this immoral activity (the hacking and the blackmail threat; obviously they didn’t have a problem with the adultery). The owners refused to give into the hackers demands and claimed this was a bluff that they didn’t have all that information on the sites clients. The owners then lied to their "clients" - their customer service representatives said to a reporter who posed as a client "Our system is completely secured. They tried to hack the site but they weren’t successful. Your details are never compromised … it’s false [that 2,500 customer records were leaked]. Only two of our members’ details were leaked. You know how the media work and they want to get attention. The site is very successful and (the media) are trying to make stories."

Shockingly (or rather not) that was a lie. The reality was the hackers were very

successful. Police report that criminals had attempted to extort money from clients using the site threatening to expose their affairs to their families and friends... Massive crises for families have developed, couples have separated and divorced... there’s been several suicides where people caught in this hack attack and were exposed or about to be exposed because of their indiscretions were so overwhelmed with guilt and shame they took their lives.

What has been striking though is that for the most part the public reaction, the anger has been pretty much directed at the hackers. One commentator put it pretty simply: How dare they do something so illegal as to break into a company’s website, steal such sensitive information and then publically share it and cause all this fallout. Few see the irony – most seems focused just on that aspect - the hackers and the fallout - as if this were just another terrible cyber attack like if these criminals went after Apple itunes or Bank of America and did that to their customers.

What’s been kind of forgotten is this is a website for people to cheat on their spouses! I’m not saying so they deserve what’s coming to them... not at all. But there’s this attitude where people seem to be shrugging their shoulders at the cheating, the adultery treating it like smoking cigarettes hey it’s a bad thing, but it’s your decision... just keep the smoke out of my face...

And that’s the thing... that’s the question – how comfortable are we with sin – how comfortable are we with any sin? As people we seem to becoming more and more disconnected, isolated from one another. In the process, we seem to be losing a sense that my sin affects you and your sin affects me. Whether it’s something minor like a guy screaming a curse word across campus or someone flipping off someone in the parking lot - or something more dramatic, a sin of indifference where a person gets hit by a car and people continue to walk on - not even stopping to see if how bad the person was hurt and what they could do to help.

Your sin affects me just as my sin affects you.

That’s what Jesus is trying to get at in this very dramatic gospel imagery today where he goes so far as to suggest the amputation of limbs rather than to allow those body parts to contribute to the cooperation of evil which could both hurt us and others. We don’t read the bible literally... So please, don’t stop at Home Depot on your way out of Mass today.

He is using that dramatic imagery to make an important point. The goal of following Him, the purpose of being a Christian is to get to Heaven. And to achieve that goal we are called to live like we’re citizens of heaven already and you and I – we have to help each other as we journey to get there. That’s why Jesus kind of blows off the petty concern at the start of this passage (kind of imagine John in a whinny voice:)– Jesus they’re not in our group and they’re casting out demons in your name. As Christians, you and I need to be focused on heaven - getting there ourselves and taking everyone with us. And whether the Newman Catholic Campus Ministry does that - the missionaries from FOCUS or some other group of Christians - the important thing for all of us who say that we love Jesus is to act like we do, to behave that way...

And one of the most common things among all those who say they love Jesus is that they hate sin Because sin in short is an invitation to Hell.


The problem is, in Facebook-terminology, we haven’t RSVP’d to that invitation to Hell. We haven’t accepted the invite - but we haven’t exactly declined. It’s just there. We’ve gotten comfortable to some extent with it’s presence in our life. That’s what sin does - it looks attractive. It tries to manipulate us, convince us to take a glance, give something a try that we know we shouldn’t... no one will know,... everybody’s doing it,... people are doing worse... you deserve this... what the hell? [pun intended]

You have to believe that for those millions of people caught up in that Ashley Madison scandal, they’ve experienced hell already. The people who are now living in constant fear of being "found out" - the humiliation for those who have - the fundamental distrust that has been unmasked, unleashed on couples...

Yes, they’ve experienced Hell.
- And - the more we shrug our shoulders and say "Oh" and just move on - bewildered - rather than call it what it is - sin
- the more we allow one another to think that perhaps it’s okay, or, well, it’s not my place to say something like that to tell someone else that that’s wrong or, I don’t want people to be offended by my beliefs;
- yes, the more we don’t want to confront our own sinfulness and truly have a change of heart – realizing that my sins affect you and your sins affects me – then the more we opt to experience Hell on earth as well and we diminish our sacred calling as followers of Jesus.

Jesus is pleading with you and I to take these things seriously, both for ourselves, for one another. To recognize how strong, how important you and I are to one another. The amazing influence we have on one another. Not to get in people’s faces, point our fingers and call people out on their sins. That’s one of the things these hackers did - trying to embarrass and harass people. But rather Jesus is calling us to replicate the great love he has for us. And so that means, we have to

- Console one another when we do fail, when we do fall into sin.

- Remind one another of the love of Jesus Christ that saves us from our sins and wants to heal and restore us in his tremendous gift of Mercy.

- Encourage one another to resist the various temptations that are designed to lure and entrap us to something far lesser than we are created to be, than we truly want to be.

- Call one another to come to know, to love, to follow Jesus ever more closely.

Last Sunday, Pope Francis put it like this: Being a Christian entails promoting the
dignity of our brothers and sisters, fighting for it, living for it. That is why Christians are constantly called to set aside their own wishes and desires, their pursuit of power, before the concrete gaze of those who are most vulnerable. All of us are called by virtue of our Christian vocation to that service which truly serves, and to help one another ... All of us are asked, indeed urged, by Jesus to care for one another out of love.


When we do these things, than the opposite of my sin effects you and yours effects me is revealed... we encourage one another, we build each other up, we become brothers and sisters, we become the Body of Christ.

A "PAPAL PLEA": CAN WE JUST PAUSE FOR A MINUTE?

Two days into the Pope’s arrival into the United States, and some of what I feared might happen is coming true. People picking apart the Holy Father’s words and actions. Some trying to co-opt them for themselves and their agendas. Some angrily offering instant commentary (where else but on twitter) stating their disappointment that "He didn’t say this" or "He should’ve said that."


I suppose that’s par for the course to some extent. The Pope is controversial because Christ is controversial. And as the Vicar of Christ, as the successor to St. Peter, it’s his job to preach the Gospel message - which as has been said - has the power to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.


But one of the things that troubles me so much is seeing fellow Catholics jumping into the fray. Most disturbingly as some advance a ridiculous narrative that the Pope’s not pro-life enough and using the Pope’s speeches not for reflection but as evidence supporting such a false and libelous accusation (did any of them see just a few weeks ago on ABC’s 20/20 when he lauded a single mother who was struggling pointing out how brave she was in having the children and not killing the child in the womb - in just that brief moment he comforted a struggling Mom, identified the horror of abortion and reduced many, especially the news anchor mediating the town hall, into difficult silent reflection)


Let’s take a moment and reflect on the context, the backdrop of the Pope’s speech to the Joint Session of Congress.


For the first time ever, the Pope spoke to the elected representatives of the people of the United States of America. And where are we as a nation right now? One of our leading presidential candidates most specific platform is building a giant, albeit he promises "it will be beautiful"wall - and deporting every person who is here illegally (but we’ll bring the good ones back) The other side of the political aisle pretends that videos don’t exist (or try to claim some moral ground arguing that because deceit was used in order to obtain the videos, they can continue to ignore the information obtained in them) that "Planned Parenthood" a tax-supported organization that already carries out the atrocity of abortion is now trying to keep those human lives viable enough to sell their body parts as they kill them. In the meantime, anger is boiling in cities where the violence of citizen upon citizen is ignored; each criminal arrest and interaction between police and suspects has grown even more dangerous because of tragic (and sometimes criminal acts at the hands of those sworn to protect) all stoked by the flames of a "hashtag" to the point that now we’re seeing police officers getting assassinated with a greater frequency than before.


That’s just a few of the headlines of what’s going on here... Globally, what is sometimes forgotten as we are blinded by our own issues is the horrors of Christians being beheaded, being martyred (and then the barbaric acts are uploaded on Youtube) at a rate greater than any time in the history of the world (yes even worse than in the Early Church) (http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/news/2015/04/06/more-christians-are-martyred-today-than-in-the-first-century-says-pope-francis/)


With that as the state of the nation, the state of the world, the Holy Father came and spoke as a "Son of this great continent." He came to remind us of the great blessings of what has been called the "American Experiment" -a nation of dreamers: "dreams which awaken what is deepest and truest in the life of a people." He came to "dialogue" with lawmakers, reminding them of the importance of the ideals of politics, namely "...our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good: that of a community which sacrifices particular interests in order to share, in justice and peace, its goods, its interests, its social life." Adding that "I do not underestimate the difficulty that this involves, but I encourage you in this effort."


It was a powerfully important speech... a historic and unique opportunity... delivered humbly and lovingly by the servant of the servants of God, Pope Francis, that seemed to become even more powerful and important as he left our government leaders and dined with the poorest of our nation just a few blocks away. In that moving encounter he both highlighted the good that some are trying to do to help those who are struggling and at the same time pointing out how wide the gap, how extreme the extremes truly are.


People, particularly my fellow Catholics, who are tuning in... I’d just simply ask... drop your "smart" phones for a few seconds as you jump in to offer instant (and often times thoughtless) commentary, critiques because your issue wasn’t addressed to your liking.  Realize that what got you passionate in the first place is the reality that, yes, we’re living in some amazingly trying, dangerous times. There’s more than enough issues and challenges that each and everyone of us are faced with... and there’s more than enough opportunities on a daily basis (for good and for bad) for us to chime in - "debate," "opine," offer our opinions, our hashtags. Can't we agree that sadly the rhetoric hasn’t done much to advance the cause of peace - for ourselves personally, our nation or our world.


So in what remains of this historic visit by Pope Francis, especially us Catholics, can we please listen to our Holy Father calling us to humility... calling us to remember God’s tremendous Love and Mercy and the responsibility we have in sharing that. Can we just pause for a minute?

PS -- some of the difficulty is reading reports of what the Pope said rather than hearing or reading it for yourself.  The US Bishops website has all the information you could need including the full texts of homilies and speeches here:  http://www.usccb.org/about/leadership/holy-see/francis/papal-visit-2015/index.cfm 

WELCOME POPE FRANCIS!


From this week's Newman Catholic Bulletin (www.MSUNEWMAN.com)


What is it that has captured the fascination of so many in the world with Pope Francis?

There’s been quite a lead up to his historic visit of the United and Cuba this week. In the short time that he will be in Washington DC, New York and Philadelphia, he will have quite a busy few days: A Mass canonizing a Saint (Junipero Serra); a speech to both houses of congress (called a "Joint Session"); meetings at the White House with President Obama and a whole host of dignitaries;
Visits to the September 11th Memorial where he will lead an inter-religious prayer service for the victims; An address to all the delegates of the United Nations; A Massive Celebration of the Eucharist in Philadelphia before millions as the close to "The World Meeting of Families" (a major Catholic event that takes place every few years where hundreds of thousands have gathered to study, pray, discuss issues related to Family Life) And that’s just the announced itinerary ... with Pope Francis, no one can be quite sure he won’t add a few more visits here and there.

But just looking at that schedule it’s remarkable for a whole host of reasons. Here’s a man who’s 78 years old. He’s never been to the United States – ever – in all his years. So this will be his first and possibly his only visit. He doesn’t speak English often (it’s been reported that he actually speaks English better than he gives himself credit for — feeling much more comfortable in his native languages of Spanish and Italian) When he does speak — it often causes controversy in one corner of another — either because some people like what they imagined he said or others dislike what they think he meant— and in both instances they are usually wrong (very wrong actually)

Yet both extremes of our political divide in this country seemed to be tripping over each other to try to invite Pope Francis to one thing or the other. When he addresses congress in that rare joint session — it will be the first time a Pope has done so. Even the media, which so often seems either hostile on the one extreme or apathetic & dismissive to the Church has been promoting and discussing this visit all summer with eager anticipation. ABC News even sent their anchor man to Rome to have a one on one with the Pope and monitor a virtual "Town Hall" with the Pope and US Catholics in three different cities. All of this even before the Pope arrives.

In the next week, you’re going to see television stations pre-empt all their normal programming and do wall-to-wall coverage. And more than likely, you’re going to see crowds BIG CROWDS from place to place as Pope Francis comes. Here in the same country where every day we’re reminded that the number of Catholics leaving the faith — the number of Christians and people who’ve stopped going to any Church at all is on the rise; where a greater number of people seem to take great offense at the mere mention of God in public discourse... yes in this land which has been described as entering a "Post—Christian era" all of this is about to take place.

What’s up with that?

Commentators, politicians, celebrities are all offering a variety of explanations. But to me it’s a bit more basic, and a somewhat predictable answer. In a world where things seem to be moving way too fast; where there’s little reflection on who we are, what we’re doing; little reverence for life – ours or others; in our over—saturation of news delivered instantly to our latest smart phones; in our competition to look for happiness in all the wrong places (and continuing the seek, fail, repeat cycles)... the heart and soul cry out for something more than what we’ve found in the everyday, in the here and now ... That’s a basic need — the need to be loved, the need to know we are cared for, the need to find an answer to why am I here?

For a variety of reasons, the Catholic Church — which we believe possesses the answer to those longings in Jesus Christ and this Church which he founded — we haven’t done a great job of articulating that. Issues like abortion have become political talking points rather than an urgent matter of the heart...the good works of the Church like care of the poor seems to have been delegated to "someone else" to do. And in some ways we can see the Church has gotten caught up with the things of this world rather than trying to be in the world but not of the world (John 17: 14-16). In Pope Francis, we not only hear but often times see a model of one who is getting us back to the latter. Who utilizes things like Twitter to simply say "God Loves You." Who reminds people "Confession is not a torture chamber — but the ultimate encounter of God’s Mercy" (and is even more direct with priests that if they aren’t merciful, they should get a desk job!)

That freshness — coming from a 78 year old man — we can’t help but see as the Holy Spirit working as he often does. Unleashing God’s ever ancient, ever new love on this world — and for you and I. And so let us simply say WELCOME POPE FRANCIS and COME HOLY SPIRIT, RENEW THE FACE OF THE EARTH!
Sincerely in Christ,
Fr. Jim
P.S. I invite you to join us all week at the Newman Center to hear Pope Francis himself — rather than to read or see a headline later that will give a snippet of what someone else has to say he said. In this technologically rich world — there’s no reason we need to rely on others to hear him ourselves. We’ll be broadcasting on our big screen TV’s all the major events from the Pope’s arrival till his departure (and there will be food and drinks available as well) For those going to NY or Philly for some of the open events — be sure to post your pictures online and tag them on our Facebook and Instagram accounts!

Pope Francis: THE MERCIFUL EYES OF JESUS

This morning, Pope Francis celebrated the Feast of St. Matthew in a Mass held in Cuba.  After reading his homily, I really couldn’t get it off of my mind – it was one of his most beautiful ones, so here’s an excerpt of it that I wanted to share:

We are celebrating the feast of the apostle and evangelist Saint Matthew. We are celebrating the story of a conversion. Matthew himself, in his Gospel, tell us what it was like, this encounter which changed his life. He shows us an “exchange of glances” capable of changing history.
On a day like any other, as Matthew, the tax collector, was seated at his table, Jesus passed by, saw him, came up to him and said: “Follow me”. Matthew got up and followed him.
Jesus looked at him. How strong was the love in that look of Jesus, which moved Matthew to do what he did! What power must have been in his eyes to make Matthew get up from his table! We know that Matthew was a publican: he collected taxes from the Jews to give to the Romans. Publicans were looked down upon and considered sinners; as such, they lived apart and were despised by others. One could hardly eat, speak or pray with the likes of these. For the people, they were traitors: they extorted from their own to give to others. Publicans belonged to this social class.
Jesus, on the other hand, stopped; he did not quickly take his distance. He looked at Matthew calmly, peacefully. He looked at him with eyes of mercy; he looked at him as no one had ever looked at him before. And this look unlocked Matthew’s heart; it set him free, it healed him, it gave him hope, a new life, as it did to Zacchaeus, to Bartimaeus, to Mary Magdalen, to Peter, and to each of us. Even if we do not dare raise our eyes to the Lord, he looks at us first. This is our story, and it is like that of so many others. Each of us can say: “I, too, am a sinner, whom Jesus has looked upon”. I ask you, in your homes or in the Church, to be still for a moment and to recall with gratitude and happiness those situations, that moment, when the merciful gaze of God was felt in our lives.
Jesus’ love goes before us, his look anticipates our needs. He can see beyond appearances, beyond sin, beyond failures and unworthiness. He sees beyond our rank in society. He sees beyond this, to our dignity as sons and daughters, a dignity at times sullied by sin, but one which endures in the depth of our soul. He came precisely to seek out all those who feel unworthy of God, unworthy of others. Let us allow Jesus to look at us. Let us allow his gaze to run over our streets. Let us allow that look to become our joy, our hope.

After the Lord looked upon him with mercy, he said to Matthew: “Follow me.” Matthew got up and followed him. After the look, a word. After love, the mission. Matthew is no longer the same; he is changed inside. The encounter with Jesus and his loving mercy has transformed him. He leaves behind his table, his money, his exclusion. Before, he had sat waiting to collect his taxes, to take from others; now, with Jesus he must get up and give, give himself to others. Jesus looks at him and Matthew encounters the joy of service. For Matthew and for all who have felt the gaze of Jesus, other people are no longer to be “lived off”, used and abused. The gaze of Jesus gives rise to missionary activity, service, self-giving. Jesus’ love heals our short-sightedness and pushes us to look beyond, not to be satisfied with appearances or with what is politically correct.

Jesus goes before us, he precedes us; he opens the way and invites us to follow him. He invites us slowly to overcome our preconceptions and our reluctance to think that others, much less ourselves, can change. He challenges us daily with the question: “Do you believe? Do you believe it is possible that a tax collector can become a servant? Do you believe it is possible that a traitor can become a friend? Do you believe is possible that the son of a carpenter can be the Son of God?” His gaze transforms our way of seeing things, his heart transforms our hearts. God is a Father who seeks the salvation of each of his sons and daughters.

Let us gaze upon the Lord in prayer, in the Eucharist, in Confession, in our brothers and sisters, especially those who feel excluded or abandoned. May we learn to see them as Jesus sees us. Let us share his tenderness and mercy with the sick, prisoners, the elderly and families in difficulty. Again and again we are called to learn from Jesus, who always sees what is most authentic in every person, which is the image of his Father.

JESUS' EXPECTATION OF "GREATNESS"

Hi everyone, here's my homily for the 25th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - September 20, 2015.  The readings for today's Mass can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/092015.cfm   As always - I'm grateful for you checking this blog out, for sharing it on your social media sites (Facebook, twitter, reddit) and for your feedback and comments.  Have a great week - In Christ - Fr Jim

HOMILY:

How many of you have read, or perhaps seen the book Chicken Soup for the Soul?  It’s a collection of short stories, anecdotes that are meant to be inspirational and heart warming for people.  The first edition came out way back in 1993.  How many of you were born then?  I shouldn’t ask...  Anyway, ever since its debut and it’s collossal best-selling status, it resulted in an entire industry of “chicken soup” books.  I have that first edition - it was a gift when I was graduating college and I can’t remember from who... but it’s one of a few books that everytime I’ve had to move or go from one place to another over the 23 years since hasn’t been discarded.  Mostly because there were some stories in there that I was blown away with at the time that pop into my mind.  For example, this story from the book told by writer Dan Millman:

....Many years ago, when I worked as a volunteer at Stanford Hospital, I got to know a little girl named Liza who was suffering from a rare and serious disease.  Her only chance of recovery appeared to be a blood transfusion from her five-year-old brother, who had miraculously survived the same disease and had developed the antibodies needed to combat the illness.  The doctor explained the situation to her little brother, and asked the boy if he would be willing to give his blood to his sister.  I saw him hesitate only for a moment before taking a deep breath and saying, ‘Yes, I’ll do it if it will save Liza.’

As the transfusion progressed, he lay in a bed next to his sister and smiled, as we all did, seeing the color returning to her cheeks.  Then his face grew pale and his smile faded.  He looked up at the doctor and asked with a trembling voice, ‘Will I start to die right away?’  The boy had misunderstood the doctor; he thought he was going to have to give her all his blood.

That heart warming, mind blowing story came to mind reading and praying with this Gospel.  For two Sundays in a row, we’ve heard Jesus telling his disciples, his apostles, his closest confidents.   The ones who’ve been there the longest.  Seen Jesus in action... Heard His words.... He  tells them again about the ultimate, supreme sacrifice that will happen.  Jesus will die on the cross for the salvation of all humanity.  Last week, Peter misses the point completely (to be fair, because he love’s Jesus and wants to protect him) and rejects that arguing “No Lord, we’ll never let that happen” at which point Jesus says “Get behind me Satan.”  More than a verbal knockdown, Jesus is telling Him - this sacrifice that He  will make is the single greatest act of love that God has done for humanity.  Even greater than the act of creation.  Because rather than the Creator growing tired with the selfishness and sinfulness of humanity constantly abusing one another and the creation he simply gave them... God loves us this much to become one of us.  To let the evilness of the world to even destroy God on the cross... to suffer that inhumanity, that torture - all to rise from the dead and say Love is stronger...Love is more powerful than evil.

The disciples in tonight’s Gospel didn’t learn from that back and forth between Jesus and Peter (maybe seeing Peter being called Satan kind of scared them from asking some follow up questions).  Because here Jesus is journeying with them again... so they’re alone with him after having been out with the crowds and people again... he reiterates that earlier point:  The son of man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him and three days after his death, the son of Man will rise.  (I like to imagine Jesus saying – any questions? And they all kind of shrug and say “No” and then start talking to themselves)

Remarkably, a little while later Jesus says guys, so what exactly were you arguing among yourselves about.  And it wasn’t their confusion that once again Jesus has told them he’s going to die at the hands of evil men... not what does it mean to rise after that.... They argue who’s the greatest... Who’s the best... who’s Jesus right hand man.  Maybe they were thinking - sure Jesus had called Simon his right hand man - the rock on which he would build the Church... but that was before Jesus had told them about his impending death - and then after Peter argued and said “no way is that going to happen” Jesus called him Satan.   Ahhh - so maybe that’s why they were so quiet this time... let’s just keep our mouths shut and maybe we’ll be Jesus’ number 2.

What makes that beautiful story about the little guy thinking he was offering all his blood to his sick little sister is that in his innocence, he gives us hope that we can hear and understand what Jesus is saying...   Because in short, Jesus’ is not looking for right hand men or women... he’s not looking for second in commands or “Disciple of the Month”.  He’s looking for you and I to become Him.  We are to be Christ for one another.  By serving, by taking care of those who are weak and helpless, by caring for those who are in need.  To be “great” means putting the good of others ahead of my own well being.

The little guy on that gurney was so consumed with his love of his sister, in his heart he was prepared to make the same ultimate sacrifice of Jesus for humanity, laying down his very life for his sister.  For you and I, can we take some smaller, but equally selfless steps?   Maybe reach out to someone who is sick or is suffering.  Maybe spend time being attentive to someone who is in pain or alone.  Maybe help someone who is struggling.   We don’t have to wait till our next community service activity (which is this coming Saturday by the way) to simply volunteer and do something selfless...something loving...something Christ-like. We can be Christ to one another here and now and when we leave this place.  We often imagine that to be Christ like we have to do something big, extreme and grand - like become a priest or religious; like go on a foreign mission or something really grand.  And while those are great things, great callings, we don't have to get ahead of ourselves.  Listen to the words of Blessed Mother Teresa.  Here is the modern epitome of someone who gives us such an extreme example of being Christ to the poor, the sick and the dying, giving us tremendous food for thought.  She once said:

There is a terrible hunger for love. 
We all experience that in our lives - the pain, the loneliness. 
We must have the courage to recognize it. 
The poor you may have right in your own family. 
Find them.
Love them. .. 
Speak tenderly to them. 
Let there be kindness in your face, in your eyes, in your smile, in the warmth of your greeting. 
Always have a cheerful smile. 
Don't only give your care, but give your heart as well... 
Give yourself fully to God. 
He will use you to accomplish great things on the condition that you believe much more in His love than in your own weakness.

Let’s not just imagine the possibilities that can result if we believe those words - but begin here - tonight - in this place - on this campus to actually do that.  What is the mission, who is the Lord putting on your heart right now to be Christ to?

DESIRE

Hi everyone... here's my homily for FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 18, 2016 - for our monthly intercollegiate Mass and Adoration here in the Archdiocese of Newark.  We at Newman Catholic here at Montclair were blessed to host tonight - and I was touched when a couple students asked if I was going to post tonight's homily, so here it is.  The readings for today were at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/091815.cfm (the homily focused primarily on the first reading)

Thanks again for reading, sharing and your feedback - Fr Jim

HOMILY:

How powerful is a person’s desire... that force within each and every human heart?
Think about that.  What are some of the things you desire most?
Sometimes they might be trivial - I wish I could find a parking space... I desire there not to be traffic on the Garden State Parkway tonight as I try to get to Montclair State University.
Sometimes they are influenced or encouraged by our friends, our families: we start to see things that people we’re close to are able to do and desire the same thing.  I wish I could be as athletic as my brothers... I wish I was as smart as my best friend.   If they are grounded in a good self image with love of God, love of others - those aren’t necessarily bad things.  Then desire can be turned into motivation to strive, to achieve, to dream new things for yourself.
Unfortunately so many of us get caught up in the things of this world, this life, we allow ourselves to be distracted by the things of this world... desiring them to the point that it makes us do silly things. Oooh.. The new iPhone goes on pre-sale at 3 am eastern on September 12.  Let me wait up till then for the privllege of giving Apple a couple hundred dollars!!!  (I know that because that was me a week ago - and I felt so stupid about it that I needed to confess that and publically share my shame)
Hopefully when we see how trivial and ridiculous those things can be - and how much energy and focus we can waste on them opens us to look at the truest desires that are somewhat universal, the things that every human beings seeks: The Desire for Love, for Health, for Happiness, for Peace... and the more we probe, and reflect and think, we see we’re desiring not the fleeting emotional highs that give us glimpses of those things, but the lasting, enduring things: real health and wholeness, true happiness and peace, everlasting love...
To want, to seek after, to desire . . . these are some  of the most powerful forces within the human heart.  Our wants and desires give shape to our days and nights.  They are the power behind our motivations.
Sometimes, mistakenly, people identify growth in the spiritual life with the absence of desire.  One student talked about this at an inter faith gathering and I was struck by it when he said “If only I could just be and not want anything, I’d be further along in relationship to God.”    In truth, growth in God is not a matter of eliminating desire; (if it’s such a powerful force of the human heart and we are created by God - why would He want that eliminated?)  Rather  it is about letting our desires be right ordered—by God.  Then, the more we desire, the closer we grow to God.
That’s why this first letter of Paul to Timothy is so, so powerful - for all of us to really reflect on and sit with.  For you students at the start of the School Year, (for some of you at the start of your college careers!)  for us non-students as a pulse check of our daily lives.  Think about what Paul is saying.  He warns that there are “foolish and harmful desires” - things that are not of our Lord Jesus Christ.  He’s especially concerned with those tied to the desire for wealth... but as most of you are poor college students, don’t worry, there’s plenty of other ones that we can identify... The desire to be popular, to fit in... The desire simply for pleasure.... The desire to feel affirmed, validated, acknowledged...  From these and countless other unhealthy desires pursuits that are not of Jesus Christ, Paul warns us brings about“ envy, rivalry, insults, evil suspicions, and mutual friction among people with corrupted minds, who are deprived of the truth.”
Think about how often we complain, are scandalized are weighed down by those things.  We hear people insulting someone else.  We feel that jealousy, that envy, that rivalry... it twists are our own hearts.  It twists others hearts.  That powerful force of the human heart becomes distorted as we desire foolish and harmful things.    Which is why Timothy is warned by Paul avoid them... (when we don’t, how blessed we are to have the opportunity to receive the loving mercy and healing of Christ which we will offer after Mass tonight in confession to be freed of our missteps, to start anew)
But more than just an examination of conscience, Paul reminds Timothy and each of us of what it is we should desire... a whole list of things to be sought after:
pursue righteousness, 
devotion,
faith, 
love, 
patience, 
and gentleness.
Compete well for the faith.
Lay hold of eternal life,
to which you were called when you made the noble confession
in the presence of many witnesses.

May we heed St. Paul’s words... not settle for what is trivial, what is destructive but rather...
Seek after all these things.
Desire them.
Want them with all our heart.  

WILL THE REAL STEPHEN COLBERT SHOW UP?

Hi everyone... here's my homily for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 13, 2015, which is also our first Sunday Mass on Campus at Montclair State University for the New Academic Year (Welcome Back Red Hawks!)  The readings for today's Mass can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/091315.cfm.  Thanks as always for stopping by and reading this blog, your feedback and for sharing this blog on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and elsewhere in the Social Media universe... grateful for your support.  Have a great week - God Bless, Fr Jim

HOMILY: 
So I wonder how many of you got so into the hype that’s been building for weeks: the commercials, the magazine covers, the newspaper articles (if anyone still reads those things) that you actually tuned into the "Late Show" with Stephen Colbert this past Tuesday – or watched it online soon after? I’m guessing at least a few of you must have – they had some record number of viewers that night.

There’s been a lot of anticipation for this debut since Colbert’s had a pretty significant following for years on Comedy Central with his half hour "Colbert Report." I’m not much of a Late night-TV show fan, but I was drawn into the hype of not wanting to miss anything that may historically happen, much like when David Letterman retired this past May 20, 2015.  (I will forever remember that date, not because I was such a die-hard Letterman fan, but because again, I was drawn into all that hype and was watching that last episode out of curiosity when all of a sudden a massive tree crashed through one of the houses of the Newman Center... yeah, that happened...anyway... that’s another story for another day. Despite that awful experience and not being superstitious... well I’m Italian, so that’s not entirely true, anyway....) I was one of the legions of millions who was curious to tune into this first night of Colbert’s "The Late show."

The major question that critics, observers and commentators offered leading up to this debut from the time it was announced that Stephen Colbert was the next host(after the all important one to the TV executives of will he beat Jimmy Fallon?) is - who will show up? Meaning, which Stephen Colbert?  The character or the real one. What’s been key to his successful Colbert Report for 10 years as he starred in a show named after himself, was that wasn’t really him personally - but rather, he was playing a character. He was a fake news anchor - comically skewering news makers and becoming a cultural icon in the process. 

But it was meant to be a joke, He was playing a fictitious right-wing character who would ask questions in character that you couldn’t quite tell: was he making fun of the person he was interviewing or was talking about; was he ignorant; was he saying the person in the story was ignorant.  Like any good satire, you were constantly guessing.
When that show was at it’s best, he was able to poke fun by pointing out something unintentionally funny without it being mean.  For example he had this bit called Difference Makers which looked like something you might see on any network nightly news - you know like a human interest story.  He would interview everyday people who really believed they were taking some highly principled stand.  And he would let his fake character talk to these somewhat clueless participants who would go on and on in all seriousness about everything from a self-righteous self-appointed task force who felt it was their duty to go out and stalk and harass meter maids — to a man who sincerely believed that having a statue of a woman in red-white-and blue selling tires and naming her "Nitro girl" made him a visionary in patriotism... Not doing it justice (which is why I’m not on late night) but it was hilarious ( You can check this one out here:
 http://occupythelulz.com/link/68125

Now with this new role on the"Late Show" he couldn’t play a character anymore. It’s a different venue, different audience. If he’s going to go from talking to a celebrity promoting a film to a candidate running for public office to some news maker (as the other shows do) he has to be himself... he has to be authentic and real. Colbert recognized the challenge as he joked about it Tuesday night saying "I used to play a narcissistic conservative pundit - now I’m just a narcissist." And he tried to explain in interviews over the last few months that there was a lot of his real self in the character of "Stephen Colbert." Now freed from that narrow persona he had been playing, the public was going to realize that. How well he makes that transition and whether people are able to accept the real Colbert from the fake "character" will be one of the keys to the show’s success or failure.  


It kind of fascinates me on a philosophical-(and theological) nerd level... Who are any of us - really?  As college students, sometimes you feel peer-pressure to fit in so there’s a part or a character that you attempt to play to different groups (which is based on real things).  More often you get easily and quickly labeled by what you study (how many times are you asked "what’s your major?") or where you’re from (especially here at Montclair State where there’s that whole North Jersey vs. South Jersey thing mixed in with a few troubled, misled people who claim there’s something called a ‘central jersey’ – as people from anywhere outside of the state think we’re all bizarre and wonder what foreign country they’ve landed in coming here). 

That doesn’t really end at graduation either. People will continue to try to figure you out by what job you have, what company you work for, how much you make... who you’re married to.  People categorize us in very general ways based on a little bit of information. Yet if we talk to your Mother or Father; talk to your Brother or Sister; talk to your children or your closest friends - you start to get closer to the humanity. Beyond the facades, beyond the pressures to be accepted, Beyond the general snippets of biographical information and start get to a fuller and more intimate description that gets closer to the real you...

Which is what’s happening in the Gospel today. Jesus is walking with his "inner circle." He knows people are talking about him. He knows that he’s gotten a lot of attention over a lot of different things he’s said and done. "Who do people say that I am?" He asks them. And we hear some responses they offered "John the Baptist, Elijah, one of the prophets." Hearing that we might think that’s just a bunch of bible-dudes. But for them those names were HUGE. Those names would have been considered some of the most famous, most popular figures to the people of that day. (Maybe like Aaron Rodgers or Taylor Swift or Tom Hanks of the spiritual world) It’s interesting no one tells Jesus the negative things people are saying like "A trouble maker" or even "the devil" for doing some miraculous healings on the Sabbath.


Jesus knew all of those things - the good and the bad- that people were saying about him. It’s an advantage of being the Son of God – He has an amazing insight into the hearts and souls of humanity. Which is why Jesus’ next question becomes even more important "But Who do you say I am?"

Because in asking that, Jesus is saying -

I know that there’s buzz on the street.
I know people have made their judgments and generalities.
I know that people are trying to put me in some neat little box of there’s.
But you –
You who’ve been following me -
You who’ve been listening to me -
You who’ve been watching me -
You who are my closest friends –
Who do you say I am?
How well do you know me?
Do you really know me?

It’s not about making Jesus happy and getting the correct answer like on a test or something. Jesus is asking a question meant to trigger some deep reflection... Who do you say I am - what does your heart and soul say about who I am. As Peter says "You are the Christ" - Jesus sees the beginnings of understandings. He sees that they are starting to get it. YES - There’s more to Jesus than whatever the world headlines are saying. They are recognizing the divine. He can hear in that response they’re not getting hung up on general categories, the buzz on the street or gossip of the crowds. You are the Christ - they do know me.

And in that intimacy, just like we feel with those who are closest to us - Jesus shares some of of the most intimate important details about what that means. He tells them, as much as people say they are looking for God and do things that appear to be of God or about God - yeah, they are going to utterly reject me. The world is going to hate me and destroy me because those of the world are about the World - They are about themselves and They are focused down here.

In an instant Peter goes from that brilliant flash of insight "You are the Christ" to being utterly clueless about what that means. He rejects Jesus’ outlook as to what’s to come, as he tries to argue "No way Lord! People are going to Love you". And Jesus’ response , yeah it sounds bad... I suppose if Jesus said to me "Get behind me Satan" I’d be a bit upset. But Jesus wasn’t making a final judgment on Peter (thankfully for Peter’s sake, that would be kind of hard to recover from) He was saying you need to know that in saying those words You are the Christ - the world is going to be threatened by them. The world will reject the Christ - and the world will reject anyone who follows the Christ.

The world still does. And Jesus’ warning then is the same now. The temptation that many struggle with is following a character a persona of Jesus rather than the real Christ. So some try to make Jesus fit into the world, try to make him "acceptable" or to fit into some non-threatening category that allows the self-centeredness of the world to continue while claiming to be a follower of Christ - and that is of Satan. That’s what sin is all about: Seeing life through the world’s eyes rather than from God’s. Putting stock in the words uttered by the crowds and the general public rather than recognizing the Christ and surrendering to His will. Yes that is hard, Yes it will involve taking up our cross. It means hearing that question being asked to us and being challenged by it: Who do you say I am ?

We can align ourselves to different camps in the throngs of people who’ve heard of Him and talk about Him in general terms - he’s a gifted preacher; he said some beautiful things that we should aspire too; or I agree with his social-justice stuff – so I’ll take some of those things and make a bumper sticker of that and put it nicely on my car... but that’s it. We don’t allow Him more into our lives or rather we don’t want Him to be more. He’s a character we’ve created that we find acceptable. But if like St. Peter we recognize Him for who He really is, You are the Christ, that leads us to a much different life where we are to think as God does, where we are to, as we heard in that second reading let our faith reshape how we live our whole lives. Where Jesus accompanies us through the ups and downs and everything in between - leading us ultimately to be with him for all eternity.

May you and I have the courage to not just say the right answer, but the authenticity to live it... so that we don’t become mere characters, fake personas ourselves but a true follower of Jesus, the Christ.

IN SEARCH OF A MIRACLE

Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the 22nd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - September 6, 2015. The readings for today can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/090615.cfm Thanks as always for stopping by to read this blog, for sharing it on facebook, twitter and reddit - and your feedback and comments. God Bless - Fr. Jim


HOMILY:



I know what at least some of you are thinking in hearing this gospel -

That’s kind of gross

We rather just focus on - yet another - encounter where Jesus does something incredibly remarkable - something miraculous, beyond explanation. So much so, that even on my end of things, I tend to skip over the means Jesus employs - putting his fingers in the guys ears; touching his tongue, spitting on it... It seems so - no offense Lord – disgusting, doesn’t it? And it’s not like it’s necessary. How many other times does Jesus simply perform miraculous deeds by his word? When he’s on the boat with the apostles asleep and the storms are about to sink them, with simply the words Be Still -boohyah, they’re still. When he stands in front of the tomb of his friend Lazarus who’s been dead three days He crys out "Lazarus come out" and He does...

But this one is done- a touch, giving something from within himself – saliva - it’s always been some details that I tried to ignore in light of the bigger miracle that a deaf man with a speech impediment is now freed and able to hear and able to speak.

Yet, if we know that God can do amazing feats without these actions, perhaps there’s an important lesson in that or something for us to reflect on. Namely that: He doesn’t have to use those means but He does. Just like he chooses to use things other than spit, namely you and I to work miraculous things. And he does... Everyday. Just think about it:

- No other creature is able to hold back that angry response to that thing that ticked them off as you and I can. Let alone struggle internally and even get to the point of uttering the words "I forgive you" in response to a hurt. And depending upon what the grievance is - that can be incredibly miraculous. But the point is - Nature doesn’t dictate that type of response. Watch National Geographic -  A bear will maul another bear to death for stealing one of it’s fish.

-or -


- The other day I was walking in New York City, a guy dressed kind of ragged - playing a violin. The sight of it just struck me. Here are countless people, myself included, with places to go, people to meet. Amid the noise, the everydayness of the city you encounter  something -- that when you think about it a little deeper is pretty special.  This thing -- this violin - which is basically wood and strings (pretty ordinary stuff) is crafted in such a way by someone and now this other person (let alone how he was dressed or where he chose to share it) can pick it up and make something of beauty that we can’t touch, we can’t see, but can move us from within with it’s beauty. That can be pretty miraculous.

- or-
- Just the entirety of parenthood. How Mom and Dad go from the exciting news that "they’re pregnant" - eagerly, nervously, frantically preparing for the arrival of their child for months; spend countless days and nights, weeks, months and years waiting on their every move, attending to their needs; helping these little creatures learn to eat on their own, walk on their own, speak on their own, eventually think on their own and move out on their own; all for that day when they do... sometimes without much gratitude... Just reflecting on that type of self-forgetfulness that parenthood breeds - miraculous

Jesus’ touch, and his spit are details that shouldn’t be dismissed. But rather they are there to remind us that the creator of the Universe likes to use the things of this earth - the everyday, the ordinary - you and I more often than he does the inexplicable, outer-worldly to perform miracles on a regular basis. Real, bonafide miracles that make the deaf hear and speak; that can bring sight to the blind, that can bring the dead back to life. It’s just that maybe, just maybe, those experiences become too common, too ordinary and sometimes we can become too forgetful of the gifts, the talents, the abilities, the potentials, the opportunities that the Lord blesses us with that make them happen...

Pope Francis a few months ago said that often times "...miracles are performed with what little we have, with what we are, with what is at hand… and many times, it is not ideal, it is not what we dreamt of, nor what "should have been". (Mass for the Families - Ecuador - July 6, 2015) May you and I be attentive to the miracles that do happen in our life every day - to see how God doesn’t have to, but so often does choose to use you and I to complete them. Quite simply because He believes there’s no better way to unleash His Love, His care to a wounded, waiting world in desperate need of His attention then to utilize some his most precious, prized, handiwork - the special miracles he has already fashioned: you.

WE CAN'T CONTROL HOW MANY FISH WE'LL CATCH

Daily Mass Homily for Thursday, Sept 3, 2015.  Readings: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/090315.cfm


St Peter is one of my favorites - probably because I find him so relatable.  Last night we heard how he has just cured his mother-in-law from a terrible fever, cured countless others in Capernaum...  He’s already begun to experience the miraculous power of Jesus Christ in his own life.  Yet today we see his humanity re-emerging: with it’s doubts, its objections, its fears.  Peter has had a lousy night fishing, they caught nothing, he’s tired, he’s probably frustrated.  So when Jesus says “go back out” his immediate thought is to argue, to object, maybe to whine even:
We’ve been out all night...

As if Jesus didn’t see that or notice that.

Upon following Jesus commands though - Peter has this massive catch - so much so that the boats are in danger of sinking.

Of the many things we can focus and reflect on from this passage, the one aspect that hits me today is the need for faithfulness on our part.  To let God be God and to recognize that we are not God.  I don’t think we intend to forget that, but we get distracted or delusional - as we make so many plans; as we have so many ideas that we think are superior;  as we think we have control over situations (or even more dangerously control over people)...

      We are not God.  And every once in awhile, that awareness hits us when we recognize - we can’t control how many fish we will catch.

The thing is, in the face of that frustrating realization.... when things don't go the way we planned or the way we wanted them to, what do we do?  Do we obsess about which net we used, what direction the current was flowing, what we did differently this time from the last time that resulted in this failure?  Some self-reflection is good, but not if it leads us to forget that basic, essential truth We are not God.  We need to acknowledge Jesus as the Lord of our lives, recognize our sinfulness which often causes us to forget Him convince ourselves we can do it on our own (or even more sadly that we are simply on our own).  To see Jesus is looking for our faithfulness and our readiness to listen to His commands, His invitations – go out into the deep...

The next time we have a lousy night fishing... when life knocks us on our butts, when the inexplicable happens;  after a normal, healthy, understandable and quite human reaction of disappointment and frustration, we should challenge ourselves to ask - Where is Jesus in my life?  Can we - will we - acknowledge our sinfulness and our dependency on the only Lord who can (and desires) to fill our boats with abundance as did Peter?