HAVE YOURSELF A MERRY LITTLE ADVENT

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

HOMILY: 

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

THEY'VE GOT GUNS BUT WE HAVE FLOWERS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ITS THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT

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

HOMILY:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-How He loved us into existence.

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

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

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

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

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

A FOOLISH, RECKLESS LOVE

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

HOMILY:

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

Not just something - everything...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

BLACK LIVES, BLUE LIVES - ALL LIVES MATTER

Hi everyone - Happy Feast of All Saints- Sunday, November 1, 2015.  The readings for today's Mass can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/110115.cfm.  As always -thanks for stopping by to read this blog; for your sharing it on Facebook, twitter and reddit; and for your comments and feedback.  Have a great week!  God Bless - Fr Jim

HOMILY:

Black Lives Matter
Blue Lives Matter
All Lives Matter
Those hashtags based on some tragic, unfortunate and deadly events have encapsulated a lot of emotion regarding the state of affairs between police officers and the communities they serve. Recently, a news organization went through some of the more recent history of these different incidents and talked about one from about 6 years ago which was quite a big story at the time: when Police Officer James Crowley arrested Harvard Professor Henry Gates 

For those who might not remember, Professor Henry Gates, had been returning home from an international trip. He and his driver were having difficulty trying to open the front door of his house. A concerned neighbor called the police thinking that she was witnessing someone trying to break into the house. When Police Sergeant Crowley arrived to investigate, Gates, who is an African-American, accused him of racial profiling. Tensions escalated, words were exchanged and Gates was arrested. Things got even more contentious since Hnry Gates is a personal friend of President Obama and so when he was asked about the incident at a press conference and characterized Gate’s arrest as "stupid." After that, something that had already been controversial in the media became even more so. The police officer, his union, and many law enforcement personnel all came out in support of Crowley. Gates had his own supporters. It seemed to bring to the forefront debates about whether white people and black people could ever understand one another’s perspective. Unlike today though, there was some productive conversations particularly when President Obama invited both men to the White House, to sit together on the porch and talk to one another in what was called "the Beer summit."


That news clip reminded me of another piece of the story that didn’t catch a lot of people’s attention, but was incredibly fascinating. A news organization did some investigation and ran a headline saying "Harvard Professor Gates, who is Half Irish, related to Cop who arrested him." The story explained that Gates had discovered after having his DNA analyzed that he was descended from an Irish immigrant from the 4th century. It turns out that Officer James Crowley, was descended from that same line. You’d have to imagine for these two men that had to be pretty surprising. Here you have a white Irish Cop and a Black scholar. In so many ways seemingly coming from completely different worlds. As things became more and more contentious, the thought that they must have absolutely nothing in common with each other and that one another had no idea what the other must go through, think, experience on a daily basis must have gone through their heads. And for the most part, had there two paths never crossed, as they did in this unfortunate encounter, they could have gone through their lives thinking that. You could almost imagine the cop working a shift, maybe driving on patrol passing the professor walking to a classroom, never imagining they had anything in common with one another.

Yet in this amazing "coincidence" - shows that they turned out to be distant relatives. Perhaps this knowledge helped ease their tensions with each other. (Well, probably the beer from the beer summit helped too) But perhaps it helped them to relate to one another on a more personal level.

When people discover some connection to one another, it seems to be able to break down walls. Maybe it’s not something like a DNA test proving a connection of centuries to some Irish ancestry like it was for Crowley and Gates. Maybe you’re talking to a classmate and discover you’re from a neighboring high school or that you’re both music majors. You both are Giants fans (and both hate the Eagles) - up until that moment you might have never imagined never thought you’d have one similarity one thing in common, But after you discover a connection, it’s hard not to appreciate that connection and feel differently. You’re able to stop seeing the differences so much and see something similar to each other.

Today we celebrate the Feast of All Saints. And like so many things in our faith, we often misunderstand what it’s all about. We often look at these Saints just as really holy people who we have nothing in common with. These are holy people who love God and God loves them. They’ve died, they’re in heaven - they got it all together, while we focus on how we struggle. We might think, hey it’s great if I get to Mass on Sunday , what connection can I have with the saints?



The reality is, today’s feast is meant to remind us, (or perhaps it’s sudden, new, shocking information to us) that we’re related to these Holy people. By our Baptisms we’ve been joined into God’s family, which is why throughout the Mass we refer to each other as brothers and sisters (not something we should be limiting just to Mass, by the way, but that’s something for another day)

The Saints are our older brothers and sisters. Men and women like you and me. Who in their day and age struggled to be good people, holy people. Tried to find God in their lives and the world around them and to respond to his direction and activity.

Which is why we had the Gospel reading we had today - Jesus’ Beatitudes. If we go up and down that list of all the people Jesus is calling "Blessed" - the poor in spirit, the mourning, the meek (when have the meek ever been high on anyone’s list?) those who hunger and thirst (yeah them too) - would anyone of them consider themselves "Blessed?" Most of us when we experience moments of those things consider them "difficult time" or we’re "having a bad day."

But what makes a saint a saint is that they understand they are "blessed" not because it’s great these rough things are happening, but because they remain absolutely convinced that God is with them through that. And they pick themselves up, they remain engaged in the struggle and try to live that reality in the face of whatever trial whatever struggle they face.

And the world notices them. Even with our 30 second- attention spans - names like Francis of Assisi, Therese of the Little Flower, Augustine, from hundreds and thousands of years ago somehow resonate in our memories. And more current heroes like St. Pope John Paul II or Blessed Mother Teresa witnessed to us that saying "no" to the way the world operates and "yes" to the Lord is possible.

There’s so many other men and women though who come in and out of life - people who might not elicit the global attention like those Saints, but their holiness impacted our lives. I can think of relatives, friends, or good holy priests who affected my life - who were saints to me. Maybe you can too. People who encouraged you to go to Mass, to say your prayers, who helped raise you in the faith. People who demonstrated the Love of Christ in how they took care of others - their sacrifices, their selflessness which even after their death can bring tears to your eyes when you think of them.

They are the ones we remember in today’s feast of All Saints. Not to idolize them from afar or worship them... but to remember our connection, to see our relationship, to remind ourselves how we’re related to them. And that in the eternal kingdom of Heaven, these our older brothers and sisters in the faith are encouraging us to try to follow their example. To remember the way they lived their lives and the impact that had on our faith which testified to how God is active and present at all times in all things. In the joys and the sorrows - when we are mourning, when we are comforting those who are mourning - and everywhere in between.

Our older brothers and sisters are encouraging and rooting for us too, looking for us to move beyond the earthly divisions, the separations that the evil one causes throughout this world of ours... Telling us to keep our eyes and hearts united and focused on that banquet, that heavenly "summit" - where indeed all lives matter because God so desperately wants each one of us, black, blue and every other hue to live our call to be Saints - striving for holiness now  with and for one another so that we can be united together with Him for all eternity.