WHY CELEBRATE JESUS' BIRTH ON DEC 25TH?

Merry Christmas!  My prayers and best wishes to you and yours on this holy feast day!  This homily is based on the Gospel (John 1: 1-18) that is designated for Christmas Mass during the Day (there's 4 different options) - http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/122515-day.cfm  .  As always thanks for sharing this blog on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and elsewhere on Social Media.  I'm grateful for all your feedback, comments and support.  Merry Christmas!  God Bless - Fr. Jim
Quick commercial - A couple of weeks ago, we had a quite unexpected and unwelcome "surprise" - the boiler at the Newman Center went kaput.  Thankfully with mild temperatures and quick response from our plumber, we were able to have a new system installed rather quickly.  Unfortunately that was another $9,000 unexpected expense to an already stretched budget from our "Tree Falling Incident" back in May.  I'm grateful for all those who've already made a gift to NEWMAN CATHOLIC in our Annual Christmas Appeal.  The generosity of alumni, family members of our students and friends of Newman makes a tremendous difference.  To make a contribution, please check out www.MSUNEWMAN.com Many thanks for your kindness and consideration.

HOMILY:
One story that seems to make the rounds every year around Christmas – whether on the internet, newspapers or television – is the discussion of how December 25th became the day we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. For the most part, it’s agreed that there’s no clear cut evidence that puts this historic event on this precise date with the certainty that we could with say some other historic events - like when we mark July 4, 1776 as the birth of our nation with the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

There are some theologians who have done some pretty interesting biblical scholarship that does support the celebration being today ( for example: http://taylormarshall.com/2012/12/yes-christ-was-really-born-on-december.html) But for so long, people have heard that the celebration of Jesus’ birth was simply placed on the calendar to counter pagan celebrations that were occurring on or around that date – that these ancient celebrations were simply "Christianized" – that has become, for the most part the generally accepted theory behind how we came to seeing Jesus’ birthday as December 25th.

One of those celebrations that has been claimed to have been usurped by Christians is the events surrounding the Winter Solstice - the annual occurrence when in the Northern Hemisphere we experience the longest night of the entire year. This is the day when the astronomical phenomenon of the tilt of the Earth results in the fewest hours of daylight and the most hours of darkness. Here in the New York City area this occurred this past Monday where we experienced the shortest hours of daylight for the entire year - only 9 hours 15 minutes and 16 seconds.... For Trivia sake, the summer solstice - happening in June will be 5 hours and 50 minutes more sunlight on what is considered the longest day of the year)

Some look at this "transforming" of celebrations or traditions as something controversial. Arguing that this was a successful co-opting done by Christians to usurp other ancient traditions (which if that’s true, one can argue, the secularists have done a pretty good counter-attack to Christmas in recent decades). Others who see Christianity as completely untrue will cite this questionable day as another piece of evidence of some grand conspiracy where the entire Christian story is held suspect.

For me, though, whether we could ever have the exact certitude or not of December 25th being the day that the Blessed Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus Christ in a manger... it does seem to be the perfect occasion or time of year to celebrate this event which has forever changed the human race.

This time of year, which particularly in our modern era has been made so busy in our elaborate celebrations of whatever holiday you wish - Christmas - Boxing Day - New Years - Festivus... Kind of distracts us from the dreariness that the ancients faced with the winter solstice. In fact, wait... in a few weeks when these celebrations are completed and we may have gained only about 10 or 15 minutes of daylight, stories will be making the rounds of how people are experiencing what are called the "Winter blues."

Nature with the long nights and short days conveys a sense of gloom. Despite our desires, our preferences for that not to be the case... In spite of our advancements and modern conveniences (Yes, a huge shout out to Thomas Edison and countless others who’ve created lights and found ways to illuminate streets and buildings as the sun sets...) - we can’t change this natural phenomenon. Those inventions have provided ways to deal with it, compensate for it, make it a bit more bearable. But we can’t ever truly defeat it. This darkness.

Nature will, as nature does, take care of this phenomenon itself... just as it does every morning. The sunrise casts the light. The new day vanquishes the gloom. And come June, the Sun will be seen as the victor - reigning a full 15 hours and 5 minutes of daylight on the longest day of the year in the Summer Solstice. But that seems like a distant - far off event as we see street lights turn on at 4:30 in the afternoon!

Which is why it seems like naturally the best time of the year to celebrate Christ’s birth into humanity. There’s no shortage of things to point to that fills us with a sense of fear, anxiety, sadness... people talk about it like a "dark cloud" over them - over all of us. We see violent, horrifying terrorist attacks; we hear angry rhetoric on all sides of the political aisles; we see neighbors pointing at one another as the reason for unrest, instability, division... We experience or have loved ones and friends going through "painful" Christmases- the death of a loved one; illnesses and sicknesses; turmoil from lack of jobs and increased debt... Yes, there is great darkness. Which sadly, nature hasn’t been able to vanquish with each passing day of the lunar calendar.

Which is why we celebrate Jesus’ entrance into humanity. Not just at this time of year, the darkest time of the year. But each and every day... each and every year since that first Holy Night... As St. John proclaims to us in the Gospel today: What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Yes - brothers and sisters, we all experience darkness. Some of us are experiencing incredible pain and suffering; some have real fears that they try to run from throughout the day and keep them up throughout those long nights... and some live in dread that at some point this darkness will catch up with them as well.

But Jesus comes.

Jesus is born into this.

God steps into his cosmos in a unique way to set a different course.

Nature speaks supernatural truths: that we have the real hope of that sunrise; we have that certainty of the longest night becoming the longest day... we have the promise of his eternal light, eternal life radiating and transforming all those corners and remnants of darkness we experience in this world around us.

That is the light that shines.

That is the light the darkness has not - and will not overcome.

We see it in the love that often reveals itself in moments of darkness. We see it in that movement of our hearts and souls to help another - that calls us out of our isolation, out of our selfishness, out of our darkness into light. We see it in those acts of generosity; in movements of sacrifice; in humility; in meekness; in tenderness. When those actions, those movements occur, we find ourselves entering into the Christmas mystery: the smallness of God becoming one of us; the tenderness of the Baby Jesus who makes himself so readily accessible we can’t help but want to encounter the God who comes to seek us, comes to love us.

Pope Benedict XVI a few years ago in one of his Christmas homilies shared this thought: God’s sign is his humility. God’s sign is that he makes himself small; he becomes a child; he lets us touch him and he asks for our love. How we would prefer a different sign, an imposing, irresistible sign of God’s power and greatness! But his sign summons us to faith and love, and thus it gives us hope: this is what God is like. He has power, he is Goodness itself. He invites us to become like him. Yes indeed, we become like God if we allow ourselves to be shaped by this sign; if we ourselves learn humility and hence true greatness; if we renounce violence and use only the weapons of truth and love.

May our annual commemoration of the historic birth of Christ renew ourselves in this great mystery - that Jesus has come, and remains with us... offering us the light to dispel all darkness, today and always. Calling you and I to be that light bringing His Joy, His Peace, His Love to the hearts of all men and women..

Merry Christmas.

"DO IT AGAIN...DO IT AGAIN"

Hi everyone - here’s my homily for the FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT - December 20, 2015. The readings for today’s Mass can be found at: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/122015.cfm. Thanks as always for reading; sharing this on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit; and all your comments and feedback. Always grateful for your support. God Bless! Fr Jim


Quick commercial - This past week, we had a quite unexpected and unwelcome "surprise" - the boiler at the Newman Center went kaput.  Thankfully with mild temperatures and quick response from our plumber, we were able to have a new system installed rather quickly.  Unfortunately that was another $9,000 unexpected expense to an already stretched budget from our "Tree Falling Incident" back in May.  I'm grateful for all those who've already made a gift to NEWMAN CATHOLIC in our Annual Christmas Appeal.  The generosity of alumni, family members of our students and friends of Newman makes a tremendous difference.  To make a contribution, please check out www.MSUNEWMAN.com Many thanks for your kindness and consideration.


HOMILY:
Yesterday it was announced that Mother Teresa would be canonized a saint next year. In most corners of the world, many people probably thought "we already knew that" or "didn’t that happen already" or "what took the Church so long..." What made her a saint was that she made Jesus Christ real in some amazing ways... We still see these graphic images of her working among the poorest of the poor; the sickest of the sick; the ones least cared for and acknowledged. We marvel at her selflessness - admire it - are even made uncomfortable by it, realizing how revolutionary this one single soul was to the entire universe by simply, selflessly "believing what was spoken to [her] by the Lord." Following his invitation to love and serve him in that amazingly particular way.

While we are moved seeing that example, we as human beings can’t help but fall for the comparison game. We see her life, her example as impossible to attain. The bar has been set too high. We marvel at what she did and just consider her life as some divine miracle seldom experienced... maybe once in a generation... perhaps never to be seen again.

Just like this gospel that was proclaimed: Mary and Elizabeth. Two cousins gathering together; two unlikely women– Elizabeth believed barren, the other a hill-country girl - who will give birth to John the Baptist, the last prophet who will make ready the way for his cousin - Jesus, the Messiah. Reflecting on the story, particularly on Mary, we see her as Elizabeth declares her to be – "Blessed are you among all women." Her selflessness, her "yes" to God again we see how revolutionary this one single soul was to the entire universe by simply, selflessly believing "what was spoken to her by the Lord."

Again - a high bar... something we admire from afar and just don’t see attainable.

Yet, Advent comes each year not to pretend we don’t know what happened and re-stage the story where we are waiting for Jesus to be born in Bethlehem. That happened 2,000 + years ago. Jesus was born, He lived, He suffered, He died, He rose, He ascended - He changed the world forever. But as much as that single man, single handedly has transformed the world in that single event; we see in countless ways by people like Mother Terersa that God is never a one-and-done thing. He has given the path... the instructions... the model to follow. He has shown us what can be done. And he wants his Christ born again today...

G.K. Chersterton, the amazing Catholic writer, made this beautiful observation that fleshes that out observing how children play with adults: "Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again"; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again" to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never gotten tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we." 

Advent is God’s invitation to "do it again" to give birth to Christ again. Not as Mary did. Not as soon to be St. Mother Teresa did. But to believe what the Lord is speaking to you and me... to look for opportunities to be selfless, generous and loving. Yesterday I stumbled upon this video of NYPD police officers who had gone to the Ronald McDonald House - a residence for seriously sick children from around the world who are getting treatment at several NYC hospitals and their families (see it here at: https://www.facebook.com/NYPD/videos/942221349187981/?theater) . They had asked the kids what they wanted for Christmas, used funds they contributed and raised themselves, bought them and then played "Santa" to the kids and their families. Just seeing the joy on these kids faces - forgetting how sick they were for a moment and lost in the excitement of these strangers stopping, noticing, caring for them - had an incredible effect. They brought together these people, united them, created a world of prayer, compassion and generosity - in a somewhat ordinary and simple way. 

That’s the call of Advent and Christmas. For us to feel God’s excitement, His desire to "do it again" – to be born again - to see our sinful broken world made new by the eternal, loving Father. For you and I to listen to his invitations on how he wants us to believe in His word looking to conceive His Christ in us. That we will realize the depth of His love for us, his enduring dream of a people transformed in that love and his constant invitation to unconditional reconciliation, forgiveness and Mercy. May we discover how God wants to use us to make that dream real once again.

WHAT SHOULD WE DO? GET OVER INDIFFERENCE FOR STARTERS

Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT - December 13, 2015. The readings for today can be found at: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/121315.cfm . Thanks as always for reading, sharing this on Facebook, twitter and redditt - and your feedback and comments. God Bless - Fr Jim

Quick commercial - This past week, we had a quite unexpected and unwelcome "surprise" - the boiler at the Newman Center went kaput.  Thankfully with mild temperatures and quick response from our plumber, we were able to have a new system installed rather quickly.  Unfortunately that was another $9,000 unexpected expense to an already stretched budget from our "Tree Falling Incident" back in May.  I'm grateful for all those who've already made a gift to NEWMAN CATHOLIC in our Annual Christmas Appeal.  The generosity of alumni, family members of our students and friends of Newman makes a tremendous difference.  To make a contribution, please check out www.MSUNEWMAN.com Many thanks for your kindness and consideration.



HOMILY:
A few years ago, this incident happened that really bothered me. It was around 1:00 in the morning.  I was brushing my teeth, getting ready for bed, and I had the radio on listening to the news on 1010 WINS.  A disturbing report came on talking about how police had discovered, yet another body out on Long Island, making 6 murder victims who had been identified in just a few days all in this one particular neighborhood. Investigators realized at this point that they were dealing with a serial killer. They started to put together a profile of the victims - all were women, they were all close in age, and had similar features and appearance. It also turned out that all of the victims were prostitutes. Already this was a sad and disturbing story. But what came next on this broadcast has troubled me ever since I heard it and is probably the reason that – despite the fact that we hear horrible things on the news on a daily basis - this story really troubled me.

The reporter interviewed a woman who lived in the neighborhood and asked her how did she feel about this serial killer and these attacks happening right where she lived. She said, without even a second’s pause, that she had been worried about it when she first heard about the murders, but once she learned that all of the women who were killed were prostitutes, she was relieved. As soon as she heard that, she said, she and her family and friends could relax and go back to life as usual.

It was startling to hear – this horrific thing was occurring right in her own neighborhood, terrorizing her community - but suddenly it didn’t matter at all to her - all because she felt that since she and those closest to her didn’t fit the victim profile, they were "safe."  Perhaps she’s watched too much CSI or Criminal Minds and thinks the "unsub"wouldn’t go after her.  I doubt I’d ever feel safe if I knew that there’s a homicidal maniac killing people running around my town or neighborhood. As I spit the toothpaste out and yelled at the radio saying, "Hey Genius – killing people isn’t exactly a logical thing to do, perhaps one day this killer might decide to kill someone other than prostitutes..."


Besides that initial rant, what was stunning to me was that sense of disengagement from the horrific thing that was occurring right in her neighborhood. She was genuinely relieved as she spoke to the reporter. As horrific as murder is, this lady revealed something that is equally destructive to humanity: indifference... What concern is this to me? It’s not my problem... who cares?

In a lot of ways, many of us Catholics kind of coast through Advent... It’s the pre-Christmas of the Church who keeps telling us not to sing Christmas carols yet... not put up the decorations... not to buy into the marketing and worldly version of Christmas. Which if that’s the goal -we’ve obviously failed (I include myself in that as the entire Newman Center has been decked out with Jesus in the manger since the beginning of December... and yes the statue is there, it’s not like that event hasn’t happened yet and "Jesus isn’t here yet" - uhm he’s right there in the Eucharist, in the tabernacle all the time, so... ANYWAY)

But Advent is much more than that. We do try to slow down the Christmas celebrations to get in touch with what preceded that:   Advent is about our recognition of our Need for God.    That deep, deep longing within ourselves that can never be fulfilled by a present under the tree. That restlessness that even in a detached, indifferent world longs for justice, for peace, for (as Pope Francis so perfectly identified it) MERCY.   But we have to not just believe that those longings and desires can be fulfilled - but we need to get in touch with that part within ourselves that wants to experience them too. And that means we have to move out of our own indifference.

See that’s what the crowds going to John the Baptist in today’s Gospel have done. Just for some context: There were a lot of horrible things going on in the world back then. They saw the corruption of their religious leaders, experienced the oppression themselves as Rome had taken over their lands. And in so many ways there were extremes of anger, hatred, division that might appear oddly familiar to us in our day and age.

John the Baptist -who we hear last week is way on the outskirts of civilization - no power, no authority to speak of (at least in worldly terms)... But the Word of God had come to Him. And the human heart which is created by God for God is drawn to hear that word of God. The crowds identifying that they needed something other than what they were experiencing in their day to day lives go out into the desert and they ask John What are we to do?

That’s an important question.  It recognizes that we have to do something . If we want to experience Emmanuel - GOD WITH US, if we want His kingdom ushered in - that kingdom of Justice, of Love of Mercy - well that’s not just something that happens.  We can’t simply cast a vote saying "yeah I’m for that" and expect that it will happen because someone, out there will take care of it for us. God created us with way too much love and respect. He created us with the freedom to choose to respond or even (shockingly) to reject Him.  So hopefully the fact that we are here already reveals on some point that we are with the crowds asking John the Baptist - what are we to do?

And when we listen to the responses from John, there’s something shockingly ordinary about it. He’s not calling us to go and get even with our oppressors; he’s not suggesting counteroffensives or anything offensive.  No, he’s ordering things that seem basic, common sense, common decency: share with those who go without; act justly; be humble.  He is calling us to strengthen our virtues - to pursue a good life.

Those things call us out of ourselves, our self-centeredness - our indifference to the hurts, the worries, the fears of the world around us. That’s when we start responding with Mercy. As Pope Francis pointed out in his talks leading up to the opening of this Jubilee Year of Mercy: "A little bit of mercy makes the world a little less cold and a little more just." When we do that, when we start to choose to be vulnerable over isolated, and stop deluding ourselves that that somehow makes us safe and secure; when we choose friendship with God over distrust over every stranger we meet - that’s when we start to see the face of Christ in the poor, the sick, the suffering, the imprisoned, the lonely.  That’s when we ‘do’ something.  That’s when we begin to encounter Christ ourselves.

Something tells me that, if the woman who the reporter interviewed knew one of the victims who had been found murdered by the serial killer, she wouldn’t have felt relieved or disinterested. Knowing and caring about the person would have radically changed her perspective, her feelings, her reaction.

The Gospel tells us - we do know the person - because we know Jesus Christ. And if we truly want to have deep friendship with Him, we have to ask ourselves What should we do? Realizing we have to do something for all those around us in whatever need, to the best of our abilities, knowing that when we do, it will make all the difference.

BE MERCIFUL JUST AS YOUR FATHER IS MERCIFUL (Luke 6:36)

Today to celebrate the opening of the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, here at the Newman Center, we had what we call a "Dogmatic Dinner" - where students cook a meal and discuss a different topic.  Everyone - from those who prepared, served and cleaned up the meal, to our presenter did a terrific job, and those who participated had some great questions.  So I thought I'd put together a "cliffs notes" version or a brief guide explaining the Year of Mercy for those who couldn't join us.

FIRST OF ALL - WHAT IS MERCY?

Just asking "What is Mercy" a lot of times we get synonyms that are partially correct.   The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines Mercy as:  The loving kindness, compassion, or forbearance shown to one who offends (e.g., the mercy of God to us sinners). 


WHAT IS A JUBILEE YEAR?
"To proclaim the year of the Lord's favor"
In short it's a time of Joy!  We see the origins (as with most things in the Catholic-Christian faith) of Jubilee's coming from the Old Testament.  It was meant as a time, a period set apart for remission or universal pardon.  So prisoners would be freed, debts would be forgiven, it would be a time of reconciliation  (You can read about it in the Hebrew Scriptures Leviticus 25: 8-13)  

This tradition fell out of use in Judaism, but began in the Catholic Church in the year 1300.  In 1299, after a period of intense suffering from plagues and war, the Pope saw the start of a new century for people to experience that tradition of a "Jubilee year" and encouraged Catholics to make pilgrimage to the city of the Apostles (Rome) and to the holy sites - the tombs of St Peter, St Paul - and repent and experience the joy of the forgiveness of all their sins,   The experience was so historic that the intention was for this to occur every 100 years.  But then some argued that there was a great likelihood that people might never have an opportunity to experience this universal occassion that a "Jubilee Year" was.  So there was another Jubilee year held 50 years later.  The intention was that there would be another Jubilee every 33 years (representing the 33 years Jesus was on this earth).  But the third Jubilee year that was held in 1390 was so large that Pope Boniface IX announced another Jubilee Year 10 years later in 1400.  At that point it was decided that there would be a Jubilee every 25 years.  Which has been the case.  The last Jubilee was ushered in by Pope John Paul II for the New Millenium - the year 2000.

WHAT IS UP WITH THIS "HOLY DOOR"?    As Catholics we like sacramentals... it's in our DNA that something of this earth points us to something of God.  In Jesus Christ, God became Man, He became one of us - and Jesus used things of this world to help explain universal truths.  Whether it was in parables where he would use seeds to illustrate the growth of faith; or in action where he would stoop down take a bowl and water and wash his apostles feet to demonstrate humble service - Jesus new the importance of us having visible, tangible things to explain universal, transcendent realities.  

So you may have seen pictures of  the "Holy Door"  that Pope Francis opened on December 8th as way of starting this Jubilee Year.  This  particular doorway is in St. Peter's Basilica (one of the 4 Major Cathedrals in Rome, this one being where St. Peter was buried) that is only opened in a Jubilee Year.

The symbolism of it is to remind us that each and everyone of us that our lives are ultimately a Journey to our Father's House (Heaven).  The Church is meant to be "The Father's House" here on earth.  We go to the Church to experience the Father's love, mercy, forgiveness.  The Door - between God and Humanity is Jesus Christ Himself.  So going to Rome, on a pilgrimage is meant to remind us of the spiritual journey that is life; Going to the Basilica is to remind us of our ultimate hope (that is going to Heaven) and the Door is Jesus Christ.

Now - the Church in her wisdom realizes that not everyone can afford a couple of thousand dollars to go to Rome on a pilgrimage (if you can, you absolutely should as it is a  life-changing experience.  Just search on the top here ROME and read all my homilies the last 4 years that I finally got over my fears of flying and went)  So the Pope has also asked every Archdiocese to have a "Holy Door" in their Cathedrals, so that people can join in this experience of pilgrimage right in their own home dioceses.  So this coming Sunday (December 13 at 12noon) the "Holy Door" will be opened at Sacred Heart Basilica in Newark by our own Archbishop John J. Myers - and there will be spiritual events throughout this year so people can experience some of the special spiritual graces the Lord bestows on His people during this Jubilee Year.
WHY DO WE NEED A JUBILEE OF MERCY?
So we just had a Jubilee year 15 years ago... the year 2025 is only 10 years away.  Why bother with another Jubilee year?  Pope Francis in the 1000 days he's been Pope (which happens to be today, December 8th, the Opening of this Jubilee of Mercy)   has been speaking boldly and directly about the difficulties, the challenges, the struggles the world is facing and that the Church is facing.  There's intense persecution of Christians throughout the world.  There's been scandalous failures in the Church by some of her leaders that have caused disillusionment and betrayal.  There's frightening and atrocious examples of evil on display and to be seen (and shared) thanks to our modern technological advancements. 

Pope Francis in decreeing this Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy said: 

I am confident that the whole Church, which is in such need of mercy for we are sinners, will be able to find in this Jubilee the joy of rediscovering and rendering fruitful God’s mercy, with which we are all called to give comfort to every man and every woman of our time. Do not forget that God forgives all, and God forgives always. Let us never tire of asking forgiveness. 


WHAT CAN WE DO TO CELEBRATE THIS YEAR OF MERCY?
One of the best things to do is to perform what are called the CORPORAL WORKS OF MERCY and SPIRITUAL WORKS OF MERCY:  
The Corporal Works of Mercy are:
  • Feed the hungry
  • Give drink to the thirsty
  • Clothe the naked
  • Shelter the homeless
  • Visit the sick
  • Visit the imprisoned
  • Bury the dead
The Spiritual Works of Mercy
  • Admonish the sinner
  • Instruct the ignorant (This and the next work are extremely pertinent categories today, when so many people are confused by what the Church teaches on contraception, abortion, homosexuality, etc.)
  • Counsel the doubtful
  • Comfort the sorrowful
  • Bear wrongs patiently
  • Forgive all injuries
  • Pray for the living and the dead

LAST ONE ANYONE WOULD PICK

Hi everyone.  Here's my homily for the Second Sunday of Advent - DECEMBER 6, 2015.  The readings for today's Mass can be found at:  http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/120615.cfm.  As always, thanks for reading and sharing this on Twitter, Facebook and reddit  - and all your kind feedback and comments.  God Bless - Fr Jim

HOMILY:
It was fourth grade. I was in Gym class and we were playing baseball. Our teacher, Mr. Hanson, picked two kids - Frankie and John, both of whom were Little League All Stars - to be the 'coaches' and asked them to pick, from the rest of the class, the members of their teams (I’m sure this scenario isn't unique just to those of us that went to Frank K. Hehnly Elementary School); and, so, you can imagine, the drama began.

Of all the people that were 'chosen' to make up teams, the real drama was for those who were picked first - and for those who were picked last. For the 'coach', this selection process is important - does he go with friendship and pick his closest, best friends? Or will his competitive nature win out, with him picking one of the best, fastest or all-around top athletes, regardless of friendship or loyalty?

In the cut-throat world of elementary sports, those two moguls of the sports world went with the best. Frankie picked Lee - probably one of the best Little League pitchers - and John, well, he went with Tom, who even in 4th grade was a huge kid who could connect for some monster hits. As the baseball draft continued, the anxiety level rose. My anxiety level rose. Standing on that gymnasium floor, watching as each pick was being made, after a little while I stopped hoping I'd be on the team with the most number of my friends on it and simply had one hope, one wish – that I wouldn't be the last person picked.

Now, being chubby, out of shape and painfully un-athletic (oh, my brothers could tell you stories - painfully embarrassing, but highly entertaining stories about how un-athletic I was - for example, one time I did sit down in the outfield and start picking grass), THE POINT IS I can look back now and, reasonably, I really shouldn’t be surprised that I was the last kid to be picked. 35 years later and after some therapy, those wounds have healed - I have made peace with that, and in fact, I can even understand it.

Because - if you want to win, if you want to be the best; you look for the best; you pick the best. And so as all line-up picks go - you start with those who would seem to be the All-Stars, the future Hall-of-Famers. As you finish making your selections, you try to limit your damages as best you can when you’re looking at the last person anyone would pick.

Today’s Gospel is interesting because it seems to turn this playground principle on its head. We see the complete opposite of that happening here. God has something important to tell the entire world. Something, no rather, Someone big is coming. So in these millennium before Twitter, Facebook or the internet (in these millennium before a printing press) how is God going to get His message out?

In the Gospel passage we hear today, St Luke begins by recounting a couple of names that will be familiar (or rather infamous) - Pilate, Herod, Annas and Caiaphas. Yeah - those guys - the same ones who will figure prominently in Jesus’ passion and death. Knowing the story as we do, it's understandable that they might not be high on our list of favorites. But if you’re God and you've got something, someone important to share you have very important information that you want to get out to the greatest number of people - we can’t just dismiss these people. Because these were the political and religious leaders of their day.

They commanded power, and had authority over their people. They wielded major influence. It might have been a difficult decision, which one to choose – the religious or the political leader? But, again, this is God, so couldn’t He use both? In any event, one of these leaders (or a combination of them) would seem to be a logical choice, would seem to make the most sense.

Yet, St. Luke sets the scene where we hear that of all those who might have been considered the best 'players' to chose, all of those best options for success were bypassed and, instead, Luke says very beautifully that the word of God came to John . . . in the desert. Definitely the last place you would think of to broadcast a message of universal and eternal importance. Surprisingly, the word of God came to the last person anyone would pick, Zechariah's at best eccentric son, the kid living off of locusts and honey in the outskirts of civilization.

God seemed to know what he was doing (surprised?). All those other leaders, who knows, maybe they would have tried to use God to advance their own agendas. Maybe God had tried, but found they were too preoccupied with themselves, and with what they thought was essential, to busy themselves with Him.

John had nothing. And, because of that, John proved to be a perfect messenger announcing the coming of Jesus to a world that desperately needed Him then (and if we delude ourselves and forget in our day to day distractions, perhaps the evil unleashed in yet another terrorist attack this past Wednesday reminds us, this world desperately needs Him now... )Jesus was (and is still trying to come to) a world waiting for its own salvation, but not prepared to receive it.

John, despite his lack of power, authority, position or influence... despite his austere surroundings, He was open to the Word of God. He received it and was consumed by it to the point that he would spend the rest of his life bearing witness to the fact that GOD IS COMING TO HIS PEOPLE, and telling anyone and everyone who would hear him, PREPARE THE WAY OF THE LORD.

We know that the proclamation of this Gospel is more than just a retelling of a historical episode. The Word of God is still alive. The Word of God is still active. So try to imagine St. Luke speaking this in our day and age - it probably would start out - In the 7th year of the reign of Barrack Obama when Chris Christie was governor of the Jersey which is New... and Susan Cole was tetrarch of Montclair State University (I think Tetrarch sounds cooler than President) During the pontificate of Francis, and episcopacy of John Joseph Myers, Archbishop of Newark... the word of God came to...

Came to who?

I can already see people saying "not it." Putting up walls; "Yeah, not to me," "Oh, I hope he’s not talking to me," "Does this mean I’m going to have to join a committee or something?" or even things like, "I’m not worthy," "I’m not holy enough," "There are other people who are better qualified, better speakers, better people," "God certainly doesn't want me."

The reality is - yes He certainly does... Well, I should qualify that. His word is coming to us - and - He does desperately want us to GET OVER OURSELVES. Our sins are not that original (and definitely not unforgivable - John’s cousin Jesus will prove that). But are we actually open to receiving His word... His commission? Or are we simply going through the motions? Or playing an amazing round of dodge ball?

It’s amazing because you are part of a generation that in particular desperately wants to be noticed, wants attention, wants what they do - when they do it - to be acknowledged, appreciated it, LIKED, RETWEETED, shared... The entire culture is consumed with sharing every petty thing we do looking for affirmation like it matters - when for the most part it’s daily distractions. While in the meantime we see people are angry - so angry - over a lot of things. And that energy is being displaced all over. Some of your peers for example learned some unpleasant things about President Woodrow Wilson’s life and they want to remove him off a plaque at Princeton as if that gesture somehow changes anything- and have been spending a lot of time trying to get that accomplished... It’s meaningless. It’s a misuse of people’s energy... people’s passion... And if we’re honest - if each of us is honest... so many of us do the same thing here in our corner of the universe in Upper Montclair New Jersey. Don’t we? Obsessing over meaningless stuff. Hung up on grudges, hurts that we’ve nursed and convinced ourselves we’re justified to be hurt and angry over them... And while we do that, we ignore that - The Word of God is coming to us... here and now.

John the Baptist didn’t desire that his fame, his sanctity would outlast every other name mentioned as he testified to that word - that was just a result of his sharing God’s Word and prepared the world to receive Jesus. And the same is true today. Valleys can be filled in, mountains can be leveled at the command of The Word of God - nothing can stop His coming to us - except ourselves - except our being closed to His word. our being closed to His Action and His Love, here and now. The Word of God came to John. The Word of God is coming to me and to you, for a reason. Can we stop looking at our faults, at our imperfections, at our 'unworthiness' and, instead, see our value in the Eyes of God? Can we stop seeing ourselves as 'the last person that anyone would pick'?