I DO, WITH THE HELP OF GOD

"I’m going to be 17."  
The last time I said that I was eagerly waiting to get my drivers license - and trying to decide which college to go to after finishing High School in a few months. It’s hard to believe, that length of time from birth to adulthood - is now that same length of time I’m reflecting on. Only this time, counting my life as a priest. 17 years on May 29th.

It doesn’t seem real to me. I mean I don’t think I’m old - and I remember thinking at some point in my pre-priest life (or even my early years of priesthood) whenever I would meet a priest who said he had been ordained around this length of time, I had this sense of "oh this guy’s experienced (a polite way of saying old)" Yet it kind of snuck up on me... Here it is, 17 years later. I don’t feel old - or well, that old. Often times I don’t feel "experienced." Most definitely don’t feel like an expert.

Yesterday as is the custom in the Archdiocese of Newark on Memorial Day Weekend, we celebrated the ordinations to the priesthood for 10 men. It’s always a day of deep reflection for myself - and I would imagine every one of the hundreds of other priests there. How can we not get caught up in our own memories of our own ordination day...

...as we enter the great Basilica to the same processional chant from Psalm 43 "Go up to the altar of God, the God of our glandess and joy. Raise up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord"

...as we see the rows and rows of happy families and friends;

...as we see the men seated on that bottom step of the altar until they are called, and respond to that call;

...as we see them prostrate themselves on the floor in front of the altar, laying down their very lives to Christ, to His Church, to His people

...as we see the bishop lay his hands in that
gesture in which the priesthood has been shared from Jesus himself to us this very day, 2000+ years later

Those different moments are rich in significance and meaning. In these 17 years, I’ve tried to attend almost every priesthood ordination - not only because it’s a great day for the Church, our Archdiocese and to offer my own fraternal support to these new brother priests. But also to allow it to be a day of renewal once again for me and my priesthood. Something different usually hits me in a different way each year. One year, it was the joy of one of the new priests that was
just radiating from him throughout the entire Mass – it was infections. Another time, the prayer of ordination - the words just sounded so new that they hit me differently (or I heard them differently).

What really hit me today, as I prepare to mark my 17th anniversary was the promises that the men make right before their ordination. The "big" promise that most people might assume I’m talking about, of chastity, actually isn’t made at our priestly ordination. That happened a year earlier at my diaconate ordination.

The promises we make before our priestly ordination are more to the heart of our lives as priests:

Dear sons, before you enter the Order of the Priesthood, you must declare before the people your intention to undertake this office.
Do you resolve, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to discharge, without fail, the office of priesthood in the presbyteral rank, as worthy fellow workers with the Order of Bishops in caring for the Lord’s flock?
Do you resolve to exercise the ministry of the word worthily and wisely, preaching the Gospel and teaching the Catholic faith?
Do you resolve to celebrate faithfully and reverently, in accord with the Church’s tradition, the mysteries of Christ, especially the sacrifice of the Eucharist and the sacrament of Reconciliation, for the glory of God and the sanctification of the Christian people?
Do you resolve to implore with us God’s mercy upon the people entrusted to your care by observing the command to pray without ceasing?
Do you resolve to be united more closely every day to Christ the High Priest, who offered himself for us to the Father as a pure sacrifice, and with Him to consecrate yourselves to God for the salvation of all...

To some Catholics, those might not seem as big as the big promise. I know that was the case for me... earlier in my life, earlier in my priesthood, the promise of celibacy definitely seemed to be the most important one.

But today as I was listening to these expectations being asked and watching the men respond to them, it was almost an examination of conscience. Maybe that’s the Italian in me... I pretty quickly started recalling times where I failed in one way or another - that I wasn’t as prayerful; that the homily wasn’t as well prepared; that I wasn’t as reverent; that I wasn’t as attentive to God’s people... that I didn’t strive to unite myself more closely to Christ the High Priest. - like I said I would 17 years ago...

But in His loving Mercy, the Lord kind of quickly smacked me in the head as I listened to the men saying "I do" to each question... for the last promise, the response is I do, with the help of God. Yes, there have been more than enough failures I’ve made in my priesthood. But the failure that hits the most is when I’ve lost sight that all that I do, all that I offer, all that I am as a priest is with the help of God.

I can’t celebrate the Sacraments, bringing Jesus word; His Body and Blood; His Healing; His forgiveness; His Peace...

I can’t be an alter Christus - another Christ... stand in His person...

I can’t be a Father to His people...

I couldn’t do that incredibly painful funeral...

I couldn’t minister to that dying relative in the hospital...

I didn’t know what to say to that person in distress

I can’t do any of the things that I’ve been blessed, privileged, challenged and stretched to do these 17 years on my own. I DO [THEM], WITH THE HELP OF GOD.

So as I celebrate this my second "17th" I’m filled with gratitude to Almighty God for the gift of life; the gift of faith; the gift of priesthood... For the amazing patchwork of faces of the people of God from over the years where I’ve been able to share their very lives at some of the most extremes of their lives simply because I was His priest... For the day to day celebration of Mass where the ordinary is quite extraordinary.

And I promise, I resolve to live these and all the promises I made at both ordinations; the promises my parents and godparents made for me at my Baptism (and that I took responsibility for at my Confirmation); and the expectations the Lord continues to put on my heart day to day... as best I can... with all that I am..., remembering, most importantly to do so - with the help of God.

DETOX FROM POLITICS

Hi everyone, here's my homily for the SEVENTH SUNDAY OF EASTER - May 8, 2016.  The readings for today's Mass can be found at: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/050816-seventh-sunday-easter.cfm.  Thanks as always for reading this blog; for sharing it on Twitter, Facebook and Reddit; and for your comments and feedback... Grateful for your support!  God Bless - Fr Jim

HOMILY:

To say that this year in politics has been off-the-charts bizarre is probably the most cliches of understatements.  Yet, it’s hard to describe what we’ve seen, what we’ve heard in the last year.

For the most part, this is a “politics-free zone.”  Unlike other Churches or religions, the Catholic Church doesn’t endorse candidates nor do we invite candidates to speak in our pulpits at Mass.  We talk about issues, we try to raise moral questions, we talk about the hierarchy of moral issues (for example, life - being first and foremost with  protection of the innocent ones in the womb; and how the sanctity of life continues even in the most difficult of places like on death row; and the sick bed of those terminally ill) but we don’t get into endorsing candidate A and bashing candidate B at Mass in a homily.

But it’s becoming increasingly hard (this campaign year especially) for there not to be some moments where, try as we might, for different news stories to somehow intercept with reflections on the Gospel for the week and demand some notice.  Like this incident which happened this past week.  It didn’t get a lot of coverage, because there were other more major stories on primary elections and endorsements, lack of endorsements and so on that consumed most of the coverage.  But a friend had tweeted me this story which really upset me and reminded me of some of the negatives of social media:  Information overload.  And has me considering trying to have a detox from politics (unfollowing some people on twitter, etc.) just to avoid seeing this antidotes:

The Washington Times and a local television news story reported that a tow-truck driver went on a call to assist a woman in a car wreck  – who by the way, was disabled, with a handicap placard clearly hanging from her rear view mirror, suffering from a from 5 different rather serious illnesses.   The tow truck driver had already begun the process of towing her car - had the front tires fixed to the tow and was preparing to pull it up onto the bed of the truck when, as he describes it, he decided to “draw a line in the sand” and tell the woman “I can’t tow you.”   The woman initially thought “oh is there something wrong with my car” and the driver explained no because you’re supporting Candidate X (I’ve decided to remove the different candidates names because, sadly, we can find examples of supporters on both sides of this campaign doing similarly stupid and uncharitable things)

As an American who believes in our precious freedoms and rights - this tow truck driver does have the right to do what it is he did - just as I have the freedom and right to say that it was stupid, uncharitable and if I lived in the area where this happened to share the story with the hopes that people would choose other businesses to support.  And like I said - there are countless examples of people behaving similarly badly on a whole host of issues that up until this point there’s not really anything unique about it.  Till I got to this part of the story:

The driver explained: “Something came over me, I think the Lord came to me and he just said get in the truck and leave, and when I got in the truck, you know, I was so proud because I felt like I finally drew a line in the sand and stood up for what I believed.”

That’s when I lost it.  I don’t know the man.  But I can assuredly tell him - Christian to Christian - you are dead wrong brother.  Think back to what Jesus revealed to us tonight as he was praying to his Father, our Father for us?  

That was Jesus’ prayer, the night of His Last Supper - before the agony of the Passion, the torturous death on the Cross and the glorious resurrection on Easter Sunday.  He’s praying not just for his apostles, the first messengers of the Gospel... He’s looking forward, thousands of years later.  And as he is looking forward, he is seeing us his followers today... seeing each and every individual who calls himself “Christian” and as  followers of Christ each of us has a claim on his heart.  But - what Jesus tells us is -- then we have to have his mind and heart as well.  Which is a tall order.  Because God has a personal love and concern for every human person.  So he desires, no rather, he demands that we strive for living in unity, in a communion of true love with Him as the source and summit of that communion, that love.

This great prayer of Jesus we hear tonight tells us that we are to put no conditions on our love... to guard our words, to speak words that will build up, that will unify, that will find ways of bridging gaps, not let differences cause deeply wedged divides, discord, to cause sin.

I’m not doing that, I’m not living that message, I’m not being a Christian if I see a person having a heart attack and see “oh you’re wearing a Planned Parenthood shirt, well let some pro-choice person begin CPR or call for help for you.”  I’m not listening to the Lord if I have some litmus test on who I will be attentive too.  I’m corrupting the Lord’s word and message if I use Him as an excuse for not serving someone.

It’s easy for us to love people who agree with us, for people of like mind.  The demands of Christianity are far greater where we are called to love our enemy.  What’s saddens me is that as Americans we’ve gotten to a point where we are that divided to get to that point where we would look at one another with that perspective - as enemies because of political differences, because of supporting different candidates.  But should that be the reality we’re faced with, that as citizens we can’t look at our political differences and debates as a means of striving to make the ideals and dreams of our founders more real each and every day, we as Christians aren’t off the hook.  Jesus has made us citizens of his eternal Kingdom - and placed on us the responsibility of serving, of caring, of towing, of loving those in need... whether they are our friends, our enemies or somewhere in between.

As this campaign season, sadly I suspect, gets worse - and even after whatever happens this fall -how do we react to people who think differently than we do.  Do we consider them “enemies” or fellow human beings – fellow brothers and sisters – with a different perspective?  The Gospel tells us that the Holy Spirit wants to transform us into the image of Jesus, which begins by seeing the Christ in others - and letting His power overpower the views of the world... if we allow it...It’s a choice.  We can make an impact if we learn to love people beyond understanding.  Then not only is that person changed, but all who see and hear of it.  In the end, it comes down to us remembering the incredible ways Jesus has loved us - no matter what - and going and doing the same.

A CURE FOR FEAR

Hi everyone, here's my homily for the SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER - May 1, 2016.  This is also our "Senior Send Off" Mass where we honor our seniors who will be graduating in a few weeks, over the summer or at the end of the Fall Semester.  The readings for today's Mass can be found at:  http://usccb.org/bible/readings/050116.cfm.  Thanks as always for reading; for sharing this blog on facebook, twitter or reddit; and your feedback and comments.  Have a great week.  God Bless, Fr. Jim


HOMILY:
Imagine the next time you are going to CVS, Rite Aid, Walgreens or just the Pharmacy aisle at your local supermarket... and as you’re picking up Advil for headaches; Zantac for heart burn; Claratin for your allergies (have I suddenly veered into an example where I sound like a 90 year old and where you guys can no longer relate??? anyway...) you make your way down the aisle you are able to pick up a drug to cure fear. That’s not a premise to some science fiction story - but something that appears to be a not so far off reality. The New York Times  last January reported that scientists are working on a drug that will not simply numb you or sedate you when you are anxious about something to alleviate those symptoms - but promises to erase the fear that are tied to specific memories.

Using a test group of arachnaphobes to illustrate how this works - they had three groups of people who were petrified of spiders. Group One was shown a tarantula and then given the drug; Group Two was shown the spider and given a sugar pill or a placebo; and Group Three was given the drug first and then shown the tranatula... They were assessed each groups reactions that first time, three months later and a year later to see how they responded. Amazingly, the one group that was shown the spider and then given the drug within days were able to touch the spider; three months later were able to take it out of the glass container and hold it... even a year later - their fear never returned. Theoretically, the drug is supposed to simply take the emotional response out by blocking some of the brain chemicals that rush in when someone is overwhelmed by their fears. It’s not like a Men in Black thing with a mind eraser that will alter or delete historical facts. So if you had a car accident that caused you fear of ever getting into a car, the scientists maintain, it’s not going to delete the memory of the accident - just the emotional response you are having that is preventing you from driving would be altered. It’s an interesting experiment. And no doubt for some who are severely inhibited with deeply ingrained fears that greatly diminish their quality of life (like veterans suffering severe effects of PTSD) this could be a major game changer.

But – you knew there was a ‘but’ coming – some critics are concerned with any attempts to tamper with human memory. If we start altering our reactions, eliminating our fears - could that lead the way for us to be careless (or rather more careless), or reckless even? What about the darkest aspects of human history where horrific crimes against humanity and wide-spread trauma took place (like the evil of Nazi concentration camps during World War II) In the wrong hands, this medical discovery could be used to do some Orwellian things that we don’t even want to imagine.

Obviously there’s a lot that needs to be considered - the medical, the psychological (and hopefully) the moral consequences of such a discovery. But the reason that this is even a thing, that this is even a road that scientists went down is trying to address a human need, a human desire.


To be free of fear.

No doubt every one of us, to one extent or another, would sign up for that. Full disclosure, I’m including myself in this as well... a week ago as I was heading to the airport for another International Flight – the 5th time in 5 years I’ve done so - you can ask my driver to the airport, I was not exactly happy or calm about the prospect of entering that glorified soda can being thrust tens of thousands of feet into the sky at 500 mph.

And looking around this room tonight, there are all kinds of fears:

I have final exams this week – some of you, there’s a lot of reason for that fear.

What is going to happen when I graduate from Montclair State - for some that’s a more urgent and pressing fear as you will be graduating in a few short weeks. Will I get that job; accepted into that school... Will I find a job – some of your parents have that fear too - will they find a job - will they be moving out anytime soonwhat happens when they do move out!

Sadly the MSU bookstore is closed but the last time I checked, they didn’t have those no-fear pills available. Yet, we already have an antidote that is far less risky, far less questionable, far more effective - right here. In tonight’s Gospel, we encounter Jesus at the Last Supper... the night before his brutal, torturous Passion, Crucifixion and death. Knowing what He is about to face... Knowing what these, his chosen ones whom he loves are about to face... He tells them Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. It is said that of all the things that the Lord tells us throughout the Bible; of all the commands that we are given; of all the directions that Jesus has given - that sentiment is the one said the most (and probably the one we disobey the most as well): To not be afraid. And amazingly, here he is, facing the most horrific of events imaginable and that is what is on His heart and mind to those he Loves - this passionate command to not give into fear.

He says that not as a crazy man being ignorant of what’s about to happen to Him.

He says that not as some happy-go-lucky pollyannaish individual being insensitive to one’s legitimate fears.

He says that as one who knows us; as one who loves us; as one who is with us... He says that as one who promises us not a life free of any pain, or worry or yes even fear – like if we just sign onboard with Jesus He’s like an insurance policy against ANY negative things from happening to us. But rather He speaks heart to heart... He says to us - no matter what it is we face; no matter what the odds; no matter what the fear that is troubling our hearts - He loves us unconditionally. We are wonderfully, beautifully made in His image for a reason, for a purpose... and we find that purpose, we find that meaning, we find that love - and even more - the peace we so desire - when we love selflessly, when we remain connected with Him by keeping His commands, when we allow Him in, when we yield to the Holy Spirit to guide, direct and dwell within us.

For you, our seniors tonight who are preparing to be "sent off", and for everyone else gathered around this altar tonight who have hearts that are troubled, who are afraid of things - both in the short term and the long... As we come to the end of our Academic Year, as we approach the end of the Easter Season, this Gospel couldn’t come at more perfect time. The reality is despite whatever scientific discoveries are made or medical advances are pursued - we won’t be able to ever fully eliminate fear. And Jesus’ isn’t pretending to be simply some pill or antidote to what it is that torments the human heart. Just because we were active members here at Newman Catholic; or went through RCIA and received our Sacraments of Initiation; sang in the choir; went to bible studies or participated on a mission trip - doesn’t mean that we will be inoculated from things that frighten us, terrors that unnerve us.

But the Gospel points out to us that we are faced with a daily choice: To choose not to yield to fear. To choose, instead, to open the doors of our hearts to Christ. It’s something that each and everyone of us needs to commit to doing. Because the sad reality is that the world around us - whether on a global level from the things that leaders, politicians say and do; different threats advancing or from a place closer to home, more locally: family struggles, illnesses, doubts, difficulties and setbacks all of these things are sowing seeds of fear. The secular forces, the evil forces around us, at the same time, seem to be promising fulfillment, promising short-cuts, or even promising just the absence of fear in easier, quicker ways that never seem to work.

What we believe, what we stand for, what we’ve tried to demonstrate to you seniors - is that there is another way. You can make a choice, a different choice to follow Christ - which can be scary too.    Because we're not talking about simply getting to Mass for an hour on Sunday (although that’s an important, first step) but each and every day letting this choice guide how we live, what we do... 

Pope Benedict XVI once very beautifully said: 
Are we not perhaps all afraid in some way? 
If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us? 
Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? 
Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom? . . . 
No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. 
No! 
Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. 
Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. 
Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation. 
And so, today, with great strength and great conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you, dear young people: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life."

To the class of 2016 - to each and every one of us here, may that be our prayer, our goal, to find the true life, the fullness of life, the peace, the freedom from fear that Jesus Christ wishes to offer each and everyone of us.