RYAN LOCHTE, TABLE FOR ONE

Hi everyone, here's my homily for the 22nd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - August 28, 2016
The readings for today’s Mass can be found at:  http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/082816.cfm.Thanks as always for stopping by to read this blog; for sharing it on Facebook, twitter, Reddit and elsewhere on the Internet - and for all your feedback and comments.  God Bless You and yours and have a great week! Fr Jim
LAST COMMERCIAL!  Thanks to everyone who's helped with the NEWMAN CATHOLIC 2016 SUMMER APPEAL - We've hit over 50% of our $20,000 stretch goal for this year...   We'll happily accept donations any time, but we hope to close the appeal this Friday as we enter Labor Day Weekend.  Please check out our website for  nformation:  http://www.msunewman.com/#!appeal/cbjb  We appreciate your consideration and your support!

HOMILY:

So the 2016 Rio Olympics are over: The medals have been awarded; the olympic flame has been extinguished; the athletes have returned home - jubilant at their accomplishments, frustrated by their performance or somewhere in between. In the midst of all those stories though, has been one of the most bizarre episodes that hasn’t seemed to go away.

You probably can guess what I’m talking about. The bizarre case of Ryan Lochte. For those who haven’t heard (or lost track of it) The story started on Sunday August 14th when there were rumors spread of a burglary that took place of some Olympians, which was followed by Ryan Lochte’s mom telling USA Today that her son had his wallet stolen. Spokespersons for the Olympics pretty quickly denied the story, but then Lochte was interviewed by a TV reporter Billy Bush and confirmed that he was indeed robbed saying "We got pulled over, in the taxi, and these guys came out with a badge, a police badge, no lights, no nothing just a police badge and they pulled us over. They pulled out their guns, they told the other swimmers to get down on the ground — they got down on the ground. I refused, I was like we didn’t do anything wrong, so — I’m not getting down on the ground. And then the guy pulled out his gun, he cocked it, put it to my forehead and he said, ‘Get down,’ and I put my hands up, I was like ‘whatever.’ He took our money, he took my wallet — he left my cell phone, he left my credentials." He repeated the story or a variation of it to Matt Laurer. 

The Brazillian Police, who were already under great scrutiny about out of control crime before the games even began, were not taking this lightly, and quickly felt something wasn’t right about the story. While Lochte flew home, two of the others involved in this story were taken off the plane by the police and questioned. Soon, the real story emerged. These guys were never held up, but rather, had been drunk, doing some stupid things in public.

The kookiness of all this has left many people thinking Why - Why would he invent such a bizarre story, continue to lie and tell it; and then appear somewhat shocked when the truth came out. The NY Times weighed in with their answer in the headline: For the Spotlight, Lochte was ready to do anything. They speculated that Lochte has been jealous of Michael Phelps as they are both swimmers, both nearly the same age, both highly successful - but Phelps being far superior with 28 medals (21 gold) and Lochte with 12 medals (6 gold). As the writer put it:

They are separated by slivers of time in the pool, but the gulf between them in their personal lives is yawning. On the ill-fated night that Lochte chose to go out partying with teammates, Phelps also left the athletes’ village. He spent the night at a hotel with his fiancée, Nicole Johnson, whom he helped with diaper duty for their 3-month-old son, Boomer. . . If Phelps’s dreams revolved around surpassing (world record holder,) Mark Spitz, Lochte would appear to have set his sights on becoming the next (Pop-icon) Ryan Seacrest... In a conversation with his family that was caught on camera during his reality show (from 2013 called What would Ryan Lochte Do), Lochte said he envisioned a future in Los Angeles. "I see me being a designer, I see me being a model, I see me being a TV star," Lochte said. He did corral the spotlight in Rio, just not the way he planned.

In the two weeks since this all happened, the story continues. Lochte has given some interviews where he’s (sort of) apologized... He’s lost two sponsorships; gotten some offers for other sponsorships from not the most family-friendly companies... Brazillian authorities want him to stand trial for whatever charges they’ve come up with. Meanwhile, on Thursday reports came out that he would be on the TV show Dancing with the stars. All of which kind of bolsters that theory: That Lochte wasn’t satisfied with being a bona fide, respected, Olympic Champion. That the desire to distinguish himself from Phelps, the desire for more attention, more fame drove him to become somewhat unhinged in this bizarre story playing out before all of our eyes.

In other words, he couldn’t rejoice in who he was... He wanted to be something greater than who God made him to be. And he decided to take whatever means necessary to distinguish himself even if it meant making false reports, lying about it to an all-too willing media who loves following celebrities (especially when they implode)

I couldn’t help but thinking that if Ryan Lochte was at this dinner in today’s Gospel, it’s obvious he didn’t think he was sitting at a good enough table.

Why are such temptations so, well tempting? To want to see ourselves differently than how God sees us? To think we have better plans than He does? And then go about attempting to pursue them using any means possible to achieve them?

In this Gospel encounter - Jesus doesn’t have a problem with the Pharisees wanting to have this dinner party (otherwise he probably wouldn’t have attended). The problems begin, as they always do, whenever God is removed from the picture. Which is what happened here. All of a sudden this dinner party isn’t a dinner party. These Jewish leaders start to see the gifts of wealth that they enjoyed, being people of power and influence as things they deserved, were entitled to, and ultimately became obsessed over. In the process, they forgot that God had given them the abilities and opportunities and gifts to be in those positions and that they were still His children. They stopped remembering that and instead saw themselves as something different, greater, more important than being God’s children. So first they exclude some from there banquet, then they start trying to outdo, outshine each other (I should sit at the head table!)


But this is about something more than seating arrangements at a dinner party.

Look carefully, Jesus doesn’t say "don’t desire to be honored" - He’s not surprised that we have feelings of wanting to be admired and exalted. He’s trying to correct, even make that desire, that feeling holy. How do we do that? He teaches us: through Humility. Humility is about knowing who we are. Rejoicing in who we are. Seeing how good, beautiful, & unique we have been made. Not because we’ve outsmarted the competition, lied or cheated or won some achievement or been honored with a seat of prestige. No, we can rejoice in who we are because we have been lovingly made by God. Because we possess the beauty of the Creator... Because all these things that we possess, the quirks, the talents, make each of us the most unique you, the most unique I that’s ever been on this planet. And those things shines more and more brilliantly when we live in selfless, loving ways.

The sad thing is that so many of us have been led to believe otherwise. We’re not as smart as "her." Or we’re not as talented as "him." We start to believe those lies, that diminish us and so it’s understandable that we find it hard to resist the temptation to see ourselves as better than everyone else, to try to become someone greater than everyone else, and to do whatever we have to get there. When we buy into that lie, we find that we end up pushing God aside as we rush to the head table too.

In a week, we will celebrate the canonization of Blessed Mother Teresa. It’s amazing how nearly 20 years after her death, this woman from Calcutta still captures our attention and affection as people remember that at the Banquet of Life, she didn’t even care where she sat and in fact didn’t even take a place at the table. She showed us the incredible joy that can be found in not having a seat but being a servant at the dinner. Sadly, despite all the good that Ryan Lochte did, this lapse he made when he jockeyed for an even better seat than he already had had will always be remembered, will be a part of his story.

The question we’re left with, where do we want to sit? How do we see ourselves? Are we feel comfortable where we are, with who we are or do we desire more in the way of recognition? God loves us where we are, who we are. There is no reason for us to make ourselves more important … Jesus has showed us how we are already very important – important enough to die for.

Whenever we force ourselves to be the leading man or woman, the perception by others is normally negative and you lose credibility. However, if we allow God to bring us to the place we need to sit, it will be a beautiful model of the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.

May we be thankful where we sit today for it has been made just for each of us and nobody else. Each of our story’s is ongoing and God hasn't finished writing it until we have breathed our last. He has a lot for each of us to do for Him until then. So we shouldn’t worry about our glory - rather we are to give it all to God who deserves it. May you and I be the active image of Jesus reflecting His love to others. When we do, people will be naturally drawn to that and invite us to sit by them, an honored place in their hearts.
 

THE DREADED "D" WORD....

Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the 21st SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - August 21, 2016. The readings for today’s Mass can be found at: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/082116.cfm.
Thanks as always for stopping by to read this blog; for sharing it on Facebook, twitter, Reddit and elsewhere on the Internet - and for all your feedback and comments.  God Bless You and yours and have a great week! Fr Jim



Quick commercial... thanks to everyone who's helped with the NEWMAN CATHOLIC 2016 SUMMER APPEAL - We've hit about 20% of our $20,000 stretch goal for this year... Please check out our website for information:  http://www.msunewman.com/#!appeal/cbjb  We appreciate your consideration and your support!
HOMILY:
NBC’s Today Show recently did a story on 30 year old Jaqueline Adan, who shared a story of personal humiliation that caused a life transformation. Five years ago, while with some friends visiting Disneyland, she got stuck in an entrance turnstile because she was severely overweight. Recounting the story now, she shares that while she made a joke of it and laughed it off with her friends, as soon as she spotted the nearest bathroom, she went inside and broke down and sobbed. The rest of the day she needed to use a wheel chair just to get around the park. She felt mortified, and was shocked when she went to Jenny Craig and discovered she weighed 510 pounds.

The thing that was so inspiring about her story to me wasn’t simply that she has since lost 350 pounds - which, is indeed inspiring - but how she did it. She changed her eating habits and committed to daily exercise, simply by starting with walking. It was incredibly difficult for her... When Jaqueline first started exercising she could only walk for five minutes before she got tired. But she kept walking for five minutes until she could do 10, then 15, then 20. If she couldn't do an entire workout video, she'd do as much as she could. In time she built up her endurance, kept at her diet, kept up her commitment and in 4 years went from 510 lbs to 160.

For our media-conditioned selves, we see this 2 minute story and are blown away seeing the before and after pictures. With these visuals, in fast-paced story telling (designed to keep our ever decreasing attention spans engaged) we are moved by the story; we are inspired to hear the transformation – not simply physically, but the entire transformation of this person - from a person who was struggling to a person who has made a tremendous change.

But there’s only so much you can get from a 2 minute segment... the story telling is really limited. We don’t get to see the daily struggle, the daily commitment, the daily discipline that was required on her part to keep getting up every day and reject the negative thoughts and feelings she heard from others or told herself and just keep trying, keep striving as she wanted to make this radical transformation. The Today show couldn’t capture the subtle changes that were won with each little denial to herself that she made in favor of the transformation she wished to achieve.


You could say the same thing of all the Olympians that have been the focus of global attention for the last two weeks. We see Michael Phelps jump into the pool and come out with his 23rd Gold Medal or Katie Ledecky destroying not only her competition but a world record in the 800 m free style - and are amazed at those feats. We might hear about their training, but can’t fully appreciate all the nights they went to bed early, the mornings they got up early, the crazy diets and training they followed for days, weeks, months, years for this one moment, this one chance at this competition. The discipline needed to achieve these achievements.

The dreaded "D" word - Discipline.  Discipline is hard.

I know that in my own life. Growing up I’ve taken Piano classes; I’ve studied Italian; I’ve played baseball... but when I see and hear someone really play the Piano; or hear Italians conversing (and not having to do so S L O W L Y and pausing to see if the person understands); or excel on the baseball field - after I angrily make excuses that I wasn’t born with that skill or the ability or the instincts that often accompany someone thriving in those areas - I know that a major part of the reason that I’m not in the same league is that I haven’t kept practicing, I didn’t keep studying, I didn’t keep trying in those feats... I’ve lacked discipline in those areas.

I’m pretty confident that I’m not alone in that... How many marketing geniuses tap into that desire that everyone has to make some change in their lives - whether it’s how they look, what they do, how they feel with quick-fix promises. "Lose 30 lbs in 30 days" - "Learn a new language in 10 minutes a day". While these different advertisements probably will help with some minor accomplishments, the reality we learn after we look over the Rosetta Stone Language programs we never completed or exercise machines that have become dust collectors is that there are no quick fixes, short cuts or easy solutions whenever we want to make changes in our lives. It requires commitment. It requires discipline.

That’s true not simply in sports, diets, languages... It’s especially true in our spiritual lives. For some reason, a lot of people tend to think it shouldn’t be difficult to be a faithful Catholic. Or there’s not the seriousness, the attentiveness, the focus that previous generations did. I’m sure for some it was a struggle to get here this morning. Here it is, late August - beautiful Summer Sunday. The halloween displays and Back to School Sales constantly remind us that the seasons will be changing soon. So that lure to take advantage of the day with a dismissive "God Understands" was extremely tempting (and seeing some room in here, it was hard to resist for some...)

And it’s true - God does understand... He doesn’t want people coming to Mass simply to fulfill an obligation as if to appease "Angry God" from smiting them throughout another week. It doesn’t work like that. He wants us to choose to worship Him, because He wants to be in relationship with Us. He wants us to acknowledge the gifts, the blessings - from our very lives, our very breaths, to the countless things we take for granted on a daily basis - that we have. He wants us to want to offer who we are, what we do in service to Him - so that our very lives become a blessing to Him. He wants us to share that light, that love that He has for each of us with each and every person we encounter.

But the reality is that takes discipline on our part. That’s what kind of struck me about the readings today. Often times the 2nd Reading doesn’t segue into the Gospel reading that easily. But today the connection seemed pretty strong. Here we had St. Paul writing very honestly about discipline and it being expected of us by the Lord - and our not liking it. Think back again to what Paul said today:

"...discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain,
yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness
to those who are trained by it.
So strengthen your drooping hands and your weak knees.
Make straight paths for your feet,
that what is lame may not be disjointed but healed."

The reason we endure this isn’t to prove how holy we are, how righteous we are or to get in good with the Lord. But to deepen our relationship with Him. The Gospel story is all about that. Someone asks Jesus as they’ve been walking, talking and following Him from town to town - will only a few people be saved?’


Jesus’ answer is disconcerting because it’s somewhat blunt: He answered them ‘Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.’ Jesus goes on to cite people who might have this "familiarity" with him, who will not be saved "We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets’ and he will say to you ‘I do not know where you are from. Depart from me you evil doers.

In short, it’s not enough for us just to be Baptized, attend Mass on a weekly basis and have some basic Christian knowledge. Those things are essential to be sure, but too often we can think that’s enough. But the striving that Jesus is calling for demands more – namely the ongoing, daily, lifelong response on our part of listening to Him; following Him; living our lives based on Him and what He has taught us. We have to enter into the difficult spiritual battles dealing with temptations and resisting them. We have to repent of our sins and failures trusting in God’s Mercy and resolving to strive to do better not to commit those same sins again. We have to take seriously the commands of the Lord to take care of the poor, the sick, the helpless - not because it’s just a nice thing to do, but because Christ told us that’s one of our duties. We have to be missionaries – each and everyone of us – proclaiming the Gospel both in word and deed.

And the truth of that is it takes the same intensity, actually more when you think of it - then a severe diet, or athletic feat, or academic pursuit. It’s a lifelong process, and daily battle on our parts to deny ourselves some of those not necessarily evil things but unnecessary things we’ve allowed to creep in that somehow diminish the Lord. As someone working with College students, I try to point this out to them about charitable giving. They immediately point out their poor college students, up to debt to wazzo - which is very true. But when I point out the Iphone they’re using, the starbucks their drinking, the netflix they subscribe to - not to make fun of them, but to say - if you denied even one of these and started making giving a part of your life, you’d be amazed at what you’re able to do. Same is true about prayer. Making Sunday Mass a priority - but what about the rest of the week to either incorporate communal prayer (daily Mass, bible study) instead of another binge on Netflix. Same is true of service to others - whether it’s more close to home - family, friends, neighbors who need us - or even more selfless- volunteering to help those who are sick, who are hungry, who are poor. We can’t do everything, but we can do something.

But the reality is all of that comes back to discipline on each of our parts. To make small, but significant changes that start to build up and shift who we are into who we’re called by the Lord to be. When we strive to do those things – as imperfectly but with all sincerity trying to do these things, it’s then that God’s mercy will make up for what is lacking and help us through that narrow gate.

MARY'S ASSUMPTION & SEEING OURSELVES AS GOD DOES


Hi everyone, here's my homily for the SOLEMNITY OF THE ASSUMPTION OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY - August 15, 2016. The readings for today's Mass can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/081516-mass-during-day.cfm  Thanks as always for stopping by to read this blog; for sharing it on Facebook, twitter, Reddit and elsewhere on the Internet - and for all your feedback and comments.  God Bless You and Yours and have a great week! Fr Jim


Quick commercial... thanks to everyone who's helped with the NEWMAN CATHOLIC 2016 SUMMER APPEAL - Today we  hit almost 50% of our $20,000 stretch goal for this year... Please check out our website for information:  http://www.msunewman.com/#!appeal/cbjb  We appreciate your consideration and your support!

HOMILY:


Rarely do I get into history lessons for homilies - but this celebration of the Assumption of Mary- where we celebrate that at her death, Mary’s body and soul were taken up into heaven - is one that sadly divides some Christians (it’s not in the bible they argue, so it cannot be true!). But the Bible is not the only authority on these subjects. There’s also the ancient history and the early oral tradition of the Church that tells us all kinds of things that aren’t recorded in scripture. (Like how St. Peter, St. Paul were martyred, where they were buried in Rome...) 

In this case, in Jerusalem near Mount Zion in the early centuries of Christianity, there was what was known as the Tomb of Mary also known as the "Place of Dormition" - or where she fell asleep. When the emperor of Constantinople in the year 451 asked the Bishops who were gathering for the Council of Chalcedon (which was a worldwide gathering of all the Bishops of the Church like Vatican II was in the 1960's) he had asked if relics of the Blessed Mother could be brought there so that they could make a shrine for her. The Bishop explained Mary had died in the presence of the apostles; but her tomb, when opened later was found empty. All that was found in there were flowers of lilies and roses - and so the apostles concluded that the body was taken up into heaven.

There are other recorded ancient events that also bore witness to this that in 1950, Pope Pius XII proclaimed the Assumption of Mary a dogma of the Catholic Church in these words: "The Immaculate Mother of God, the ever-virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heaven." Effectively making an ancient belief Catholic doctrine and the Assumption of Mary considered a declared truth revealed by God.

With all this in mind, we come together not to commemorate a historical event or gather for an apologetics lesson. But to use this past event to see what God is doing in the present and the future. Looking to Mary for insights on our relationship with God.

And reflecting on this Gospel reading, it reminded me of a story that one of my former High School teachers shared. It was a somewhat surprising, as well as sad occurrence, that seems to get repeated each and every start of the school year. He would ask his students to take a sheet of paper and divide it in half. On the left side he said "I want you to write down all your gifts, all the talents you have... things that you’re really good at." After a few moments he said, "on the right side write down all the things you want to change about yourself, things that you’re not good at, things your embarrassed about."

The sad reality was that he would often have to stop the students writing the second list. That 9 times out of 10, the things they want to change list far exceeded the things they were grateful for list - sometimes even continued on the back of the paper. Truth be told, I’d probably fall into that majority group myself and I suspect a lot of you would to. For a variety of reasons, we seem quite able to see the negatives of ourselves, the failures, the sins so much easier than the unique, special tremendous gifts that God blesses each of us with.

There’s probably a lot of different reasons for that: some have a poor self image of themselves. Some get caught up in sins of jealous or envy where they constantly make unhealthy comparisons of themselves to others. And for some, this mistaken understanding of being humble where they put themselves down to the point of being dishonest takes hold to the point that they are really embracing a "false humility."

In reading this Gospel today we have quite a contrast to those behaviors... Mary and Elizabeth have both had some pretty miraculous things occurring, some divine conversations. Elizabeth pregnant with John the Baptist who will become the prophet heralding Jesus coming. And Mary, bearing Jesus Christ in her womb.  

Imagine Elizabeth writing her own list on why she shouldn’t have a child? The gospel tells us that Elizabeth was older when she had conceived John the Baptist. She was called "barren". Her list of negatives probably would have said "I’m too old to have a child now." "My husband, he’s a good man, but he’s not going to believe this [he didn’t in fact, which is why he is silenced by the angel until the birth of John]." "I’ve been infertile, barren, for so long... surely there could be someone better."

Mary could write her own list too. Quite the opposite of Elizabeth "I’m too young!" "People are never going to believe what is happening" "Surely there’s someone else who is better suited or prepared to be a Mother for this special son."

While all of this is conjecture, it’s not unreasonable for us to imagine that some of these thoughts had to have crossed the minds of these important women. Which is what makes the wisdom that comes from age spoken by Elizabeth to Mary that much more dramatic and important. We almost miss them - there’s so much going on here:

Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.

Those words of insight gives way to Mary singing a beautiful hymn, that the Church prays daily called the "Magnificat"- a song that very simply contains the hopes and prayers of the Old Testament grounded in the reality of Mary’s vision: where God is ruling all things with perfect power and wisdom. She can rejoice in God because she has rejoiced in all that God has done and will do in her own life.

Mary and Elizabeth give witness to us of two women who don’t believe the lies the world would put on them about their situations; who don’t allow truths or facts about themselves get manipulated to where they become filled with fear and doubt that they stop believing all that God had told them. Instead they are grounded in the reality of seeing themselves as God sees them.

With their example, Elizabeth and Mary come to us and ask - What is God speaking to you right now? How is he trying to do something new in our lives or in the lives of those around us through our ‘yes’ to Him? How is he asking us to trust Him that He has equipped us with the gifts, the talents the abilities to accomplish whatever it is that is going to give birth to Jesus Christ in this day and age? How is he asking us to believe in Him, have faith in Him and not be deterred by the lies of the world or the lies we tell ourselves that we’re not worthy, we’re not able, we’re not good enough.

May we too be called "blessed" to see ourselves as the beloved sons and daughters that God created us to be, and follow Mary’s example, believing in all that the Lord is speaking to us will be fulfilled.
 

OFFICER SEAN CASSELS, Rest in Peace

This is the homily I delivered for my friend Officer Sean Michael Cassels - given at his funeral Mass at Our Lady of Lourdes Church, West Orange, NJ on August 8, 2016.  I share this at the request of some who attended and asked for a copy and with the permission of the family.  I pray that it will be of comfort to those who are in pain at this tragic loss.

JOHN 14: 1-6 
Jesus said to his disciples:
"Do not let your hearts be troubled.
You have faith in God; have faith also in me.
In my Father's house there are many dwelling places.
If there were not,
     would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?
And if I go and prepare a place for you,
     I will come back again and take you to myself,
     so that where I am you also may be.
Where I am going you know the way."
Thomas said to him,
     "Master, we do not know where you are going;
     how can we know the way?"
Jesus said to him, "I am the way and the truth and the life.
No one comes to the Father except through me."
 
HOMILY:
When I first got the news of Sean’s death from your pastor, Fr. Ferry, last Wednesday morning, it immediately felt like a punch to the stomach, followed immediately with the impulse to think
this has to be a mistake
- this can’t be true
-please don’t let it be true. 

Unfortunately this wasn’t some horrible nightmare that we would wake up from, but one that all of us are finding is very horrifyingly real.  I say that as a friend of Sean’s and of his family

- his loving wife Jessica, his boys Michael, Patrick and Jamison 
- his Mom and Dad - Mary and Mike;
- his sisters - Eileen and Meghan
- and brothers in law - Brian and Cory;
- his godmother Anita ...

all people I love and have been a part of my priesthood for 17 years.  That I can’t seem to wrap my mind around all of this, just underscores even more that I cannot even imagine how much you are hurting today - and I cannot express adequately how sorry I am that you are hurting as you are. 

That’s sadly something that all of us have in common this morning.  Whether you’re one of Sean’s brothers in blue from Millburn Police Department, or his hometown Police Department of West Orange, and from other agencies... - or you’re one of his friends - some from when you were growing up in this very Parish of Our Lady of Lourdes or from more recent years.  Or you’re apart of this tremendous extended Cassels family or friends of them... We all share this one thing in common - not being able to imagine how much hurt you are all in today and how sorry all of us are... which has brought us together this morning - something we never would’ve imagined a week ago. 

Every death, every funeral is heart wrenching.  When they come suddenly - a heart attack, a car accident - the shock, on top of the grief is often overwhelming.  For Sean, this sometimes fatal illness of depression which had caused ups and downs for him and for those who knew him, loved him - that shock, that grief, that pain is even more devastating. 

Death - no matter how it comes about -  is unjust - unnatural.  Death wasn’t a part of God’s creation, it wasn’t a part of God’s plan in the beginning - and so it defies logic or reason. And when we’re dealing with this horrible illness of depression, that’s even more so the case - it has the ability to change how  we   think, turn our problem solving reasoning upside down as we try to somehow figure this out.  

I don’t want to dwell on all of that this morning, since I’m limited myself in discussing these things.  But I do feel a responsibility to say that if you’re feeling guilty or questioning what more you could’ve done to help Sean - that’s normal.  This tragic, this mysterious illness of depression when it’s fatal like this can trap us in a vicious cycle of obsessing trying to find answers to questions we’re speculating over that will remain unanswered - - - even after our best attempts to do so.   And so I simply want to offer this brief observation:  None of us could’ve known how painful the darkness that Sean was dealing with.  Sean didn’t die because you didn’t do enough - he died because of this horrible illness or disease of depression.  And please, if you’re beating yourself up over this, please reach out to someone - a priest, a relative, a friend or a co-worker for help... don't go this alone.

That we’re here today - and for hours upon hours yesterday at the Dangler Funeral Home in such great numbers is a testament to what Sean was able to do in spite of that illness.  I keep thinking back to my earliest memories from 17 years ago when Sean was playing softball with the Quigley’s Tavern Softball team.  When I do, I can picture that legendary smile so many talked about  - at least I can visualize that remembering the times when Quigley’s was winning.  One time he said to me "Hey Father, you should join our team and play with us..." I politely declined saying "I see how well you take it when someone screws up on the field and I can guarantee you, if I were to play, it won’t go well for either of us..."  So that’s one image I have is Sean’s smile. 

But over the last week, there’s been countless anecdotes, stories that people have been sharing all demonstrating how loving and generous Sean was.  One such example that stayed with me in the midst of so many was seemingly insignificant: One of the guys from the Millburn PD shared how Sean knew someone who worked dispatch liked a certain snack and that he made it a point to stop at the 7-11 and pick it up for him.  It reminds me of Mother Teresa’s quote - Not all of us can do great things, but we can do small things with great love.  Looking out at the outpouring of love and support - even the gofund me page nearly $50,000 in 4 days – it’s obvious Sean did a great number of those small things with great love over a great period of time for a great number of people.  Many of which are probably unknown and hidden to us over the course of his career of serving and protecting the peoples of West Orange and Millburn.

Reflecting on these stories and images, makes coming back to this moment all the more painful.  Even hearing this Gospel reading was initially hard.  The first words we hear from Jesus’ in that reading were "Do not let your hearts be troubled.  You have faith in God, Have faith in me."  Just reading them out loud I almost felt like I lost the entire congregation.  

How could we not be troubled?   

I know I felt troubled reading them and trying to pray with them for this morning.   But the more I sat with it, and struggled with it, some other things came to mind.

Jesus first said these words at the Last Supper.  This was the night before his unjust arrest and trial, his torturous passion, his brutal execution.  So knowing what he is about to face, he’s trying to prepare those closest to him to not be troubled.  Jesus loves them.  And He doesn’t want all that He has taught them, all that He demonstrated to them, all that He was to them to be lost in the darkness that was slowly moving in preparing to strike him down. 

Despite Jesus’ plea that evening, to not let their hearts be troubled - we know that they were.  As Jesus is arrested, tried, brutalized and killed - they weren’t just troubled, they were gone.  The disciples disappeared.  They ran and hid.  It’s only in hindsight, it’s only after Jesus’ resurrection from the dead - when he had at last conquered death and made eternal life real to them that their faith in Him, their trust in Him started to grow.  It was only after the fact that they remembered those words, and began again to start to believe them. 

The point is, Jesus understands that when we’re in the midst of our own darkness and pain, and trials, and suffering how easy it is for us to give into that despair.  For him in a sense to seem eclipsed from our view, even when he hasn’t.

In reading this Gospel again, I try to imagine Jesus saying those words to Sean, Do not let your heart be troubled...Have faith in God have faith in me. That’s what our prayers are meant for today.  We pray that Sean has heard those words from Jesus in a new way.  That the pain, the illness, the darkness that consumed him is gone and that he is experiencing the radiant, eternal, loving light of Christ a new.  That is what we mean when we pray for Sean when we pray that the perpetual light shines upon him and that he rests in peace.

But Jesus is able to multi-task.  While we entrust Sean to Jesus’ loving and merciful arms, we ask him to be with us, reveal Himself to us in real ways that help alleviate our troubled, conflicted, confused hearts. Hearts that are heavy with grief, filled with emotion, consoled with loving images of Sean’s great love and angry at this loss.  Jesus who loves us sees the condition of our troubled hearts - and as the source of all healing, of mercy, of love, and of hope wants to bring us His Peace. Can we accept this precious gift from God at a time like this?

Tribute to Officer Cassels in front of Our Lady of Lourdes
prior to his funeral Mass
I believe we can. One way is to keep Sean’s memory alive. Doing what we have been doing the last few days - sharing our stories our memories, especially with his sons.  Too often, people think that not mentioning someone who’s died to his family members will spare them pain. The opposite is true. It is more painful. Earlier I talked about how Sean gave to others with love. We can all learn from this and follow his example of good works, daily. Even with heavy hearts and swollen eyes, we can be inspired - and inspire others - by his example of how to care for others. 

Yes, there will be tears, but remember that tears are an important part of the healing process. God promises us that in time, "He will wipe away every tear". We must remember - and remind each other - that everyone grieves differently and that’s okay. Grieving is a release. Grieving leaves space for God to work - to heal us and bring ultimate peace. God is with us even if it’s hard to feel His presence right now. His grace is real and tangible and His grace will carry us through this time. Peace will not come overnight but it will come. Be okay with that. Be patient with yourselves. Don’t try to rush it.

Have faith that Sean no longer walks in pain and darkness. He has been released from that. However, there are others in our world - perhaps others that are around us - who suffer from this terrible disease. May the Lord give us not only the awareness to extend a helping hand and lend a compassionate ear to all in our lives but to never forget that the world’s darkness can never extinguish His eternal Light.  I believe the same God who turned Good Friday into Easter Sunday doesn’t waste anything, especially a precious life like Sean’s.  He will weave this terrible event into something that will be beautiful for His kingdom. Our earthly crowns of suffering are replaced with heavenly crowns of glory. We may not understand how that can ever be, but that’s where we are back to those first words of the Gospel - Do not let your hearts be troubled -You have faith in God, have faith also in me.  Knowing that when we do, his promises of having a place in the Father’s house are meant for Sean, and for each of us.

Sean, May you rest in the peace of Christ, my friend

HEART - TREASURE - PANCAKES

Hi everyone, here's my homily for the NINETEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - August 7, 2016. The readings for today's Mass can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/080716.cfm  Thanks as always for stopping by to read this blog; for sharing it on Facebook, twitter, Reddit and elsewhere on the Internet - and for all your feedback and comments.  God Bless You and Yours and have a great week! Fr Jim

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HOMILY:

Back in November two New Jersey firefighters had spent 12 grueling hours putting out a fire. After that exhausting shift, they hit a local restaurant to grab a bite to eat and some coffee. During the breakfast, the waitress happened to overhear them talking about their dramatic shift. When they had finished their meal and asked for the bill, they were handed the following note: Your breakfast is on me today - thank you for all you do; for serving others, for running into places everyone else runs away from. No matter what your role is, you are courageous, brave and strong... thank you for being bold (and badass) everyday. Fueled by fire, and driven by courage, what an example you are! Get some rest! - Liz.

The guys were overwhelmed by the generous and thoughtful gesture and bragged about the whole experience on Facebook, encouraging people to go and support the business (and give Liz a big tip!) As the story started to spread and circulate, it took an even more beautiful turn. The firefighters found out that Liz’s father was a brain aneurysm survivor - which left him as a quadriplegic paralyzed for 5 years. Liz was trying to raise money to get him a wheelchair accessible vehicle through an internet donations site. The firemen then returned to Facebook and wrote: "Turns out, the young lady who gave us a free meal is really the one that could use the help." Within days, this story went viral and eventually they collected a staggering $80,000 - well over the $17,000 goal she had set in order to do the construction work - and allowing her to look at getting a mobility van which would be a game changer for Liz, her father - and she hopes the entire world as they become brain aneurysm advocates and help raise awareness on that medical condition.

In today’s Gospel, we heard the parable of the foolish servant awaiting his master’s return - with the important words of Jesus reminding us, challenging us: where your treasure is, there also will your heart be... [and that] much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more. In the eyes of God - the gifts that each of us possess means nothing. It’s what we do with whatever talents, or wealth that we possess in building up His kingdom that He’s interested in, that we will be judged on, that will determine our "greatness." Some of us can work miracles with our great intellectual or financial power - and some of  us can bring the kingdom of God to reality with simple, genuine, sincere acts of generosity, kindness and attentiveness to those around us.

The fact is that God has entrusted every one of us with our own gifts, talents and blessings not for our own uses and aims, but to selflessly and lovingly use them for the benefit of others, without counting the cost or demanding a return. The faithful disciple will lovingly use whatever he or she possess to bring God’s reign of hope, justice and compassion to reality in this time and place of ours.