BITTERSWEET MOMENTS

Hi everyone... here's my homily for the 7th SUNDAY OF EASTER - May 28, 2017.  The readings for today can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/052817-seventh-sunday-easter.cfm .  Thanks as always for reading; sharing on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit; and for your comments and feedback.  Grateful for your support!  Have a great week and God Bless - Fr Jim


HOMILY:

Working in Campus Ministry, this is always an exciting time of year. This past Thursday we celebrated Commencement for the more than 5,000 graduates of Montclair State University. The build up over the last few weeks with all kinds of celebrations; awards dinners... even seeing graduates taking pictures with friends and family members all around campus - you definitely felt that excitement in the air. But I have to confess that there’s something amazingly bittersweet about this time of year that I never really appreciated when I was the one graduating all those years ago. I don’t know if this is true for everyone else, but it seemed that when I was the one donning the cap and gown, I kept seeing graduation as that finish line and the requirement to help launch into whatever that next big adventure is going to be. In High School I couldn’t wait to go off to college - to have that independence, studying specific things that I was interested in, living in a dorm with peers they’ve never met before and establishing life long friendships. As college was ending, I was excited to be done with papers, exams and talk about moving on to"real life" which for me was going into seminary and to seriously discern and then prepare for priesthood. It seems similar with a lot of the seniors I see graduating now: they are excited about being able to actually do something rather than studying and talking about something. For the most part, graduates are extremely excited about what comes next.

But it’s interesting – for parents - while they have eagerly anticipated this day for their children and are proud and joyful... you can see for some of them the shock of it as they ask themselves "weren’t we just bringing them home from the hospital??? and not quite ready to yield even more freedom and independence to their ‘babies.’ For those of us who work with and have gotten close with the students, it can be pretty jarring too. A couple of years back when students I had met as freshmen or sophomores when I was new as well, and I got to know them and work with them and see them grow from an up close vantage point... well I was kind of shocked by how choked up I got at our Senior Send off Mass. I had never had an experience where a quarter of my congregation would leave each year... and for the kids who were in leadership who I got to work with and spend time with more closely, I was stunned by how hard it hit having to say goodbye to them. There was a selfish, fleeting thought of not wanting them to leave.

Now I’m older and embittered by having been left multiple times – I’ve gotten over that(Hahaha) Joking... I still can catch myself with a lump in my throat at these senior gatherings looking out and seeing some of these kids I’ve gotten close with and realizing I’m not going to see them much anymore or have that same experience of working so closely with them. But that’s a good thing. They aren’t meant to stay at Montclair State forever (which is welcome news to their parents I’m sure) - nor are they to stay as part of Newman Catholic forever. They were created by God for much greater things. He has bigger things in store for them... And I’ve just been blessed with the opportunity to meet them and hopefully help them to appreciate and see how much God loves them and has these amazingly beautiful dreams in mind for each of them.

That came to mind reading this Gospel. We’re hearing Jesus at the Last Supper again and the Gospel of John it can sound kind of confusing - I am in you, you are in me, we are in them sounds almost Dr. Suess-esque. But Jesus is talking about leaving the apostles. The epitome of bitter-sweet. Because he first says these words before Good Friday. Which was horrifying, terrifying and frightening departure of Jesus from the apostles. And here we are recalling them after Easter when Jesus was risen from the dead. Here we are reflecting on them after Jesus has now ascended into Heaven - leaving the apostles in one sense again... yes He was coming to them in the Holy Spirit being poured out on Pentecost. Yes He was with them really, physically and spiritually in the Eucharist... but He this was a massive change for them from how they had encountered and experienced Jesus. And that was a bitter-sweet moment for them: not wanting Jesus to go. Not wanting things to change. Of enjoying what they had been experiencing.

But if they, and we, get stuck on that - we would forget and miss how each and everyone of us has been created by God to accomplish greater things than we can imagine... Jesus didn’t want the apostles to get stuck on those understandable but self centered thoughts . And so those words from the Last Supper speak of deeper realities that only make sense in hindsight. Jesus being glorified in His Sacrifice on the Cross. Jesus being glorified in His Resurrection from the dead. Jesus being glorified in Ascending into Heaven. Jesus being glorified in the works His apostles and the young Church would accomplish in their own sacrifices, in their own obedince to God’s will. And now Jesus being glorified in us . That as you and I take on the work that God the Father had given Christ to do He is glorified.

We might all be hesitant, resistant to any changes we encounter. Even spiritually. Our faith lives can become a routine, start to form familiar patterns. Yet, Christ encourages us to be open to not simply settling for what’s comfortable, what’s familiar. Jesus expects us to take on the work of compassion, of justice, of reconciliation, of peace. Each of us is called to be Christ in our own time and place to the poor, the suffering, the lost. Each of us has a role to play in realizing Jesus’ dream for His Church: to be a community of salt and light for the world, to be the forgiving father of the prodigal Son, to be humble and eager "foot washers".. as we serve one another. And in the process discover the beauty of witnessing how Jesus’s presence and action has not diminished, but continues to expand and grow, and challenge, and transform us and the world around us in ways we never imagined.

On Sunset Boulevard: "THE WORLD IS FULL OF JOE'S AND NORMA'S" -

For those who claim the only thing I post on here is my Sunday homilies... well, here you go... something different...

"Hey Father Jim... I didn’t know you’re a ‘theatre geek.’" Nice start to a conversation on Facebook from a "friend". I wrote back and said "Haha - well, I don’t know if I fall into that category or not... I rarely get to theatre (embarrassingly, I’ve not even made it to the shows our students are in on campus)" I can tell you how I fell asleep during "The King and I"; "Cats"; "Urinetown" and "Rent" with friends or family members over the years. Most of what’s on Broadway I don’t have the slightest of interest in (someone asked if I wanted to see "Hello Dolly" which is the hottest ticket in NY right now and I said I sincerely have zero interest in it, despite the hype). So I don’t really consider myself a huge fan of all theater. For me, I really have to care about the story and get swept up into the music to enjoy a theater outing.

The response was "Well what’s the deal with Sunset Boulevard" and then went on to talk about how Lino Rulli (the host of The Catholic Guy show on Sirius/XM, whose show I’m a part of every Thursday and Friday) had talked about how I had suggested that he and his wife go to see Sunset on the air.

Ah... Sunset Boulevard... well that’s a different thing all together.

It is true, I’ve been encouraging probably everyone I know to go see it before it closes on June 25th. Sunset Boulevard remains my all-time favorite musicals. I saw the original production in the mid 1990's more times than I’ve seen anything else on Broadway. In this revival, which opened in February for a limited run till June 25th, the score has never sounded more lavish with an orchestra of over 40 musicians right on stage (which is the largest orchestra ever on a Broadway stage in over 50 years). From the first notes of the Overture to the instrumental postlude that takes place during the final bows at the end of the show, there’s over two hours of just incredibly moving music from the legendary Andrew Lloyd Webber (who wrote the scores of Phantom of the Opera, Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita) In 20+ years, there’s rarely a week that’s gone by that I at some point don’t listen to something from Sunset Boulevard I love the music that much. At this point I’ve heard it enough that I can even hear the differences in the orchestrations (which is why I’ve been hoping they’ll make a new recording of this revival).

For those who aren’t familiar with the story - which was first a legendary film considered by many to be an all time classic:

Norma Desmond, is, according to her devoted servant butler Max "the greatest star of all" - having been one of the leading film actresses in Hollywood when movies were first being made and the films were silent (films with sound would take some time to be invented... so initially the films were silent or in some cases, a live pianist playing at the movie theaters during a screening). It’s actually true that with the advent of "talking pictures" (talkies) a great number of actors and actresses were cast aside for one reason or another... including the fictitious Norma Desmond. In this story, Joe Gillis is an unemployed writer who can’t get a job at any studio, is running out of money. He stumbles into Norma’s home, and eventually into her life in a bid to ditch the men who were trying to repossess his car. Very quickly he sees that Norma is delusional - believing that millions of eager fans are desperate for her to "return" to the screen... something that has been enabled by Max sending phony fan mail to her every day. She remains captive to her delusions - sitting home watching her old silent films, reliving her glory days - and convincing herself that her self-written script for the famous Cecil B. DeMille to direct will resurrect her career (A film which she intends to be a silent film based on the character Salome from the Bible who asks for the head of John the Baptist)

What’s fascinating to me was seeing how all of these characters are living in fantasy worlds... desperate for attention, for fame. All of these characters have been used by others and then return in kind to use others. Norma by movie studios, and even fans who idolized her and then cast that idol aside in favor of new ones... ignoring that there’s a person - as fragile and as vulnerable as any one of us there. Norma turns around and uses Joe to help breath new life into her fantasy world (and Joe in turn uses her, seeing how delusional she is and sensing an opportunity to make a quick buck off the lady). Max seems obsessed with this "idol" of Norma and sacrifices his life to keep this illusion alive.

Why is this story so compelling to me that I’ve seen this revival twice (and am itching to go to at least once more before it closes in a few weeks)? It seems such a dated tale. But towards the end of Act II, Joe sings "the world is full of Joe’s and Norma’s" and for some reason, when I saw this revival and heard that line (after the amazing performances by Glenn Close, Michael Xavier, Fred Johanson and Siobhan Dillon, who made the story much more vulnerable, human and even relatable than the original) Sunset Boulevard not only made sense but even seemed more relevant to me in this day and age we’re living in.

Because it’s not just celebrities... athletes... politicians... who with our help have the potential of becoming "Joe’s" and "Norma’s." With our Facebook-Twitter-Instagram-Snapchat obsessed world - we too find ourselves at risk. We’re being told we can "broadcast yourself" by You-tube. We share our very lives on multiple platforms hoping for "friends" "followers" "fans" to like and share what we offer. Countless studies are being offered talking about the psychological risks and damage that’s been done in our social-media obsessed culture.

Perhaps that’s why I found this revival so moving. Having worked with so many students over the last few years and seeing some who’ve really been beaten up by seemingly anonymous folks out there in the dark on their screens - I couldn’t help but feel for these characters who are both perpetrators and victims of their own demise in which in the end, Norma will lose her mind; Joe will lose his life and Max will lose his reason for being. Hopefully leaving the theatre, you not only are thankful this is a fictitious story - but mindful of the importance of recognizing the dignity, the fragility, the vulnerability that each human being has... and break that cycle of the world being filled with Joe’s and Normas.

That I could reflect on this story (with the soundtrack on in the background) - to me is what great theater is. Hope you’ll have a chance to catch this revival in it’s final weeks. (For students, if you’re interested in seeing this, I can give you links to how to get discounts - as tickets can be pretty steep)

WHAT'S YOUR LOVE LANGUAGE?

Hi everyone... here's my homily for the SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER - May 21, 2017.  The readings for today can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/052117.cfm.  As always, thanks so much for stopping by; for sharing this blog on Twitter, Facebook and Reddit - and for all your comments and feedback.  Grateful for all your support!  God Bless - Fr Jim

HOMILY:
What's your love language?

Uhm... What?

That was my reaction when a group of students asked me that question. It was one of those moments when they all knew what they were talking about but I was clueless (a moment that seems to be happening more and more these days, but I digress). I asked what magazine or what guru was peddling this "love language" mumbo jumbo - as they put a quiz before me to answer a few questions which would determine what category I fell into. The creators of this theory claim that there are 5 different categories which describe the most effective way for someone to demonstrate their love to different people based on their personalities, their temperaments, their likes/dislikes. Obviously there are aspects of each of these that appeals to everyone to different degrees. But the developers of this test claim that of the countless ways people express themselves, that when we boil them all down, they can be characterized in 5 specific groups and that one out of the 5 speak the loudest to each of us:

1 - words of affirmation - for those who fall into this group, when someone uses simple, but honest and direct words to build the other person up, that is greatly appreciated.

2 - quality time - for people who this appeals to, what is most meaningful is giving that person undivided, un distracted attention

3 - giving gifts - while this is something that most people enjoy, for some, receiving gifts is the loudest expression of love

4 - acts of service - for those who fall into this category - the simple act of taking care of an annoying chore like taking out the trash, setting the table, speaks louder than any material gift could.

And 5 - physical touch... For those who fall into this category, an embrace, a hug, a kiss are important, significant acts that speak deeply to them.

One of the things that the students enjoyed was trying to guess what category each of their friends and classmates would fall into. It was also interesting how quickly they figured mine out - saying "acts of service" and pointing out how happy I am when I come back to the Newman Center and see people have actually cleaned up or taken care of some household chores without me having to ask someone to do so.

I was surprised at what an in-depth and interesting conversation this turned into. We tend to think that expressing our love for those who are nearest and dearest to us should be an easy thing to do. Yet anyone who’s worked with married couples will tell you that’s part of the problem. People simply expecting that the other person knows how best to express themselves and their feelings to another person.

As we get to this late part of Easter - with the celebration of Jesus’ Ascension into heaven this Thursday and the end of the Easter season quickly coming in two weeks with Pentecost, today we as a Church reflect on a Gospel passage which is another flashback to Holy Thursday. This Gospel address has Jesus speaking to his apostles at the Last Supper. Before the horrific events that will take place on Good Friday... Before the amazing, awesome, life-changing events of Easter Sunday - Jesus is speaking very intimately with those closest to Him. And by our Baptisms, we’re included in that personal, intimate circle as one of Jesus’ close friends... His brothers and sisters. And what we hear him express today is His love language. Jesus explaining how we can demonstrate our Love for Him.


Jesus quite clearly tells us - If you love me, you will keep my commands... (and then again he reiterates the point) whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And in a sense, that incorporates all 5 of the love languages. Because those commandments are more than feelings, emotions, sentiments... Those commandments call for actions, choices, decisions that are far reaching... Are we ready to love Jesus in His language? Because if we are, we find:

Jesus love language is about intentionally caring for the poor, the sick, the weak and vulnerable. Finding ways materially, spiritually that we’re actively being attentive to those who are struggling.

Jesus love language is about defending and protecting the life of everyone from the womb, to the terminally ill, to the one sentenced to death. Which means going out of our comfort zones and putting ourselves into really difficult positions where we walk with someone who is dying... defending someone who’s done defenseless things but still recognizing the dignity of all life... and yes, speaking out against abortion and lending our voices to protect those who cannot speak.

Jesus love language is about offering forgiveness and working towards reconciliation with those who have hurt us. That might mean we have to start by simply recognizing a hurt, allowing ourselves to face a painful thing and just being open to the idea of getting to a place of forgiveness.

Jesus love language is about loving our enemies. Often times our impulse is to say we don’t have any - so we might have to dig deep, seeing that we have enemies - maybe not personally, but individuals, people who work against what we believe, what we work for - and trying to find loving responses to them.

Jesus love language is about feasting on His word and His Body and Blood in the Eucharist. Recognizing our spiritual hunger - and looking to Him as the only source that can truly nourish us.

Jesus love language is about you and I sharing His word and becoming His body to the rest of the world. More and more people are disconnected from Jesus... from His Church... then at any time in our histories. So you and I might be the only face of Christ that some people might ever see... It’s important.

All of this is important... All of it is more demanding, and challenging then sending flowers, patting someone on the back, setting the table, taking a walk or simply saying I love you. Jesus’ expectations are more all-consuming. Which makes sense when we see that his act of love on the cross was all consuming as well. When we begin to keep his commands... striving to do all these things... we speak Jesus’ love language - and demonstrate not just our love for Him, but for one another. It’s a powerful and impacting love language for all to show that God is here among us.

THIS IS YOUR LIFE!

Hi everyone, here's my homily for the FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER - MAY 7, 2017.  The readings for today can be found at: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/050717.cfm.  Thanks for stopping by to read this blog, for sharing it on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit - and for your comments and feedback.  I'm grateful for your support!  God Bless - Fr Jim

HOMILY:
I wonder how many people remember the television program This is your life. I can remember watching re-runs when I was growing up and was home sick from school or on a snow day...but it was a show that was from way before my time originally airing in the 1950's. For those who aren’t familiar with it, the show was something like a documentary/reality TV/ game show. A person would be brought to the TV studios under some false pretense, surprised to learn that they would be the focus of an hour-long retrospective on their lives. People from their past – many of whom they hadn’t seen or heard from in years – would be there to surprise them. That’s probably why it wouldn’t work any more. With social media, it’s hard to imagine anyone completely losing track with people from their past - which was kind of essential because part of the drama of the program was to see the honoree hearing a voice of a friend or someone influential in their lives who they hadn’t seen or heard from in decades; you watched the expressions, the excitement, the flood of memories that would overwhelm the guests of honor as they recognized those voices.

The idea for the show started when Ralph Edwards it’s creator and host, was approached by some people from the United States Army and asked if he could "do something" for soldiers who were suffering in a hospital from traumatic injuries and were dealing with major depression as a result. Edwards went and visited them and found one soldier who was particularly despondent. He was pretty much confined to a bed and had this isolation, this distance about him. That’s when Edwards thought of the idea of presenting the man’s life on air. Rather than focusing solely on where the soldier was at that point, he wanted to integrate happier times from his past. So he brought in the soldier’s former track coach, people from his childhood, military officials he knew, and so on, for the first episode of the program, which was an overwhelmingly beautiful experience for the soldier. Hearing these voices, and re-engaging with people from his past, helped him to remember who he was. Not simply a man injured in the horrors of war. Two years later to the day that this first episode aired, the soldier, now rehabilitated, came to Edward’s studio in a wheelchair accompanied by his wife who he had recently married for one of the most emotional scenes on a show that had many high emotions. As the soldier was wheeled in, Edwards said "I told him, 'Here's a year's rent, and here's your key to your new home. Come and get it.' And the young soldier who just two years earlier was imprisoned by the wreckage he viewed his life as, got up and walked to the microphone. Edwards said "It was the greatest thrill I ever had. The crowd stood up and cheered.." Edwards recognized that what was essential to helping the soldier move out of his depression and begin his rehab and start a new life was to bring back memories through the voices of those who knew him; who could remind him of a happier past, to help the young man see that there was still hope for a happier future.

Throughout this Easter season, we’ve heard Gospel narratives, where even though Jesus’ friends keep learning news of and empty tomb, angelic visitors announcing Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead - that news doesn’t seem to be enough to relieve the fear, the terror, the sadness that the first followers were experiencing from Good Friday. Which makes sense. That day for those closest to Jesus was horrific for many reasons - but not the least of which was because they had rejected, betrayed and abandoned him at Jesus’ most trying moment. Those images from Good Friday of His torturous, brutal, gruesome death had left them devastated.


Last week we heard in the Gospel how the two disciples were heading out of town towards Emmaus even though they had been told the "good news"of Jesus’ resurrection... Thomas, misses the first encounter and doesn’t believe his fellow apostles testimony... When Mary Magdalene first saw the empty tomb, she feared that there had been another insult to Jesus, someone stealing His body – and when she first sees Jesus she thinks he’s a gardener and asks him did he steal the body and where did he put it...

What is able to transform the "good news" of Jesus’ victory over death from something they’ve heard about to something they experience: Hearing the voice of Jesus... In hearing that voice - they were reminded of all that Jesus had taught them.... all that he spoke of how God had never and would never abandon his people... and how that had been definitively, eternally demonstrated in His being risen from the dead, never to die again. With that, their hope for a happier future would resurrect as well.

Which leads us to today’s Gospel. Jesus refers to himself as "the Good Shepherd" and the "gate for the sheep" which is a popular image, but needs a bit of an explanation to those of us who don’t have a lot of experience with sheep. Sheep have a connection with the shepherd unlike that of other farmers with their animals. The Shepherd knows every one of his sheep: the one with the strange looking ear; that one with the cute face; the one who’s bigger and fuller than the rest- A Shepherd knows all of them. He knows when one out of 100 of them are missing.

At night, during Jesus' time, there would be three or four shepherds who’d put all of their sheep together in a pen while one of the shepherds would watch though the night protecting them from thieves, or wild animals; and in the morning, the shepherds would call, and the flocks would split and follow their respective shepherd. They knew which voice to follow in order to find direction in life. They recognized the voice of their shepherd.

As our Good Shepherd, Jesus tells us in this Gospel that if we listen to His voice and follow Him, He will lead us to an abundant life. That we will be saved. That death will have no power over us.

But simply having knowledge of this "good news" as something that we as Catholic-Christians believe isn’t enough... In fact, we may find ourselves like the disciples on the road to Emmaus on the way out of town, unable to truly believe it; like Thomas, thinking it can’t be true; or like Mary Magdalene, unable to recognize Jesus Christ standing right in front of her. We might even belike that soldier who was paralyzed literally and figuratively in the hospital thinking that his future was a limited one of despair and pain.

What will lift us out of those thoughts of despair is by hearing Jesus voice and remembering who we are.

Pope Francis gave three ways we can be sure we’re listening to the voice of Jesus. He said First "you will find the voice of Jesus in the Beatitudes. Second: you... know it when that voice speaks of the works of mercy. For example, in chapter 25 of St. Matthew: if someone tells you what Jesus says there, that is the voice of Jesus. Third: you may know it is the voice of Jesus when it teaches you to say ‘Father’, that is, when it teaches you to pray the Our Father."

It is good for us as Jesus’ beloved sheep to be here. We too need to hear the voice of the shepherd to remember who we are and who we belong to. Listening to the voice of the Shepherd, we hear him reminding us of God’s promises, how He has fulfilled those promises and has never, and will never abandon His People. Listening to the voice of the Shepherd, we hear Him inviting us to follow Him, even as we walk through our own dark nights with things that terrorize us. Listening to the voice of the Shepherd, we too can have our hopes for a happier future restored. If we are able to listen and hear that voice, follow that voice, then we can be confident that despite the unpleasant chapters we have to endure, the ending to our own hypothetical episode of this is your life has a real promise of an eternal, abundant conclusion.