BLESSED ARE THEY...? SERIOUSLY???

Hi everyone, here’s my homily for January 29, 2017 - Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time. The readings for today can be found at: 

As always, thanks for reading, sharing this blog on Facebook, twitter and reddit; and for your feedback and comments. Have a great week! God Bless - Fr. Jim


HOMILY:

Some years ago, as chaplain of the West Orange Fire Department, a couple of guys on the department called one day to tell me that there was a fireman from New York who was going to be at Kessler Rehabilitation Center and asked me to go up to meet him.

Little did I know who it was. His name is Eugene Stolowski. And he was one of the men who were responding to a fire in Jan 2005 which became infamously known as Black Sunday and had been in the local news a great deal. They were in a burning Bronx building, became trapped, had no safety ropes to lower them down 50 feet to the cold, icy ground below and were forced to decide whether to stay in the inferno or make an attempt to jump out the windows of the building. Realizing their best shot at survival was to jump, that’s what they did. Tragically, two of the men would die from the fall, and the other three would have very serious injuries. But none of them as bad as Gene.

Gene, fell that 50 feet at 40 MPH - His skull had become detached form his spine. The doctors told his wife, who had a 2 year old at home and was pregnant with twins there was only a 5 percent chance of survival.

Gene would endure 12 surgeries, 20 doctors, removal of his gall bladder, would be on a ventilator for weeks, and then stay at a rehabilitation center, which was pretty far from his wife, and his babies (who were born premature 3 months early while he was recovering) for over 6 months.

One of the many remarkable things about Gene though was that he had this positive attitude. Honestly, I wondered many days when I left was I ministering to him or was he ministering to me? Because whenever we would talk and sometimes get into the "tough questions" like "how are you doing, really?" "Are you angry with God" and all the things that you might think he had every right to feel - well, he always remained so positive.

I remember him kind of getting choked up telling me one day how he knew he was lucky to be alive, lucky to be with these incredible doctors, lucky to have so many people around him who cared and loved him, lucky to have his family... The more I think back on all my meetings with Gene, I realize that He wasn’t Lucky -He was blessed...

Today’s Gospel is probably one of those Gospel passages that is instantly recognizable - as soon as we heard the first line "Blessed are the poor in spirit" - there’s like a bell that goes off in our heads like we’re on a game show and we want to shout out"What are ‘The Beatitudes’," (I’ll take Bible passages for $400 Alex). We know and we’ve heard the Beatitudes so many times, there’s almost instant recognition.

But if we really paid attention to that litany that Jesus says, it might surprise us. Think about it: The poor in spirit are blessed? Those who are mourning are blessed? The Meek, the hungry, the persecuted they are blessed? All of the people in those situations probably don’t exactly feel blessed.

Then you have - the peacemakers, the clean of heart, the merciful; people who basically have to work so hard against the systems around them, against the temptations and sinfulness of the world we live in - all of them are called Blessed too? Again, they probably don’t feel that way.

And you have to wonder if all of the people who climbed this mountain to hear Jesus say these words thousands of years ago if they were, oh I don’t know maybe a bit underwhelmed.

This is the Messiah? This is the Son of God? It’s kind of like - we’re sick of going through all of these things- we were kind of hoping that now that you were on the scene the meek, hungry and persecuted wouldn’t be going through that stuff anymore.

But what Jesus’ is trying to tell all of us is that He knows that we’re all going to go through misfortunes, and terrible struggles, and awful things are going to happen in our lives. Maybe it will be a financial disaster - someone loses their job, loses their home; Who hasn’t had someone they loved who has died? Who hasn’t witnessed and suffered along with someone who was seriously ill?

To say that we’re "blessed" though, isn’t burying our head in the sand or some cruel spin on a terrible situation. Jesus isn’t saying "how lucky" you are... but instead - Yes,

Blessed are you when even in the midst of all that is going on in your life, all the trials and tribulations you suffer and endure Blessed are you when you realize God hasn’t abandoned you.

Blessed are you when you realize this isn’t some divine punishment for some mistake, some sin, some thing weighing you down from the past

Blessed are you when you see my presence in the midst of it all.
That’s why someone like Gene could remain so positive. He knew that what happened was a tragic thing. He knew that there were people responsible for his misfortune - and If he had the time machine to go back and could change something from that horrible event, there’s no doubt that he would.

But instead of focusing on all of that - which would lead to bitterness, and depression - What Jesus offered to Gene and is offering for each of us is a radical new way to look at the world and the trials we face. Jesus is revealing to us that we have a God so intimately connected to us, so present and aware to all of the ups and downs of our lives, we have a God who is a Father to us and that in turning to Him through all we face, all of those things we endure do not have power over us unless we give into them.

We find that if we can resist that temptation then Jesus’ last words of His sermon aren’t a command, but rather a statement of Hope that we share – that one day, we will Rejoice and be glad!

GARDENING - WHO'S GOT TIME FOR THAT?

Here's my homily for our "CIA- CATHOLIC INTERCOLLEGIATE ADORATION" a monthly gathering of the campus ministries from the Archdiocese of Newark for Mass and Adoration.  This month, we're hosting it here at the Newman Center at MSU - on the day of the MARCH FOR LIFE.  The readings for today can be found at: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/012717.cfm

Thanks for reading, sharing and your feedback! Fr Jim

HOMILY:

Not too long ago, there was an attempt by a group of Christians to kind of update the New Testament - using modern day language or more contemporary images in a somewhat understandable even noble pursuit to try to make the scriptures more relatable to modern day audiences and contemporary readers.  There’s multitudes of reasons why this well intentioned pursuit was (and remains) doomed to fail.  But I can’t help but appreciate the reasons why these authors, writers and preachers tried in the first place.

For example, reading tonight’s Gospel, my initial reaction was “great - seeds - farming again...”  For most of us here in New Jersey -  I doubt the imagery really speak to us, to our experiences.  For most of us if we have any experience with “gardening” it’s that we have a few plants around our homes.   I would suspect a great majority do what I do: go to Home Depot, purchase already growing plants, follow the nice little 3 or 4 step guide on the side “DIG HOLE, DROP PLANT IN HOLE, PUT DIRT AROUND, WATER...”  And somehow boast at how beautifully our house or garden looks... proudly share tomatoes “from MY Garden”.

We’re far too busy, far too impatient to actually do the frustratingly long, involved, slow process of trying of growing something from seeds.  And perhaps that’s one of the reasons that Gospel passages like today kind of fall on deaf ears or we zone out thinking about something else.  And so the temptation to try to come up with something relatable comes to mind  “the Kingdom of God is like snap-chat... “ (No... No it’s not... #NeverSnapChat)  That demonstrates us trying to make Jesus fit into our world our lives - rather than the other way around.  Letting our lives be shaped by Jesus; transforming the world into the Kingdom of God. And the more you think about how messed up our world is, how distracting our lives can be – why would we even want to do that in the first place?

Thinking about this Gospel again, and coming from an Italian family, I started to think about how  my great grandmother and my grandparents and their siblings (who lived in Nutley and Lodi when I was growing up) used to have huge gardens - zucchini, tomato, basil, grapes (yes, homemade wine) - as well as flowers.

To this day, I can remember in the fall having to plant bulbs out in the backyard and covering them with branches and stuff so grandma’s tulips would come up in the Spring.     Or even better, I can remember some of my older relatives teaching me how to take a dead marigold flower, break open the flower and get the seeds from it, put it out in the sun for a day to dry the seeds out, and then planting them....  As a little kid, I remember planting them and two days later going back to look to see if anything came up.

There was a sense of pride and excitement about that...  And it’s sad for me to realize that I doubt I would have the patience to do that today.  Just thinking about it, truth be told, I don’t have to doubt that I would have the patience... I know I don’t have the patience...   And I know if I did push myself to do this, I’d probably be frustrated driving past Home Depot and seeing how much nicer, fuller, and so much easier it would be to simply pick up one of their pre-planting plants and drop it into the ground (or even better, pay the landscaper to do it, and run to the supermarket on those rare days I want to have fruit or vegetables.  Heck, you can go to the store and even buy fruit and vegetables cleaned, cut up and ready to eat)

The thing that strikes me with all of this is that it’s not about plants or seeds or gardens.  Because don’t we in the sense think the same thing about our faith lives?  About our relationship with Jesus.  All of us being here together on a Friday night for Mass and Adoration - it’s a beautiful thing.  But isn’t there at least some part of ourselves that kind of looks at it like going to the gas station, expecting to fill up on Jesus, get some grace and then just kind of pull out of here and hope that somehow that protects us, keeps us going as we simply go about our “real” lives?  Rather than truly letting Christ take root in our lives, letting that change us as we go about changing that “real” world?

What Jesus is telling us in these images these parables is that being faithful people is hard work.  It requires patience, perseverance.  It’s not neatly packed or easily maintained.  And it’s a daunting task.

Our personal faith lives, for most of us, began before we even knew how to talk, walk, sit up.  Our families made the decision to share the seed of Christ and we’re told it was up to them to keep that growing within us, till we were ready to take over...  We probably are tempted to think that some did it better than others, but you know what, that’s unhelpful.  We’re here.  We’re here now.  So the different gardeners that helped along the way simply deserve our thanks, our love - and our prayers of appreciation.  And now we’ve been charged to continue that hard work of lovingly caring for that faith life.  To notice the weeds and extricate them (i.e Confession) - to make sure we’re nurturing that faith life through prayer - and through continuing to grow - by how we let this faith life of ours continue to spread to others.

Not to simply go out and expect that I’m going to bring a friend to Mass this Sunday and they’re going to want to be Christian.  That’s the Home Depot-garden approach to Christianity.  The harder, more challenging task of continuing to nurture my own faith life and at the same time, to be loving to others.... to be a witness to others... to be an example, even in my failures, of someone who is simply here by God’s grace and sustained by it as well.  That takes time, that takes effort.  It takes persistence and perseverance.

And in our day and age, it takes courage.  Looking at the hundreds of thousands of people who descended on Washington DC today in the March for Life to witness to the sacredness of life - when others wish to ignore that as simply a “hot button issue” that is too divisive to discuss... Who have marched for decades as others try to ignore them, minimize them and hope to outshout them... Who day in and day out try to create a culture for life with homes for crisis pregnancies, adoption agencies, health care services when others advocate and fund abortion mills under the most deceptive of names, corrupting the word Parenthood with something that is far from it...

It’s hard to be pro life.
It’s hard to be Christian.  It is much easier to be discouraged and give up.  But when we look at the examples of faithful people... we see how they haven’t given up  we see their efforts and are inspired by their stories.  We see how Jesus works with and through the persistence and perseverance of his faithful people in trying to eradicate a moral evil that has plagued our nation for as long as I’ve been alive.

As Catholic Christians, we know that is just one example, one evil that plagues us.  There’s countless others that we can all think of... Personally... locally... globally.  There are threats as there has been since the day Adam and Eve first listened to Satan’s voice instead of the voice of God their loving Creator.  And humanity continues to fall for the same temptation, continues to struggle.  The Good News is that Jesus has saved us and redeemed us.  He calls us to be his faithful gardeners in His Kingdom.  May you and I not grow weary, discouraged, disillusioned in that long, hard, challenging but life-giving, both now and for all eternity, work that Jesus has entrusted us with...

2016 A ROUGH YEAR FOR CELEBRITIES?

Hi everyone! Here’s my homily for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time - January 22, 2017. The readings for today can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/012217.cfm. Thanks as always for reading, sharing it on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit and your feedback and comments. Grateful for your interest and support! Fr Jim



HOMILY:

As 2016 was coming to a close, there was a great number of people who seemed to believe that there had been a greater than normal number of celebrity’s who passed away during the year. The UK newspaper "The Telegraph" did a whole article on the topic asking on behalf of many, "was 2016 cursed" for celebrities. They went through a whole slew of theories explaining why it seemed that way: Maybe the bar for celebrity has been dropped so low that there were more people considered celebs than before; perhaps with social media it has just amplified these losses when they occur more loudly; or 
maybe celebrities were simply cursed this past year 

One of the reasons I think people felt that 2016 was a bad year for celebrities was there were so many shocking and dramatic losses - from Carrie Fischer dying and then her mother Debbie Reynolds passing away the next day; we had musical icons Prince dying at the age of 57 back in April to 53 year old George Michael dying right on Christmas Day.

While there was a lot of contributing factors and medical reasons for many of these individuals deaths - what surprised me with so much of the coverage was how matter-of-factly there would be reports or interviews how this person had struggled with "demons" - in some cases how drug and alcohol abuse was known... In a celebrity obsessed culture, we’re kind of numbed to these sad stories and the tabloids and tabloid TV show seems to feed off these tragic deaths of celebrities.  In the last few weeks, they started going over George Michael’s toxicology reports and details of his personal life were made public and picked apart and hearing stories how friends had "warned him;" how co-workeres had been "concerned about him" and now there’s been speculation that he died of some drug overdose rather than a heart attack as had initially been reported.

This isn’t about bashing the media - or celebrities. It’s about people who walk in darkness. Because what makes some of these celebrity deaths even sadder is the lack of shock from so many people who knew them. People knew something was wrong. People could tell they were on a bad path. People saw they were walking in darkness.


Do we care? We should. And I’m not saying to go run to your favorite celebrities home tonight and hold an intervention for them. Probably not a good idea with those armed guards and all. But who do we know that is walking in darkness? Don’t we know friends, roommates, classmates, family members who are on paths of destruction? Who isn’t acting right? Who is it that is making some awful choices and stupid decisions that will have a lasting impact on the rest of their lives, that we don’t say anything about because we’re being "polite." Telling ourselves, well it’s their decision, it’s their choice, who am I to say and all the other excuses we have?

There are some people that God has placed into our lives right now - they are people that you and I are thinking of right now that are waiting for something- that need Jesus - that need His Light -.. And we pray for them, and we wonder what’s going to happen and we hope things will work out for them - and.   .   . that’s not enough.

In the Gospel today, Jesus enters Galilee - and St. Matthew quotes the first reading from Isaiah tonight with all those funky town names to show it was Galilee where Jesus starts his Mission. Jesus goes to this land that had been overwhelmed by darkness. This region had been raped, pillaged and plundered by these people the Assyrians, and Isaiah says to them in the first reading- you - people who walked in darkness- have seen a great light - upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom - a light has shone...

And Matthew quotes that passage to point out to them that Isaiah was talking about JESUS.

Jesus is that light that calls people out of darkness. We nod our heads and say, "Yes, Jesus is the Light of the World" we’ve heard this before -

Jesus is calling people out of Darkness we’ve heard that before too and

Jesus is the way out of the darkness -yep, all of this was covered in CCD or Catholic School...

BUT How?
Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel: "Come after me and I will make YOU fishers of men."

That’s not just a story about 4 fishermen over 2,000 years ago. Jesus is saying to you and to me - to each of us "Come after me and I will make YOU fishers of men"

Because

- it’s not enough for us just to recognize Jesus as the Light

- It’s not enough for us to receive that Light as we hear his word and receive his body and blood - Jesus gives us the Light and wants us to bring it to those who’ve yet to experience it - those who are in darkness.

When we look at what happened with the guys in the Gospel: Jesus comes on the scene, Peter and Andrew leave their nets (leave their livelihood) and follow him... James and John they’re father’s probably sitting in the boat thinking - Uh, Guys, where you going? The point is - in this encounter they had with Jesus; in the invitation he gives to them – they were able to recognize that there was something special in this --  in Him -- that would change their lives forever. And so they spend the rest of their lives living and spreading the Light of Jesus.

Do we? Do we really believe that? Because if we do then we have to do two things - 1 - we have to actually Live like people of the Light. That means when we’re hit with darkness in our own lives - whether it’s something bad I’ve done that is hanging over me - or - some circumstance I’m struggling with or even something that someone else has done to me and I’m holding onto the hurt, the anger and the resentment...  for those of us already here - we’ve gotta do something about this darkness in our own lives. Maybe I’ve got to get to confession - Maybe I need to deal with the pain or fear that I’m struggling with – Maybe I’ve got to pray for a way to forgive that person that hurt me... Maybe all of the above. For us who’ve already experienced the light of Christ; when that light seems diminished, it’s up to us to start to turn away from the darkness in my own life, or ask for help in doing that - to experience the healing, the peace and the Love that comes from turning towards the light.

The second thing is - I have to spread that Light of Jesus. I can’t wait for someone else to do it. There were probably people we passed on our way here tonight that we could have invited to be with us - not all of them would have come, but someone would have - someone was waiting for an invitation. Someone is still waiting for our invitation. There are probably people we’re going to be around later tonight who are just going to ask "what’d you do tonight?" are we going to answer "nothing" because we’re embarrassed to tell them that coming to Mass is important to us or are we going to say I came to Mass - and maybe that will open their hearts and minds to the Light. We don’t have to be overly dramatic and creepy about it getting into people’s faces and awkwardly and uncomfortably talking about Jesus. Rather, As we reveal ourselves and extend ourselves to others in simple, gentle, loving - but authentic ways - we can simply offer Christ’s friendship through our friendship... offer Christ’s care and concern through our care and concern... offer Christ’s Love through our Love.

So many different celebrity’s death story’s are sadder because it seems no one was able to truly show him the Light while they knew they were wallowing and being swallowed up in darkness. We don’t know how God wants to use us to spread his Light, and that’s not even something what we need to focus on or worry about. Jesus doesn’t say "Try to figure it all out on your own how to make my name known," he says "Follow Me, I will make you fishers of men." He’ll figure out how best to utilize our willingness to follow Him and serve Him - if we are willing too let Him.

FINDING JESUS IN COMMON, INAPPROPRIATE, UNEXPECTED PLACES

MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE! Here’s my homily for the close of the Christmas Season - the SOLEMNITY OF THE EPIPHANY - January 8, 2017. The readings can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/010817.cfm. Thanks as always for stopping by to read this blog, for all your shares on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit - and for your feeback and comments. Have a great week - God Bless - Fr Jim



HOMILY:

A few years ago on a Friday morning, a young man entered the Metro station in the heart of Washington, DC shortly before 8am. Casually dressed and carrying a violin case, he stopped took out his violin, threw a dollar into his opened case, and started playing classical music. He began with six very difficult, yet beautiful, pieces by the classical composer J.S. Bach. On a normal weekday, approximately 2000 people pass through that station between 8-9am, most on their way to work. It took three minutes before anyone even noticed him. A middle-aged man stopped briefly and hurried on. 4 minutes after that a woman threw a dollar into the carrying case, but didn’t stop. Ten minutes after that a three year old boy tried to stop and listen but was dragged away by his mother.

After 45 minutes of playing, a total of six people had stopped and listened but only for a brief time. The young musician collected a total of $32. After he had been playing continuously for over an hour, in which easily over 1000 people had passed by, he stopped playing. No one noticed, applauded or gave any form of recognition or appreciation.

This mysterious street musician actually turned out to be a world renown concert violinist named Joshua Bell and the Bach pieces he played are some of the most intricate pieces of music ever written. He played his Metro "concert" on a Stradivarius violin which is worth $3.5 million dollars. Amazingly, three days prior, he had played a sold out concert at Boston’s Symphony Hall where the average ticket price was $100 to easily over 2,500 people...

Bell’s gig as a street musician was part of a social experiment about concept, perception and priorities conducted and videotaped by The Washington Post. They wanted to know: In a common place environment at an inappropriate time - do we perceive beauty?; Do we stop to appreciate it? Can we recognize talent in an unexpected context?

Today we celebrate one the last feasts of the Christmas season. It’s ironic that most of the world has already moved on and "dropped" Christmas. Yet, today’s feast is an essential part of this season- the Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord. The word epiphany in Greek means appearance or manifestation and refers to the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles, represented by the wise-men we just heard about in the Gospel. Guided by the appearance of a star, these Magi traveled a great distance in search of the newborn baby who was foretold to be the King of the Jews. And as we just heard, they find the baby Jesus in a common stable, at an unexpected time and in an unexpected context. It is there that they find the King of the Jews - the Word of God made flesh, – God, the very source of all that is Good, True and Beautiful, was made manifest.

And yet, very few took notice of it, let alone appreciated it. Not just in his birth and infancy, but throughout Jesus’ life. The Gospels show throughout Jesus’ ministry and teaching, even in the face of spectacular miracles how the Scribes and Pharisees along with a vast majority of people of that time and era would miss this, miss Him. In the Christmas commemorations we know that there were some who "got it": certainly Mary and Joseph did; the shepherds got it, as did these Wisemen. Even Herod got it to a certain extent, sadly not with appreciation but rather with fear and jealousy. But for the many, this "Glory of the Lord" that was shining was missed.

Which is surprising. Because we heard in that first reading how Isaiah had predicted this dawn of light a few hundred years earlier. So people should have been looking for it, expecting it, anticipating it... But for the most part, people were most likely distracted by their own concerns and the usual tasks of everyday life to take notice of the true beauty that was radiating right there in their midst. Kind of like thousands of people missing a world renowned musician playing beautiful music as they race to catch a subway train on a typical Friday morning.

In our celebration of the Epiphany today we are reminded of the need to continue to seek Christ. To not take it for granted that our being here means we’ve "found him." Because too often we can fall into that mind set and limit Jesus’ presence and activity to something we just do here on a Sunday (or Saturday Night). Yes, He reveals himself here in a somewhat common and what many in the world would find inappropriate way: bread and wine becoming Jesus’ Body and Blood and offered for us commoners to consume doesn’t exactly match up to what people would expect as the place to encounter God. Yet our faith has made this miracle somewhat commonplace to Catholics. Sadly to the point that, sometimes, we don’t even fully appreciate the radiance of this beauty that we receive on a regular basis.

But beyond these walls, beyond this Eucharist – How often do we recognize how Jesus continues to make Himself manifest in our daily lives? In our world that’s strangely become closer in terms of communication, we as a society seem to be becoming more isolated. Judging and lumping people into categories that allows us to remain indifferent to one another. Yet what if we stopped and thought for a moment that all the people we encounter, all of the different relationships, situations and experiences we have as ways that Jesus is revealing his presence to us? Calling us out of ourselves, to stretch ourselves... So yes, that annoying co-worker perhaps is an opportunity for us to be charitable and patient (recognizing how Jesus is incredibly charitable and patient with us). That sick person who "yeah I’ve been meaning to reach out to," is that face of the suffering Christ who longs for our compassion. Jesus manifests Himself in the people and circumstances of our everyday life, yet, so often we fail to see Him in those ordinary and sometimes unexpected contexts.

Epiphany calls us to "set out" to encounter Jesus Christ but perhaps in a way that moves us out of the walls we’ve confined God to. In that, the Magi who we celebrate with this feast can help be our guide. Pope Francis explained how on Friday in his Epiphany Homily:

The Magi’s hearts were open to the horizon and they could see what the heavens were showing them, for they were guided by an inner restlessness. They were open to something new.

That’s one of the final gifts of the Christmas season - to realize that the celebration of the coming of Jesus Christ - Emmanuel - God With Us - is meant to open us to experience something new. To speak to that restlessness that we can experience in our own lives, in our own time. But we have to be honest and open about that in order for anything meaningful to change, for us to have a meaningful encounter with God.

Thinking back to that experiment of experiencing Joshua Bell’s beautiful music in a common an inappropriate context - in that train station during morning rush hour - I can pretty much guarantee I would have walked past him as he performed his beautiful music (at 8 in the morning, most likely I would be searching a Dunkin Donuts for coffee than anything else). And like the thousands of others who passed by, it would have been a true loss not to take in such a gift. I’d allow the noise and busyness of life to distract me from something that could speak to deeper needs and desires that need attention.

God wants to speak to our inner restlessness. He wants to reward our desire to find Him as He did the Magi. May we set out as we leave this place with hearts and minds attuned to how Emmanuel: God-with-us

– continues to manifest himself

- radiates His glory

- offers us opportunities of encounter that we might not be expecting in common, inapproptiate, unexpected ways.

May we not be too busy to notice them.