Saturday, September 25, 2010

It’s a Miracle (2010 Sept 26)

This is my homily for Sunday 26 September 2010, 26th Sunday for the on-campus Sunday Mass (7:30 p.m.) of Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU) Teaneck, NJ. Mass is every Sunday during Fall 2010 + Spring 2011 semesters. I am the Catholic campus minister for this campus and for the FDU Newman Catholic Association.

Readings: Amos 6:1a, 4-7 | Psalm 146 | 1 Timothy 6:11-16 | Luke 16:19-31

[__01] The 2010 NFL Football Championship, the Super Bowl. It was a miracle, the victory of the less favored New Orleans Saints over their heavily favored opponent, the Indianapolis Colts. The Saints were representing New Orleans, a city, still facing the misfortune and obstacle of rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina. A victory would increase confidence. Apparently, saints can still pull off miracles. It was a tremendous game, and a boost of confidence.

[__02] An important question for us, however, is – about the connection between miracles and confidence …between miracles and faith.

[__03] Are they connected? The Saints of New Orleans might say so … but, the Saints of New Orleans had to be very well practiced to pull off victory…
And, in the Gospel today, Jesus cautions us about miracles may have – or not have.

What does the rich man ask for, as he suffers in the afterlife, for a miracle, for
divine intervention?

It seems he is asking for this by this statement -- “If someone were to go to my brothers [and sisters] and warn them, they will repent.”

Then, he is told divine intervention is not enough. Then Abraham [replies and ] said, “If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.”

Then, what is the rich man being told?

“Wondrous events, even resurrection from the dead, do not automatically produce salvation.” (Jerome Biblical Commentary, 44:122)

In other words, miracles may not necessarily increase faith. Surely there are some for whom this is so. There were some among the ancient nation of Israel, the Hebrew people who had been rescued from Egypt and who did not not harden their hearts. There were some, among Jesus’ own disciples who believed the miracles. But, for the most part, the Lord will complain about the lack of faith among those
who see the miracles.

Even Moses was found to be stubborn even at the actual site of a miracle. This was at Meribah has as God was -- miraculously – making water come out of the rock.
The Lord asks Moses, " How long will this people provoke Me? and how long will it be ere they believe Me, for all the signs which I have showed among them?" Numbers xiv. 11.

[__04] We might conclude that the Hebrew people – and the rich man in the parable who steps over poor Lazarus – are extraordinarily selfish and greedy.
Is it because of their selfishness that the miracles made no impression upon them? In a sermon on miracles and faith, Cardinal John Henry Newman says otherwise. He is suggesting that we do not need the spectacle of miracles but something much simpler…that is we need the miracle of love and mercy.

As Newman says -- “But, you will say, a miracle would startle you; true: but would not the startling pass away? could you be {82} startled for ever? And what sort of a religion is that which consists in a state of fright and disturbance? Are you not continually startled by the accidents of life? You see, you hear things suddenly, which bring before your minds the thoughts of God and judgment; calamities befall you which for the time sober you. Startling is not conversion, any more than knowledge is practice.”

What we are reminded of here is that miracles can help to focus our attention. However, they are only the starting point to our relationship with the Lord. However, they are not the endgame.

Is it also not true that – at times --- we not have received the precise miracle for which we hoped, the miracle of healing for a loved one? As a result, we may feel defeated, even angry.. But, even under these circumstances, are truly without faith? Only a believer could express anger to God?

[__05_] Is it not inspiring – miraculous -- to see the person in grief and distress who continues to pray. The stubborn rich man of the parable could learn from such an example. Unfortunately, he is too busy making victorious leaps over
Lazarus on his way to the end zone.

Loving as Jesus wants takes not just a miracle, it takes practice… as we may recall…

This too is a miracle, in things large and small.

[__06_] Super Bowl 44. With New Orleans behind on the scoreboard – to the Indianapolis Colts -- by 4 points and kicking off to the Colts to open the second half, the New Orleans coach Sean Payton called for an onside kick.

The onside kick is a rarely used in professional football …and if so, is only used at the very end of a game by a team who absolutely needs to retain possession.

But, Coach Sean Payton used this play under different circumstances …not in weakness and desperation … but in a show of strength. Coach Sean Payton of New Orleans calls the play “ambush” and that was what it was. The Colts players admitted after the game that they did not see it coming. Was it a miracle ..or just the confidence of a team that had practiced …was really prepared ..not nevertheless concerned?

Thomas Morstead, the New Orleans kicker on the play, said: “I wasn’t worried. I was terrified.”

If the kick had failed, New Orleans would have surrendered the ball to Indianapolis who would have had a short field to start the second half. But as the New York Times reported, New Orleans is a team that travels with nuns and priests in the owner’s entourage, and after years of horrible football and terrible tragedy in New Orleans, the city’s prayers were answered at long last.

[__07_] Miracles – whether it is an onside kick – or a victory – can increase confidence.

Miracles are still possible. However, they also invite us to do more than sit back and watch. The miracle of God’s love and forgiveness also calls us to practice. There are many opportunities out on the field…or maybe in your neighborhood… in a person who sits right next to you ..or who is on your team or in your class ..or on your doorstep. Those opportunities are out there. Check your local listings.


Note: Super Bowl 44 Info/Reporting by Judy Battista, “Champs? The Saints, Dat’s Who”, The New York Times, February 7, 2010.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Book Covers (2010-09-19)

This is my homily for Sunday 19 September 2010, 25th Sunday for the on-campus Sunday Mass (7:30 p.m.) of Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU) Teaneck, NJ. Mass is every Sunday during Fall 2010 + Spring 2011 semesters. I am the Catholic campus minister for this campus and for the FDU Newman Catholic Association.

Readings: Amos 8:4-7 | Psalm 113 | 1 Timothy 2:1-8 | Luke 16:1-13

[__01] Can you judge a book by its cover? Can you judge a book by its cover or by what is inside?

We believe that the inside is what counts, in a book or a person.

In the Gospel, a servant, a steward appears – on the surface – to be doing his job. He is collecting money on behalf of the master, his boss. And, on the surface, he appears to be upright and honest.

This does not mean he is really upright and honest.

In fact, he has been behaving dishonestly and his behavior is noticed. He is caught. The Good News, however, is not that the “criminal” receives mercy, gets an acquittal.

The Good News is the mercy which he receives. The Good News is his willingness to turn his life around. This is the Good News for us that we can turn back to God in repentance and in confession.

And, the Good News is that we are not judged by what is on the cover. We are judge based not onl success or wealth or education. None of these things are bad. However, these do not reflect what exists in our hearts.

[__02] The steward - the servant in this parable -- is called in to the office. And his boss says to him from behind the desk:

“What is this I hear about you …?” (cf. Luke 16:1).

This is similar to the student being called into the office of the principal who says, “what’s going on in class? What is this your teacher is telling me?”

The servant has been caught stealing, caught with his hand, as we say, in the cookie jar. No more cookies for him. And, this is not circumstantial – or external – evidence on the cover. This is the internal reality also.

Surely he faces punishment.

[__03] However, there is a different type of justice, a justice and mercy given to the one who repents who is striving to change his behavior.
Jesus does not condemn the sinner in the Gospel but rather the one who covers up.

Remember what Jesus says about the scribes and the Pharisees, saying that they preach but do not practice:

“They preach but they do not practice .. ‘woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You lock the kingdom of heaven before human beings. You do not enter yourselves nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter.’” (Matthew 23:3, 13)

The steward of this parable is praised for making the effort to change. He is no hypocrite; he was simply someone who was caught stealing and is now trying to change.
The master does not get even with his servant.

[__04_] This Sunday (September 19), our Catholic Church, in Birmingham, England, Cardinal John Henry Newman is beatified and recognized as “Blessed John Henry Newman” at a Papal Mass in Birmingham, England.

This beatification is the final step before Cardinal Newman would be canonized a saint.

And, John Henry Newman is known as one who examines things beyond the cover, beneath the surface, beyond the appearance ---- in both his academic research and spiritual ministry.

He took a degree from Oxford and went on to teach at Oriel College, Oxford.
Newman also touches on what we can and cannot gain from academic learning.

For example, it is our calling to go to school, and come to church, for that matter. so that we will be changed from the inside out. We are not here – at school or church – to have a more attractive appearance or cover.

However, sometimes, we are tempted to go for the cover, for what is glossy and beautiful.

We also may be tempted to enter certain relationships, entertain certain friendships for what they seem to offer us externally.

That is, I want to be friends with you because you are good looking, because you are amusing, because you are popular. Of course, I would not say these things out loud.

However, I might act this way.

I also might avoid a friendships with someone who invites me to change, who challenges me, who makes me uncomfortable or who is unpopular with others.

Would I judge a book by his cover? By her cover? Maybe.

And, we might do the same in attitude toward education and learning.

Newman writes:

“The danger of an elegant and polite education is that it separates feeling and acting. It teaches us to think, speak and be affected aright [i.e., to feel aright.]”

In other words, our education teaches us to have opinions, to vote on Election Day, to read the newspaper with a critical eye, and to ask questions.

However, does this learning/education change us on the inside, change our actions?

[__05_] The steward of the parable is in for a rude awakening – an education – in the boss’s office, in the principal’s office.

It would appear to be Bad News for him. Game Over. However, this is Good News.
The Good News is that he is willing to give up his profit making -- and -- use his intelligence to give back what he had gained.

Jesus uses exaggeration and hyperbole here also.

The steward surrenders not only his own profit but also bestows what does not belong to him. This may seem unnecessary, even dishonest. Perhaps, he is prolonging the original scandal. What we learn here is that Jesus’s own law and order are not our own. This is a new law & order series.

This new system is described to Samuel the prophet who is seeking the new king of Israel among the sons of Jesse. After interviewing seven sons of Jesse, Samuel is surprised that the Lord does not want any of them. Then, Samuel learns there is one more son, the youngest, the smallest, the nearly forgotten. This is David who is out tending the sheep.

The Lord directs Samuel to avoid judging by the cover, by the appearance and to select David … not despite his weakenss but for a strength no one else sees. This is the Good News that we are not judged by "appearance" or "countenance" or "lofty stature"

Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the LORD looks into the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7) [___end___]

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Probability of a Recall (2010-09-12)

This is my homily for Sunday 12 September 2010, 23rd Sunday for the on-campus Sudnay Mass (7:30 p.m.) of Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU) Teaneck, NJ. Mass is every Sunday during Fall 2010 + Spring 2011 semesters.I am the Catholic campus minister for this campus and for the FDU Newman Catholic Association. Please see my profile below.

Readings: Exodus 32:7-111, 13-14 | Psalm 51 | 1 Timothy 1:12-17 | Luke 15:1-32

[_01_] The Good News of the Gospel today is the discovery of the missing, the finding of the lost.

Such discover and finding is a process; and, -- involves -- a method of searching.

• The shepherd and his 1 sheep out of 100 (one percent, 1%).

• The woman and her 1 coin out of 10 (ten percent, 10%)

• The father and his 1 son who is physically lost out of 2 (fifty percent, 50%).

[_02_] How do are lost objects discovered or found?

The method you and I follow and the method which the Father-Son-Holy Spirit follow are different. Two different methods.

Here is what you and I rely on:

• “Recall from the past” (memory)
• “Probability for the future” (percentages, odds)

[_03_] First, recall from the past.

Where was I? Losing my keys recently, I tried to “recall” all my steps, places where I had been, the shelves, the counters I might have passed, the pockets in which the keys are hiding from me -- defiantly. That’s memory or recall of the past.

[_04__] Secondly, “Probability for the future.”

I ask myself these questions?

• What is the percentage chance that I will find this object?
• Also – what is the probability that the object will have value after I find it? It could be: faded, disfigured, incomplete.

It takes energy and persistence to overcome the percentage odds. That is, it takes energy for me to search even when the odds of finding something of value may be low.

The Good News is that the Lord is energetic and persistent in waiting for you and me.

This is the parable of the Good Shepherd going after the 1%, the woman seeking the 10%. These parables remind us that God’s love goes beyond recall from the past and probability for the future.

[_05__] This can be true in our own experience of God’s love forgiveness.

For example, we can turn back to the Lord in repentance, in confession as many times as we wish. Confessing our sins, you and I may recall (very clearly) our own weakness, brokenness.

The prodigal son also recounts the history of betrayal to his father, saying, “I no longer deserve to be called your son.”

However, it is the Lord’s way, Christ’s way in confession to welcome us without such a memory. And, in confession, no one brings up your profile.

The father of the Prodigal Son does not retain such a memory of offenses. Nor does he rate his son statistically, even when the probability of his son’s return seems low.

[_06__] This searching, this waiting is not easy. There is no easy formula of past-memory and future-probability to tell us what’s next in life.

To tell us what is next if we are waiting –

• For healing of an illness
• For a relationship to improve
• For an answer to a question.

But we remember the Lord is patient and asks us to imitate him.

[_07__] On 9/11/2001, we witnessed hundreds of police, fire, EMS and civilians who gave their lives to rescue the lost and to find the injured. These police, fire, and EMS did this out of persistence and sacrifice. They responded to a call, a 9-1-1 different from all others.

They did not have clear memory, a clear plan or a probability of what would come next. But they knew the search – the search may have been for your friend, your child, your spouse, your loved one. The search itself was worthwhile.

We are grateful that their call of duty went beyond recall and probability.

[_08__] These parables remind us the Lord also believes in the search process, one unfolding each day. It unfolds in our prayer, our worship, and in the work of our lives.

Along the way, we might also take a wrong turn, and feel lost. We know that the Lord is waiting for us, inviting us to seek him above all things. And, he waits for us, even against all odds. [_end_]

Sunday, September 5, 2010

You've Got First Class Mail (2010-09-05)

This is my homily for Sunday 5 September 2010, 23rd Sunday for the on-campus Sudnay Mass (7:30 p.m.) of Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU) Teaneck, NJ. Mass is every Sunday during Fall 2010 + Spring 2011 semesters.I am the Catholic campus minister for this campus and for the FDU Newman Catholic Association. Please see my profile below.

READINGS: Wisdom 9:13-18b | Psalm 90 | Philemon 9-10, 12-17 | Luke 14:25-33

[_01_] An envelope is sent home.

This is one way teachers capture our attention. Sending an envelope home will command the attention of both the parent and the child/student.

Paul’s letter, our second reading, the letter to Philemon, bears a resemblance to the report card -- or the note sent home by the teacher. An evaluation is being offered – by Paul – not only for the “child/student” but also, we might say to the “parent/guardian”.

And, Philemon is the guardian. Philemon is homeowner, the addressee of the letter. The letter is addressed personally to him.

This letter to Philemon differs from some of the other New Testament letters. In these, Paul typically addresses all of the Corinthians of Corinth, or all of the Philippians of Philippi.

And, in those cases, we are called to apply the general message personally to our lives.

[_02_] But, here we have a letter which arrives individually in Philemon’s mailbox. And, he might be surprised that people are still reading his mail this many years later.

The letter pertains to Onesimus, his slave.

Paul is sending a personal note home from jail, from prison. Paul remains there and Onesimus is being released, released back to Philemon his owner.
Philemon receives the letter.

And, the letter challenges Philemon, challenges him as a slave owner and as a Christian to treat his slave with care, respect, dignity.

Here, we see a development in the early Church in the attitude toward slavery.

Paul is not trying to upend the social order and abolish slavery. Rather, he is appealing to one particular slave owner.

Paul reminds Philemon that we are all one in the Body and the Blood of Christ. We are called to take care of each other, even those we might be tempted to scorn or to mock.

[_03_] Paul is warm and generous toward Onesimus in prison. Paul is in prison. However, though an inmate himself with Onesimus, Paul has a social status greater than that of Onesimus. Paul is a Roman citizen; Onesimus is not.

Paul is in this prison because he asserted his right to a trial in Rome.

Paul’s own legal trouble began back in Palestine where was recognized as one who was preaching the Christian gospel. Some of the Jewish leaders wanted him detained, arrested, scourged, even executed.

Paul – as a Roman citizen – asserted his rights not only to a change in venue. That is, Paul wanted a trial in Rome, the capital of the empire. Paul is “extradited” back to Rome for trial and lands in prison there. It is in this prison that he meets and befriends Onesimus, the runaway slave.

[_04__] And Paul tells Philemon,
“[I send Onesimus] no longer as a slave, [but rather] a brother.”

So, Paul is saying that as a Roman citizen, he has a responsibility even to a slave.

And, we have a responsibility also.

As high school (college) seniors, responsibility to the freshman; as teachers, to students; as parents, responsibility to children; as Americans, to responsibility immigrants and to those new in our country; as bosses responsibility to workers (every day is Labor Day); as adult children responsibility also to parents with special needs.

[_05_] Paul treats the slave Onesimus with love, respect in prison.

And, he sends a person letter inviting Philemon to the same.

It is a letter with a first-class stamp, a personal appeal. And, these are the letters, the notes sent home that we find difficult to ignore. [_end_]