Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Reversed Call (2011-09-25)

This is my homily for Sunday 25 September 2011. I am a Catholic chaplain in Teaneck at Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU) campus and for the FDU Newman Catholic Association. We celebrate Catholic Mass - during Fall and Spring semester - every Sunday Mass (7:30 p.m.) at the Interfaith Chapel, 842 River Road, Teaneck, NJ.

● Ezekiel 18:25-28 ● Psalm 25 ● Philippians 2:1-11 ● Matthew 21:28-32 ●

[__01] Isn’t it easier to wake up early in the morning on the days that we don’t actually have to be at work, or at school …or anywhere at any particular time?
Of course, some of us might take the opportunity for extra sleep on such an occasion too ..but the alarm clock is less of a space invader on holidays, or non working days?

[__02] In the parable we have just read, there are 2 sons, two children of the same father who has a vineyard – the family business – in which he wants them to work – today.

Each of the sons wakes up with a different attitude, we might say. One with an attitude of freedom, the other of obligation.

Consider that they wake up at the same time. Both would have to clock in at the vineyard at the same time. But, for one, he has risen from his bed, put on his clothes, with excitement.. it is Ferris Bueller’s Day Off …and he is too cool go to school or to any “vineyard”. This is the son who, at first, says No …I’m not going into the vineyard. He is going to cut class, this is his direction.

Then, there is the other of A Few Good Men who puts on his uniform willingly …and goes into the vineyard..or at least, he heads in that direction.

[__03] But, then, something happens along the way – to both of them.
The one who began with such earnestness, such seriousness … loses his enthusiasm, changes out of his uniform, his work clothes… and decides not to work at all.
This seems to catch everyone by surprise ..he is the one with the high grades, the excellent work history…

When he says he is not going to work…no one argues with him, no one begs him. Perhaps, no one expected more.

[__04] Yes, it is certainly easier to wake up in the morning… perhaps on the holiday break between the 2 semesters.
On those days of fewer required activities, fewer obligations… or, perhaps no obligations.

[__05] This parable invites us to change our minds, as the son in the parable does.

Some days – or at some points in our life – we may also wake up – or start up with no intention of keeping our promises … or following through …or doing what is required.

We also begin with every intention of cutting corners or cutting class.

We may even vacillate back and forth – we may waver – in our level of commitment.

[__06] Isn’t this especially true when we are challenged by something that is mandatory, non-negotiable, non-discretionary.

That is, even if we fulfill our responsibilities, we do so at the absolute minimum level… or with absolute minimum cheerfulness.

The parable reminds us that we will have requirements, required obligations, commandments to go into the vineyard on behalf of our children, parents, students, family …

We may be asked to contribute to others with our time, or our money …

At such times, faced with these requirements, we are invited to pray … not to pray about how we can get out of it … but to pray about…

• Why am I in it?
• Why I am here..
• Rather than “why me”… why NOT me?

And, then, perhaps, changing our mind, and going to the vineyard, we can discover the choice really was ours to make, freely.

In this way, we spend less time trying to change what is required …but rather praying about… asking the Holy Spirit … how can what is required … change you and me. [__fin__]

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Even Numbers (2011-09-18)

This is my homily for Sunday 18 September 2011. I am a Catholic chaplain in Teaneck at Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU) campus and for the FDU Newman Catholic Association. We celebrate Catholic Mass - during Fall and Spring semester - every Sunday Mass (7:30 p.m.) at the Interfaith Chapel, 842 River Road, Teaneck, NJ.

[__01] What will keep us in our seats, in attendance – or attention – until the very conclusion of a sporting event?

Well, usually, it is a very close score, a tied game, as we say.

In baseball, such an even score leads to extra innings; in soccer, to extra time, then to penalty kicks.

In a sporting match, we favor – we enjoy and look forward to – a competition with an equal distribution of points for as long as possible.

This makes the experience more interesting.

It is more interesting for the observer,for the fan.

And, even for the players, isn’t the match better when both teams believe they can win.

[__02] In our life – away from sidelines, base lines goal lines – we believe that some projects that some projects, some relationships, are meant to conclude in a tie – in a draw – with an equal distribution of benefits for everyone.
This is true in family life … even at the dinner table, an equitable sharing of the meal.

Is such an even distribution – such a “tie” – always what we desire? Or, do we see this as just another standoff or stalemate?
Perhaps, we would prefer to win.

[__03] Imagine, for a moment, the homework assignment which a teacher might have assigned this past Friday, just 2 days ago. Some will

• work really hard on it, all weekend.
• just a little bit ..maybe opening the book late tonight, or in the morning or in the car on the way to school.
• Write an answer down during class tomorrow.

Then, imagine that the teacher evaluates the written work of every student, but gives everyone the exact same grade.

It seems unfair.

Wouldn’t it also seem unfair for a team on a playing field – baseball, soccer, football – not to be rewarded with a victory after they have played longer, made more shots on goal, had more possessions, or left fewer runners on base?

Such a team – such a player – such a student also – expects to be rewarded.

And, this is the Gospel parable about the group, the subset of vineyard workers who have been working all day. Some worked more hours than others.

They were the ones we might call the starters, the starting team.

But, at the end, the vineyard owner pays the same wage to every worker.

What could be the Good News of the Gospel in this parable?

[__04] How can we apply this lesson of EQUALITY of reward to our lives?

[__05] First, some of us are similar to the vineyard owner. That is, we take care of “workers”. For example, we may take care of actual workers for whom we are the boss or employer.

Or, we might see the “workers” as representative of others for whom we care.

We may look after children (as mothers, fathers, teachers, caregivers).

And, the great balancing act for a mother/father is to love each child individually,
to know each one, to appreciate each one’s gifts, to understand each one’s personality.

This builds trust between parents and children. On the other hand, mothers and fathers are also called to love equally, to divide up the their time, their attention equally.

Of course, these allotments of team do not happen with the timing of a stop watch and the supervision of a referee. But, nevertheless, parents – every day – are trying to find enough time for all of their children.

[__06] How can we apply this lesson of equality in our lives… if we are the workers?

Let’s say that you and I were the laborers who had been there all day long.

As the parable tells it, we bore the day’s burden and the heat. We are sunburned, thirsty, expecting overtime pay.

Then, we receive the same wages/money as everyone else.

[__07] At this point, we might ask ourselves – have we truly suffered a defeat?
By coming out even – equal – in a tie – we are just that … even, equal in God’s eyes, loved.

Therefore, are there not times in life when the honorable choice is one of equality, of balancing the rights of others to life… that others have a right to life, to happiness … a right that is just as great as my own?

Of course, we believe this is true in law making, in Washington D.C., in Trenton.

It is part of our Christian faith in the right to life for the unborn child or the elderly and infirm person.

And, the Lord is saying this is true also in our friendships, family, relationships, marriage.

Yes, it is true that one partner in a relationship may work more hours, earn more money or provide some unique benefit.

However, this does not grant power of one person over the other. In the letter to the Ephesians, Paul writes, “subordinate to one another out of love for Christ ” (Ephesians 5:21).

Equality is also what enables true intimacy. It is what enables one person to be a gift to the other. For we are truly gifts to each other, not possessions.

[__08] The good thing about a match – or game that is even in the second half or late innings – is that it will hold our attention, our focus longer. The Lord also wants to hold our attention.

Through this parable, he gives us a message of consolation, of comfort. We acknowledge we are all sinners, all in need of God’s grace, the saving blood of Christ and that we are all coming from behind for a different type of victory. [__fin_]

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Salvation, Version 7.7.7 (2011-09-11)

This is my homily for Sunday 11 September 2011. I am a Catholic chaplain in Teaneck at Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU) campus and for the FDU Newman Catholic Association. We celebrate Catholic Mass - during Fall and Spring semester - every Sunday Mass (7:30 p.m.) at the Interfaith Chapel, 842 River Road, Teaneck, NJ.

[__01] When should we leave?

Often, we depart – we leave – for a destination based only on distance and arrival time. How far? When is the appointment?

Then, we calculate in reverse.

Sometimes, however, the presence – or actions of others will have a big influence on when we might start the journey.

Isn’t this the calculation as we come to the conclusion of an event with a large audience – the event such as a concert, sporting event?

Is the crowd moving toward the exit? Maybe we should get going. To accelerate or not to accelerate, that is the question.

How much longer …should I stay ? wait? … Persevere?

[__02] Through the parables and through the conversation with Peter, the Lord is telling us about the value of staying – of staying up beyond intermission, beyond halftime, until the end.

And, we remember that the Lord waits with us until the end – and beyond in our lives.

[__03] In other words, don’t get on the road too soon, don’t count the cost of the driving or the so-called distance- to-empty.

This is what Peter is doing, staring at the dashboard, and running on empty.

Peter wants to know how much longer must I persevere – or be patient with – someone who has sinned against me?

[__04] Peter and you and I have similar dispositions – similar egos.
If someone has offended us or hurt us, we are tempted to take revenge or take flight.

This behavior might be described – scientifically – as the natural response to a threat --– either “fight” or “flight”. But, we might choose “fight” or to book a “flight” … in spiritual ways also. That is, even at times when we are not actually cornered by a predator.

Either way (taking revenge or a flight), we gain some immediate security from the reaction.

[__05] But, we believe our real security comes about through forgiveness of our enemies.

Whom do we forgive?

It is relatively easy to see we will forgive – or have forgiven – someone whom I’ve already given up on. That is, this person has been so disappointing, so discouraging to me, that now I have become indifferent.

Or, we might compare our attitude of forgiveness to the others who are watching …

Perhaps, the person who has offended us is now an outcast in the eyes of everyone else. Everyone else has “left the stadium.” No one cares. Why should I care? We equate forgiveness with indifference.

In this regard, we come to forgive those we have forgotten about…

[__06] But, Jesus is challenging Peter –and us – to forgive in the first half, before intermission and then to persevere.

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44)

What time should we leave?

The journey to forgiveness is not EZ Pass … sometimes we have to slow down to pay the toll. This perseverance may not change the heart of the other person.. However, in forgiveness version 7.7.7. we are growing closer to Christ who also waits - stays behind – patiently for us.

[__07] September 11

What time should we leave?

10 years ago – hundreds of first responders - police officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians - departed on a calls in New York, Washington D.C., Pennsylvania.

Many at Ground Zero and the World Trade Center entered the Twin Towers unsure when – or if – they would be able to leave. They had only an estimate of the number of people inside.

They had no calculation of arrival departure, they were in an eternal present and without an exit strategy.

These courageous workers – and those who persevered after them – to find both the living and deceased – those who dug for months in the ground – were making a profession of faith, a profession of faith that saving every life possible would be worthwhile.

And, in the call to forgiveness – in our own lives - we are also trying to save every life possible – every bit of our own lives possible – and making our own profession of faith…


Sunday, September 4, 2011

Am I my brother's keeper? (2011-09-04)

This is my homily for Sunday 4 September 2011. I am a Catholic chaplain in Teaneck at Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU) campus and for the FDU Newman Catholic Association. We celebrate Catholic Mass - during Fall and Spring semester - every Sunday Mass (7:30 p.m.) at the Interfaith Chapel, 842 River Road, Teaneck, NJ.

[__01] In the past week, we have witnessed rescues and help, especially seeing people up and down the east coast of the United States, for people affected by the hurricane ….

…and 10 years ago, the rescue and help given to the victims of the 9/11 attacks in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania.

[__02] Rescue is important. Rescue requires a risk, a sacrifice.
This is a message from the Gospel.

And, it is a message which can take us a long time to learn, that is (i.e.) , our responsibility).

In the Book of Genesis, the first two sons of Adam and Eve are Cain and Abel.
Very shortly, the question of personal responsibility emerges between these 2 sons, 2 siblings, Cain and Abel.

In jealousy, Cain takes the life of his brother. Then, the Lord comes looking for both of them, first finding Cain and asking him – where is your brother, Abel?

Cain’s answers the question with an other question, showing that Cain is protesting, avoiding responsibility in the famous expression:

Am I my brother’s keeper?

(Am I supposed to be responsible for him? Why should I worry about him?)

For those of us with younger siblings, we have asked the same question …

[__03] Am I my brother’s, my sister’s keeper? Am I called to be responsible for others?

Jesus is saying YES; and, many of us in our commitments to family, to marriage, to friendship also say YES to this.

It is not easy to do so.

Or, perhaps, it is not always obvious HOW – in what manner – we are to be our brothers’/sisters’ keepers.


There are, on the one hand, physical dangers such as a house on fire, a building vulnerable to collapse, a river overflowing.

In these visible – physical dangers – we recognize the need to take care of each other.

This would be the case in Hurricane Irene (2011, east coast USA), 9/11. And other instances.

What about spiritual dangers which we see?

We may observe individuals in spiritual dangers. And we are called to pull them back, from the brink, from the edge of the canyon, the busy street.

Maybe, we see someone whose life does not have the firm foundation or direction to withstand a storm.

In the Gospel (e.g., Matthew, chapter 7), Jesus speaks about building our house on solid rock rather than sand. This enables to withstand the storm.

Sometimes, we see the person whose life is built on sand, whose lives or lifestyles lack a firm foundation.

[__05] What are some examples of this?

We see someone on shaky ground because, a person is
• Very anxious
• Very depressed
• Living dishonestly
• Living unethically

Or, we see their lives are in disarray or broken because they lack power, not electricity, but simply the power – or energy – to make the right decisions.

We admit readily that we are called to reach out to the person whose basement is flooded with water.

But, what about the person whose life is flooded with spiritual trouble, with anxiety, brokenness, sinfulness, addiction.

[__06] The Lord admits that sometimes we need the help of other people in order to throw a lifeline or a rescue boat to someone in spiritual danger.

We cannot always do it alone.

Jesus says, “where 2 or 3 are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

So, those 2 or 3 might be ..
• You and me
• You and a friend
• It could be your parents … a mother and a father try to present a united front to their children.

[__07] but, sometimes, we don’t have 2 or 3. Sometimes, it is one on one, or man to man defense, as we say on the field or playground.

We wonder at such times if we are really worthy…

And, Jesus says, at times, we may be acting as an individual. We are acting, however, with his help and grace.

At such times, we wonder, am I really worthy of helping someone else out or challenging someone ‘s behavior, someone’s addiction, someone’s dishonesty… someone’s lazinesss.

There could be various things.

We doubt that both our desires and abilities.

[__08] At such a time, we need the help of the Holy Spirit before during and after the conversation.

We need the Holy Spirit’s help to identify the right time to speak, the right person to approach.

And, we are called to speak in a way that reflects our interest in the other person’s welfare, salvation, rescue.

It’s easy to identify how the faults of another person will irritate me … but can I challenge another person to change for that person’s conversion rather than for my convenience.

[__09] Hearing Jesus’s call to be his rescue workers, we recognize that not everything is a police matter or a 9-1-1 call.

Sometimes, we are the ones to get involved, to help the other, and we know that

Christ travels with us – regardless of the result – regardless of the grade – that he is with us even until the end of the age (world). (Matthew 28:20 ) [__fin__]

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Evacuations (2011-08-28)

This is my homily for Sunday 28 August 2011. I am a Catholic chaplain at Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU) campus and for the FDU Newman Catholic Association. We celebrate Catholic Mass - during Fall and Spring semester - every Sunday Mass (7:30 p.m.) at the Interfaith Chapel, 842 River Road, Teaneck, NJ. We resume our Sunday schedule on Sunday September 4, 2011 at 7:30 p.m.

[__01___] Obvserving the precautions and evacuations of Hurricane Irene in the states here on the east coast, we see people who are moving and being moved. Some people require some extra help to reach higher ground or a place inland, some people may move reluctantly, (stubbornly) wishing for one more wave or one more hour on a suddenly un-crowded beach.

In this Sunday’s Gospel, we read that Peter the Apostle is being moved, motivated, told where Jesus will go (i.e., to Jerusalem) and where Peter himself will also travel.

Toward the end of the Gospel, Peter receives this message again even more clearly, being told about what it means to follow Christ in moral decisions, ethical decisions. That is, Peter is reminded of being generous, loving in the use of his gifts for others.

These words may remind us of a subtle evacuation-order …

“Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” (John 21:18)

[__02___] In this Sunday’s Gospel, Peter is not only hesitant but also obstinate in his refusal to go. Though tolls on the GSP Garden State Parkway have been suspended, Peter desire not to leave Long Beach Island.

Now, this seems to be a change for Peter. That is, in last Sunday’s Gospel, he was the favored student, the one with all the answers to the question: “who do people say that I am?” and “who do you say that I am?”

Peter is praised for his answer, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” A correct answer. But, at this point, it is also an answer that makes Peter very comfortable, increases his inertia. Peter is settled intellectually, spiritually, physically.

[__03___] When Jesus speaks of leaving for Jerusalem, Peter stands at the end of the driveway, blocking vehicles.

This Sunday’s Gospel reminds us of the movements in our lives that we will face at times, persecution, suffering, temptation.

[__04___] If we were to consider the coastal evacuation route as a symbol of our own journeys toward God, our own calling to service, to discipleship, could we then ask – what obstacles stand in the way?

[__05___] First – Greed, Greediness, Avarice.

In a real physical evacuation, we may struggle to discern what is most important, what do I pack and bring?

What do I leave behind?

In a real evacuation, we resemble Noah, preparing the ark in the rains. And, we are also stewards of God’s creation. This means we collaborate with the Lord and with each other in caring for our possessions, our natural world, our loved ones.

There are situations in which we absolutely take ownership, take possession. While the gospel is about simplicity, it is also about having priorities.
This way… we own and possess things rather than letting them own us.

So, Greed is one thing that can get in the way.

[__06___] A second is ANXIETY.

Am I anxious about the future for myself or others? Peter has good intentions, that is does not – in a way – put an umbrella and provide a refuge for his teacher, master, friend.

However, Peter is also causing a traffic jam.

Jesus wants to get on the road.

After Greed, after Anxiety…

[__07___] There is a third – PRIDE.

Being proud, we may want to put the pedal to the metal in situations where this is just impossible.

Pride is what we confront in every transition, evacuation. For example, at the moment, I leave a job, leave my home, go to a new school, or accept a new reality in my family life.

These can cause sadness. We need time to mourn, to pray for God’s grace to restore his.

We may also need time. Grief is not pride… rather, grieving, and letting go is a process of humility.

Sometimes, however, rather than mourning and understanding our sorrow, we simply gaze in the rear view mirror remembering what was or what might have been.


The Good News is that Jesus travels with us on this road, going ahead, paying the way for us with his body and blood.