Sunday, October 23, 2011

An Excellent Way (2011-10-23)

This is my homily for Sunday 23 October 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 this reading from the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 22, Jesus is asked to make an evaluation, to provide a ranking, to set a priority.
“Which commandment of the law is the greatest?”

Which is the greatest?

First, we might reflect on how we determine greatness, excellence.

Of course, many examples of superior performance exist. And, some things which are regarded as superior in a popular sense are not the same things we really think are important.

We might, for example, enjoy certain entertainment, spoorts, movies, film, recreation. Some of these things might win awards, trophies, honors. Do they, however, possess greatness, the beauty, importance of which the Lord speaks?

Isn’t Jesus being asked a question about enduring greatness, about greatness that can and will continue?

Some things are currently in vogue, in fashion, or # 1.

[_02-EXAMPLES OF GREATNESS_] In professional sports, in major-league baseball, either the St. Louis Cardinals or the Texas Rangers will be the 2011 World Series Champion.

Japan and Spain are the current champions in the women’s and men’s world cup of soccer.

In tennis, Novak Djokovic from Croatia the current champion of the Australian Open, Wimbledon, and the U.S. Open.

These individuals and teams have risen to the top, the summit in their selected competitions. In fact, no one “nominated” them... no one choose them... they were simply victorious in a competition with referees, point totals ...and they are currently number one.

[_03_] How do you and I determine greatness? Is it only based on CURRENT performance, yesterday, last week ...and my CURRENT comparision of myself with others?

Or ... my latest grade on a midterm exam or popularity poll?

Can we achieve – do we seek – greatness which is beyond these particular moments in time?

[_04_] Jesus is asked, “Teacher, which commandment of the law is the greatest?”
Aren’t students fond of asking this question of the teacher in the classroom?

As students you and I would also want to know – what do I need to know right now, or for this semester .... for final exam, A.P. exam, or test I will have in a few weeks or months?

And, so Jesus tells them about greatness –

[_05_-love of God and of fellow human being..]

That is, what is the greatest commandment:

We show our love for God not only by our attendance at worship and prayer but also by our attentiveness to – a brother, sister, classmate, roommate, child, friend, spouse, neighbor.

Our greatness is demonstrated by the way we love, act charitably toward others. Right now.

And, every day, every moment is a new opportunity to love, to forgive and to be the light of the world.

But, as we know, greatness does not come about literally overnight.

Even sporting competitors, the players on a team know this. Novak Djokovic, the current Wimbledon, U.S. Open and Australian open champion did not win these 3 tournaments merely by playing well for a day... or for the practice session the day before. Years of effort go into a championship, into greatness.

His greatness is measured over a much longer time period and so is ours.

The greatest commandment of love, then, is an invitation to practice ...more than to competition.

[_06_-greatness not overnight] Love – charity – calls us to a slower pace than the latest highlights on the television news or ESPN Sportscenter.

Love, is shall we say, more a documentary than a highlight ... a work in progress ... perhaps, the History Channel.

Love and charity invites us to consider not only --
• What have I done for you lately?
• Or what have you done for me lately?
• But rather what have I done..what have you done...and what has the Holy Spirit been achieving also through our cooperation?
• what have I already done... to what / whom have I already dedicated myself ? And, thus, where am I going?

[_07_] This is the History Channel... but sometimes we prefer the highlight film of what is only in the present, the current actual moment.

For example, doesn’t it seem easier to deal with the present, the actual issue evil / injustice of the day... or the reason that my team is falling behind...

Love invites us to a longer historical view.

I’m suggesting, however, that love in Christ, invites us to consider the history of his Passion, his cross in our lives.

[_08_] So, we might ask ourselves, not only how – currently – is
• my family
• my marriage
• my child
• my career
• (my ministry)
• TODAY...

But also, to what greatness do I aspire? Where is the love bringing me to this greatness?

And, not only ask ...
• How is my relationship with my spouse right now,... but what led us to be in love...either a year ago or several years ago ...? Not simply asking what changed ... in the intervening years... but what decision did we make, what commitment and why?
• Not only how is my child doing today ...but what love enabled me to accept the challenge of being mother or father?
• Not only how is my professional career going now ... or my studies...but how did I get here? What were my hopes, dreams?

For example, here in college, right now, you are making decisions about the rest of your life. And, someday you will return to this moment – October 23, 2011 and ask yourself – what was I feeling, sensing, commiting myself to ...?

Praying about these things, even of the past, we of this history can help us discover love, greatness ...and the greatest commandment amid our own search for greatness.

Or as Paul is being an even more excellent way amid our own search for excellence... [_fin_]

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Payback Unto Caesar/God (2011-10-16)

This is my homily for Sunday 16 October 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] Can I borrow some money? Of course I will pay you back. I will repay the loan, the money which I have borrowed.

That promise to repay, however, needs a little more detail, doesn’t it?

How much will I repay at a time? And, when will I repay? By what date, what day, month, year, …uh, century?

[__02] We have just read from the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 22, about repayment, -- paying back, -- giving back, or in another translation of this verse –

“Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God, the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:21)

Rendering to God and rendering to Caesar. Paying back.

[__03] Paying back a loan to Bank of America, a credit card to VISA, or a tax bill to the government, we may try pay at the latest possible date and in the smallest possible amount.

For taxes, we may wait until April 15.

This style, this schedule of repayment will work for some things. It may work well for things which strictly belong to Caesar.

What do we mean by Caesar in this Gospel? Caesar is the name of Augustus Caesar, the Roman Emperor. The taxes are being collected in his name, for his government.

[__04] Caesar represents more than the American federal government or the New Jersey state government. Caesar represents all of our material possessions, all of our financial obligations, all of our physical and earthly responsibilities

The things are material and physical. They are not, strictly speaking, spiritual.
However, they are also not strictly speaking superficial, or trivial or unimportant.

Jesus is saying that we are to keep these obligations to Caesar, to keep commitments hear in River Edge, in our jobs in NJ, New York, at school and at home.

Isn’t it true that our commitments, our responsibilities, cannot easily be divided or subdivided into things for Caesar and things for God.

[__05_WORK__] Work. Career. Making money. Isn’t it true that working and earning money is a way that we repay Caesar and we support our families physically and spiritually?

But, this work is also a spiritual sacrifice We would be thinking too materially if we simply say that work is about higher profits and technology.

Consider, for example, the achievements of Steve Jobs, who recently died. Steve Jobs was one of the founders of Apple Computers and he retired shortly before his death from his position as CEO, Chief Executive Officer. Steve Jobs personified Apple Computers, the iPhone, the iPad, the iPod … not to mention iTunes where I downloaded this homily for $0.99 (that might be a joke, check iTunes yourself).

What was the value of Steve Jobs’ life? Was it money? Technology? Did his life have more value than say a worker paid per hour to install the furniture in his office or to maintain the air conditioning in the building?

Work has a spiritual effect on us. Work is not about producing objects but about letting the work produce an effect on us. In this regard, when we work, we simultaneously give back to both Caesar and God, we do not produce objects .

[__06_-PRAYER_] Couldn’t we also say that PRAYER has both physical and spiritual effects. For example, we not only pray for our future salvation, in heaven. We are called to pray, to repent of our sins. However, we also pray – in the current moment – for help with immediate decisions, over material choices.

We also pray FOR CAESAR. We pray for elected officials, for our president, governor, senators.

While we pray for our government, and beg God’s help for them, our prayer helps us remember that we serve God first. If we also Caesar simultaneously, that’s great.

But, seek ye first the kingdom of God.

We cannot serve both God and mammon, can we?

[__07_-SCHOOL__] How about at school, those of us who are students, whether we are in second grade or sophomore year or senior year…

We are also paying back.

We are not simply paying back our tuition.

But, we are constantly handing in homework, handing in term papers, handing in what we owe the teacher, based on the syllabus.

Why do students hand these things in, why do they repay? Why do they render unto Caesar?

Well…I daresay that most students are truly motivated by the grades, by the possibility of getting a good grade. And, that is an honorable motivation, a good reason.

When we get good grades, moreover, we may be recognized by “Caesar”. The emperor will notice those who do things well. Who is the emperor, who is Caeasar who notices these things? Well, we might say that the emperor is the school as institution – River Dell High School, Bergen Catholic, Paramus Catholic, Immaculate Conception, IHA, Holy Angels, Cherry Hill Elementary.

Students here are motivated to do well and get good grades so that they will be honored, so they will excel.

However, there is a further reason. We do this work, we hand in our papers, we do our best on our professional jobs for another reason.

That is, to give back the intelligence, the reasoning, the talents which God has given us. We come here, in a similar way, to share the faith which God has given us.

The Lord comes to help us make our payments, to render unto God. [__fin__]

Sunday, October 9, 2011

What to Wear (2011-10-09)

This is my homily for Sunday 9 October 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.

● Isaiah 5:1-17 ● Psalm 80 ● Philippians 4:6-9 ● Matthew 21:33-43 ●

[__01__] Aren’t the most likely to succeed are also the most likely to be photographed?

Showing up on the red carpet for the an Academy Awards presentation (the Oscars) or a presidential banquet (the White House), we see the photographers gravitate toward the most successful, the most famous, the A-list.

We use the term “A-list” don’t we describe the group “A” … not surnames and names that start with A, but the people who are first class, desirable, the cool people.

And, famous people on the red carpet not only want to be seen, they also want to be seen near each other, don’t they? The movie star with the MVP, the famous tenor with the first lady.

[__02] In the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 22, we read about invitations sent to the A-list, to the elite …

The parable uses the allegory - the symbolic fictional figure – of a wedding
banquet to represent the Christian life, the reign of God.

Just as we are expected to bring ourselves, to dedicate ourselves, to pay attention… and to honor the other guests … at a real-life party …we are also expected to bring ourselves, to dedicate ourselves to the Lord, to his commandments.

In our spiritual life, we opening and re-opening the envelope, the RSVP card and considering the invitation every day.

However, sometimes, we have difficulty with those invitations, We can’t figure where we put them, what they say …we may want to stall for time before we say YES or NO.

[__03__] Jesus reminds us in this parable that God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – never stops calling, inviting, texting or sending messages. He is trying find us, inviting us to prayer, repentance, virtue, generosity.

The Lord is trying to locate us, for real, not simply to entertain us with an allegory or a fiction.

[__04] So, what is the allegory, the symbol in our lives?

In our lives, we may not relate this allegory of a royal banquet in London or Madrid or Tokyo … few of us have been invited. Few of us will be invited to the White House… and last I heard, you cannot crash parties there so easily.

But, where are we invited? We have invitations on our calendars, arriving in the mail or we may hope to be included.

And, the questions are … with any invitation:
(1) Can I afford this?
(2) Do I have time for this?
(3) What will I wear?

[__05_Can I afford this?_] For some invitations we are expected to bring a gift, and we might decline if we cannot. But, in the invitation to be a good friend, a mother/father, to be a teacher, a son/daughter, a neighbor, we are always bringing the gift of ourselves.

Setting aside our own desires, needs, keeping commitments …. These are costly, expensive at times and we need God’s help to pay for them.

There is also the gift of time which is the next question

[__05_do I have time?_] If I were to imagine myself to be on the A-list, the elite, I may easily decline or stay in RSVP no-man’s land … with the response… “I’ll get there if I have time.”

Jesus is asking us, inviting us… to consider what do we already have time for … and where can we find time?

Or, if not, how we can at least take what is already burdening us, keeping us busy…and keeping in mind that we do this to praise God, we carry out our tasks so that the burdens of others may be lightened … not so that we will be praised.

[__06-what will I wear?] After asking – can I afford this, do I have time, we also ask … what will I wear?

The right garment will gain notice at the Oscars in L.A. and the White House in D.C.
And, it is a garment which gains notice at the end of this parable. The parable concludes with someone not properly dressed. How can we relate to him?

This is an allegory, a fictional representation. The guest not properly dressed is … or could be … any one of us.

One biblical scholar observes that the kingdom of God, the reign of God includes those who behave virtuously, those who live exemplary lives and those who behave with injustice, dishonesty.

What will I wear?

St. Paul in Romans, speaks about being clothed in righteousness, in goodness. Romans 13:14)

Just as we change our clothes each day and worry about our appearances, so we are also called to examine our lives for sinfulness, to examine our priorities, to seek repentance, forgivness, to make way in our calendars for this invitation and, finally, to on God’s new A-list. [__fin_]

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Vine Country (2011-10-02)

This is my homily for Sunday 2 October 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.

● Isaiah 5:1-7 ● Psalm 80 ● Philippians 4:6-9 ● Matthew 21:33-43 ●
27th Sunday (year A)●


On this Sunday (October 2, 2011) in Catholic parishes of the United States, we observe Respect Life Sunday, a time for explicit reflection on our call to guard life at all stages, lives of children in danger, the hungry, the homeless, lives of those entrusted to us.

Such guardianship could be more complex than the wine-making process in the vineyard described by our Lord and by Isaiah the prophet.

In either case – the guardianship of human life – and the guardianship of a vineyard – not everything which is technologically feasible is necessarily good for us, or good for the soil in which the vine and branches are.

Life, birth, death are complexities in which we participate as stewards are caretakers and caregivers, just as doctors, nurses, mothers, fathers take care of the lives entrusted to them. We need no special training to be such a caregiver.

We may invent technology … but we did not invent life. God invented it, and asks us to guard his creation, take care of his vineyard.

This includes – at times heroic sacrifice, heroic virtue – for others.


On Respect Life Sunday, we also recognize that many have suffered due to choices surrounding unborn children. We may need time to heal. Respect Life Sunday is a time for all of us to pray for reconciliation and resurrection. A ministry of the U.S. Catholic Church is also a program called Rachel’s Vineyard – Rachel’s Vineyard – which was started by a Catholic pscychologist, Dr. Theresa Burke, to help this healing process. Information is available online – Rachel’s Vineyard-dot-O-R-G.

[__02] The vineyard remains an image of life and of creation.
By our own efforts, we are trying – the best we can – to take care of God’s vineyard.

And, vineyards are everywhere.

[__03-FDU] Consider – that here on campus we are in a vineyard… a vineyard on the Hackensack River … called FDU.

A challenging part of college or graduate study is not only the individual work we need to do … but also, the group projects or team projects or lab work we may need to do with others.

That is, not only do I have to worry about my own performance but also those of a team member. My team might not be helping me. To *[__03.01]

[__03-SPRE] Imagine – young people, boys and girls -- that your mother or father have asked you to help around the house …

And, perhaps, while receiving this instruction, you are reluctant to do it …because it just has no reward.

We want something back. In this regard, we resemble the tenants of the vineyard in the parable, or we resemble the sons of the landowner in last week’s parable.

That is, 1 of the 2 sons wakes up in the morning intending to:
• help around the vineyard
• rake leaves
• mow the lawn
• clean his room

But, in the end, he decides against it. Sometimes, we don’t want to work either.
At our house, my brothers and I would disagree at home over who should cut the lawn, who cut the lawn last week, or should mow the front or the backyard..and which of the two were larger.

We wanted equal pay for equal work in our “vineyard”

[__03.01] These are questions that divide us or distract us, not just questions about grape harvesting, vineyard maintenance but also, the care, guardianship of:

• parents, loved ones who are ill
• care of children
• division of the many labors within the home

Sometimes, we might also wish we wee in a completely different vineyard … it’s not easy to work in a vineyard. As Isaiah portrays it, the vineyard presents a challenge because the work is

• UPHILL -- planted on a hillside, planted where other things do not grow so easily. It’s not easy to work going UPHILL

• BELOW GROUND – the vineyard owner has to clear the stones, work in the soil, the dirt …

• And, we also may find ourselves buried or working underground at times, working in places where we are not noticed or appreciated.

As we know, vineyards are often known by their place – their region – Napa, Sonoma, Bordeaux. The wine has its authenticity not only because of the winemaker’s expertise but also because of the God-given soil, the location, over which the human maker has little control. You have to be in Sonoma County to get a Sonoma wine, right?

And, true winemakers simply manage what is already in the soil, rather than trying to make the soil – artificially – into something else.

In fact, an old saying about the process and the vineyard – the worse the soil, the better the wine.

And, the inherent dignity of all human life calls us to accept the vineyard, our lvies, our children, our parents, our work as they currently are … as we hear in the Serenity prayer.

For years I only knew the first part, the entire prayer reminds us of God’s love for us, his mercy, and his challenge, sending us into his vineyard:

God grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change,the Courage to change the things I can, and the Wisdom to know the difference; Living one day at a time; Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace; Taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it:

Trusting that you will make all things right if I surrender to your will;that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with you forever in the next.