Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Light in Darkness (Christmas, 2011)

This is my homily for Christmas Day, Sunday 25 December 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 Evening (7:30 p.m.) at the Interfaith Chapel, 842 River Road, Teaneck, NJ. Our Sunday Evening Mass resumes Jan. 22, 2012 at 7:30 p.m.

[_01_] “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” (Isaiah)
In the Book of Isaiah the prophet, we read about our salvation as a new brightness, a new source of illumination.

The Gospel message of Jesus Christ is meant to be our light. And, in this regard, we might say it is our way to survive the inevitable delays, interruptions, and sorrows, of our lives.

Isn’t this true on the playing surface, as well? That is, on the court or field, we might have trouble competing if we were out there with only natural light. Sometimes, we need more than natural light.

In 2008, there was an actual series of delays which led to a very rain-delayed Wimbledon tennis final in London between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. In 2008, this was the year that Rafael Nadal won his first Wimbledon and Federer lost for the first time at either Wimbledon or on grass in 6 years.

In this 5 set match, the players had to survive in the darkness. The match started about 2:00 p.m., and after 2 rain delays totalling about 3 hours and 4 hours, 48 minutes of playing time, the match finished in near darkness at 9:16 p.m.

(Notes ... this was the longest singles match in Wimbledon history. During one rain delay, Nadal’s coach and uncle Toni, took a siesta in the locker room.)

Nadal said – as the match wore on - he could not see anything, but he certainly saw enough, coming out the winner in 5 sets, 9-7 in games in the final set. This is one of the greatest tennis matches of all time.

Had the games gone much longer, the umpire probably would have “called it” due to darkness.

Immediately after the match, the only light on the court was coming from the photographer’s flashbulbs illuminating Rafael Nadal and his trophy.

[_02_] In such a unique evening-twilight situation, these players wanted to continue even under poor playing conditions.

Neither one would have wanted the match called and postponed until the next day.
If only they could have had a little more light.

Both Federer and Nadal interviewed after the match said, “[we] almost could not see [each other]; [we] thought we would have to stop.”

[_03_] In such a situation of darkness, we may sometimes have to struggle or get by with a limited amount of light or with fading light or with only a gradual increase of light.

Isn’t this true in, for example …
1. School, academic work – we may start the semester or school year in September anxious about the final exam in December or June ..but all we can really do is try to study in a disciplined fashion day by day.

2. In relationships, in our families, at work. Consider that we have someone who causes us difficulty, anxiety. We might wish, at times, this “blackout” could be concluded with the flip of a switch.

In such a situation, all we can do is seek the Lord’s guidance each day, a way of making each day our Sunday, our Sabbath, our seeking of rest and peace.

We are not seeking a championship and final conclusion but rather a rest from our struggle so that we may continue to our final conclusion.

St. Augustine writes about this as the “interior kind of prayer without ceasing, namely the desire of the heart. Whatever else you may be doing, if you but fix your heart on God [God’s Sabbath rest], your prayer will be ceaseless. Therefore if you wish to pray without ceasing, do not cease to desire….. Burning love is the outcry of the heart. If your love is without ceasing, you are crying out always. If always cry out, you are always desiring, if you desire, your calling to mind your eternal rest in the Lord.”

In such a way, we keep the light of the Gospel turned on, even in the darkness. In
this regard, our true desires are also our light.

Our salvation is presented to us as light, as light which the darkness hath not over come (John 1).

With the birth of the Christ child, however, this light comes upon us gradually and invites us to accept this light, this change of viewpoint into our lives, gradually. In a any situation of darkness, we are also invited to repentance, to humility.

This gives us more than natural light, it is a supernatural light that exists in our consciences, in our hearts.

Rather than a bright light shining overhead which will brings a sudden end to evening and the prolonging of this moment … he is the child born after the long night, which brings the light as morning, as the dawn, as the new day.

This the light of Christ shining within us, growing gradually stronger. [_fin_]

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Temple Construction (King David) (2011-12-18, Advent)

This is my homily for Sunday 18 December 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 Evening (7:30 p.m.) at the Interfaith Chapel, 842 River Road, Teaneck, NJ.

2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16 | Psalm 89 | Romans 16:25-27 | + Luke 1:26-38

[_01_] This Sunday is the Fourth Sunday of Advent.

In our reading from the Book of Samuel, we read about a building process, a construction project which King David wants to start.
And, isn’t it a source of CONTENTMENT to renovate our homes, to build our rebuild or repair our homes? On a smaller scale, isn’t also a source of contentment to arrange (or re arrange the furniture or have someone else re arrange it for us). We also gain contentment un packing and moving in.

We also may encounter anxiety and distress, but usually this is for a shorter term for some greater goal so that we can seize the moment and take control in our new dwelling.

[_02_-DAVID] Quite contented is King David of whom we read in the Book of Samuel this Sunday.

And, King David is taking control with enthusiasm, gladness about the idea of a new Temple. He has unrolled these architectural blueprints and shared them with Nathan the prophet, the designs for the first Temple of Jerusalem. But, after consulting with Nathan and after Nathan consults with the Lord through his prayer and dream, David learns that this Temple is not to be built right now and not to be built by David himself.

[_03_] What might we learn from the phases or time periods of this construction project which may or may not include an actual building, paint samples, colors, tile, wood.

David has been considering an upgrade from tent of cloth for the ark of the covenant to a house of cedar.

What can we learn about the phases, the lessons of this construction project?

[_04_] Phase 1 / Lesson 1 – First, we learn that David is not really in charge. While king and ruler, David also is being asked to put his plans before God who will review them, approve them...and who may redirect David elsewhere.

In this case, David is being asked to put aside the architectural measurements and blueprints, in favor of the power of another person.

[_05_] Phase 2 / Lesson 2 - Who is this other person, more powerful?
On the one hand, this is the Lord God who possesses this power. David defers to the power of God.

However, David also defers to the power of his son, his son (Solomon) who has not even been born yet.

And, is this not the challenge for all of us, the difficult balancing act in raising and teaching children? That is, while they are young, we are called to direct them, teach them ...but ultimately surrender them to God and teach them to be independent. And, we are also surrendering to our children.

[THIS SECTION ESPECIALLY TO CHILDREN AND YOUNG PEOPLE HERE] Now as, young people we might think, my parents, my teachers, professors do not surrender to us … Rather, we surrender to those in charge of us.

Young people – do you think your parents are “surrendering” to you? Or , are you surrendering to them? Do they tell you what to do? Do they drive you EVERYWHERE you want to go ...or only some places. Do they make sure that you do your homework?

You may say... of course they make me do these things. And, I’m only 8 years old or 12 years old or 18 or a young adult. And, of course I have to obey.

But, I am suggesting here that your parents, in this rule making process are in fact surrendering to you. They are helping you to learn about authority first subjecting you to authority.

They are helping you to learn responsibility first by telling you what to do.

Soon, in a few years, you will be in charge. You may be in charge of your own parents. We pray that you will be ready to take control.

David the King must prepare his own son, Solomon, also to take control, not only of the budget but also of the family of the royal line, the royal family.

Phase Two concludes when we turn over control to another person more powerful.

[_06_] Phase Three / Lesson Three Construction.

In this episode, we read that King David does not spend taxpayer money by hiring carpenters and stone workers for the Temple. That is, he does not build anything material. Nevertheless, David remains a builder.

The challenge to King David is similar to the challenge made to the Blessed Virgin Mary and to Joseph the Carpenter.

That is, do not worry about the house as a physical structure. Do not put the building first, put the “house” the “royal house” of your family first.

As we reading Psalm 127, “If the Lord does not build the house in vain do the builders labor.”

Sometimes, we are tempted to put the house as a physical structure ahead of the house as a family.

But, truly, wouldn’t we rather live in a smaller structure with someone we truly love or accept a smaller house for the sake of the family.? Isn’t this a safer shelter? Or, we attracted only by what we can see from the curb? The so called curb appeal (or what we can see from the sidewalk) may apply not only to a 3 bedroom colonial or condominium but also to another human being to whom we are attracted for superficial beauty or superficial reasons.

As we approach Christmas, we what is the challenge to King David and to the Blessed Virgin Mary of the Annunciation Gospel today?

That is, to place the royal house, the house of our family before any physical object or structure.

In a family, in a marriage, we are also building a house, we gain shelter from the storms of life. We don’t need a structure, owner’s equity, or 20 percent down to have marriage and family.

At the end of our reading, David is told that his house will endure forever, not his house as a series of wooden beams, but rather the house of his family.

And our hope is the same, that our family and relationships will endure and that they will outlast the materials themselves, whether in a tent of cloth or house of cedar. [_fin_]

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Traffic Report (2011-12-11, Advent)

This is my homily for Sunday 11 December 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 Evening (7:30 p.m.) at the Interfaith Chapel, 842 River Road, Teaneck, NJ.

[_01_] This Sunday is the Third Sunday of Advent.

[_02_] In the Advent Gospel, John the Baptist speaks of a road, quoting Isaiah the prophet. The road, the highway which we are called to build, pave, construct for the Messiah, the Lord, the child Jesus.
The Gospel tells us of travelers (drivers) on this road who have made the excursion to desert, to repentance, to baptism, to see John the Baptist.

[_03_] What is on the road for you and for me? Are we on a journey, always moving straight ahead or, are we sometimes distracted? What would draw our attention? What would slow us down?

[_04_] FIRST – sometimes, we are concerned about being pulled over, stopped.
If we are moving down Route 4 or moving down the hallway at school, we are subject to authority, to certain rules of behavior, speed limits.

And, we may find these limits, ethics, rules to be relatively easy in a familiar territory. That is, we know the speed limit on Midland and Continental (Route 4 and the Garden State Parkway) after we have lived in River Edge (New Jersey) for a while. Or, we know what’s expected after we have been in a particular school, classroom for a while.

But, consider that we sometimes find ourselves to be the

• Taking care of a new person or new child at home
• The new kid on the block
• The new person in the classroom.

How do we feel about the rules of the road in these situations?

Do we, sometimes, feel lost? For example, if we were surrounded by other people who do not share our convictions, then, we might feel lost.

This Advent, we gather here not ALONE in the desert, but communally in the desert, in a spiritual sense, to see where Jesus is meeting us.

And, our journey to the Lord, our highway, is not in the desert literally, but in the desert spiritually for repentance and for the water of his forgiveness and mercy.

(Remember ..tomorrow evening Monday December 12, 7:30 p.m. is our Advent Penance Service here at St. Peter’s in the church).

[_05_] SECONDLY – on the road, there is often ongoing construction. The traffic report on the radio tells us – every 10 minutes – what is happened outbound the George and inbound at the Lincoln. Sometimes, our lane is slowed down due to paving, digging, repairs on the bridge or tunnel.

Why the changes in infrastructure, structure, concrete, steel? We wait for this cement to dry so that we can have smoother faster journeys.

Do we accept ongoing construction? In the car or train, we try to avoid it all costs, don’t we?

But, in our lives in general, this may not be possible. The ongoing construction due to:
• Illness, oneself, other
• Death in the family
• Sharing of burdens
• Retiring from a job, seeking a new job.

These ongoing construction projects cause you and me to slow down.

And, sometimes we may even be re-routed to an unfamiliar place – the desert of John the Baptist?

At such a time, the ongoing construction reminds us about some of the basic
principles of our Christian life, our prayer life. This is not about speed, but slowing down - to pray, to fast at times (to sacrifice) to give alms (charity, generosity).

These actions will also smooth our rough edges.

[_06_] THIRDLY – on the road, you and I can be easily distracted by other drivers.

Do I spend my time gazing (rubbernecking?) at others, wishing, they’d go faster ...or wishing that I were driving their car ..or walking in their shoes?

Don’t we sometimes complain about the person in the next car?

Francis de Sales reminds of the Gospel verse, “judge not lest ye be judged” and “condemn not lest ye be condemnded.” (Luke 6:37)
Francis de Sales observes that we sometimes reverse this commandment regarding ourselves and others. That is, isn’t it easier (more likely) that I will turn by judgment upon another person rather than myself?

I can do this regarding both the good and evil of life. Regarding the good, I may so envy another person’s talents or gifts that I do not recognize who I am in God’s eyes.

Regarding the evil, I may feel such bitterness towards another person’s actions that I do not reflect or repent of my own sins. This repentance could remind me that God has mercy on BOTH of us. The Blood of Christ has been poured out for both of us.

[_07_] John the Baptist directs us – re-routes us – gives us a detour - to a new highway where we seek to hear and recognize God’s call to each of us. [_fin_]

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Troubled? (Immaculate Conception, 2011-12-08)

[__01] You have only one phone call.

This promise of a single phone call – and restriction to one conversation – is the reality for someone in police custody, in jail, or, in TROUBLE.

Frequently is the main character, the hero of the movie in trouble, in the 2008 Oscar-winning Best Picture, Slumdog Millionaire. The main character is Jamal, a young man in Mumbai, in India. The dream of becoming a “millionaire” is part of his life, given that he is a contestant on the Who Wants to be a Millionaire quiz show/game show on television. Jamal is now also a star.

But, before he can be a star, Jamal must get himself out of jail where he is accused of cheating, of having stolen the answers ahead of time and thus earned his winnings dishonestly. Perhaps, a phone call would have helped him, to a good defense attorney.

Later in the movie, and in the sequence of the game show, he is permitted, finally, to make one phone call. That is, the rules of Who Wants to be a Millionaire permit him this one call, to ask for help on a difficult trivia question.

[__02] In trouble, or in difficulty, we would also want to make such a call. Sometimes, in trouble, we may feel our call is dropped, ignored ... call back later.

In the movie, Jamal is really not sure he has a valid telephone number or even one friend left in the city. The phone just keeps ringing...

[__03] Will a phone call really get us out of trouble? What is the case for Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden?

They are, in the 3rd chapter of the Book of Genesis, in trouble.

And, the childish Adam is unwilling to take any responsibility for his actions. Eve behaves similarly, claiming she did not know what the serpent was talking about. This was a trick, a game?

Before God, Adam and Eve are unable – or unwilling at this time – to admit their sin, to confess. They would prefer to talk to someone else. That phone call? That life line?

Satan, the serpent, meanwhile, is respectfully silent. He knows what he has done.
Adam and Even are in trouble, but currently not fully aware of it. They have only just come out of hiding.

[__04] In the Gospel reading, the Blessed Virgin Mary also speaks of being in trouble, of being troubled, of asking, “how can this be?” how can I be expecting?

Maybe she would like to phone (text) a friend. For all of her trouble, Mary is not going to be millionaire. Her troubles, meanwhile, may continue. Are these the only important instant messages?

[__05] At times, an electronic device or call may get us out of trouble. . For example, we may obtain

• Good news about a medical test
• Progress regarding our children
• Forgiveness from someone we have hurt
• Or ... we may simply obtain a copy of last semester’s final exam

In these cases, we come to know better what to expect. We also feel affirmed that our efforts, our work, our love has been respected, affirmed, received by another.

On the other hand, what about the contrary case. Sometimes, you and I are rejected or somehow restricted.

We cannot make the one phone call or obtain the one message that will get us out of jail … free.

At such a time, we recall the example of our Lord at prayer in Gethsemane (Father if it is your will, take this cup from me…)

And, we recall the example of our Blessed Mother who also begins her vocation, her calling, somewhat troubled.

The Annunciation Gospel (which we have just read) and other moments invited Mary to trust …

What is this trust for you and for me?

Sometimes, our trust exists because of the phone call, the message which will relieve our mind… or the attorney or the infantry who are going to carry us to victory …in the future.

That is, our trust is contingent on some future outcome or result.

But, Mary gives us a different more immediate example of trust.
Mary asks not … how will this be? how will this work out …or who is GOING TO pick up the tab?

Rather Mary asks about the current present moment, how can this be RIGHT NOW?

In our current, ongoing moments of distress, anxiety, trouble, we can do the same.
Certainly in a crisis one of the things we need most is to focus on the here and the now, on what you and I can do TODAY, not next week or next year.

And, in both of the confession of our troubles and profession of our faith, we can call on God right now …

Such a prayer also invites to be patient about the answers which may come later, so that we can focus on how this can be, and what I can do in my life, right now.

And, how is the Lord present in the very next phone call, conversation, or message that I make or receive.

How can this be? [__fin__]

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Footloose, Untying the Sandal (2011-12-04, Advent)

This is my homily for Sunday 4 December 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 Evening (7:30 p.m.) at the Interfaith Chapel, 842 River Road, Teaneck, NJ.

2nd Sunday of Advent (B)
Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11 | Psalm 85 | 2 Peter 3:8-14 | Mark 1:1-8

[_01_] This Sunday is the Second Sunday of Advent.

We are reminded in this Gospel of a custom, a traditional practice of the Middle East, and of the Far and farther east.

John the Baptist touches on this referring to the “latchet of the shoe, the sandal.”
This is the shoe/sandal to be removed/untied before entering the house.

We normally expect guests to remove their own shoes. Thus, we can enjoy clean floors, hard wood unblemished by the scratches of little pebbles, we removal of shoes.

[_02_] But, would I, could I, remove the shoes of someone else? Or, as Jesus also demonstrates in the Gospel, remove the shoes and then wash the feet of someone else.

To remove the shoes of another, we are called to:
• Vigilance, watchfulness
• Stretching, bending
• Manual dexterity, skilful tying and untying with our hands.

(__1st) Vigilance, watchfulness, and to wait and pray.

Isn’t this the vigilance, the watchfulness exercised in the responsibility of:
• mothers and fathers, for children.
• doctors and nurses for patients
• Teachers for students.
• An attorney for a client
• All of us for each other

In such a case, the care giver may have specialized knowledge and skills. This care giver may even be highly paid.

On the other hand, parents and doctors and teachers and attorneys also rely on God’s help. They rely on God given talents and they also trust their little ones to God.
In this regard, vigilance also reminds us not only to do our best but also to pray that we will accept God’s will, results that may be beyond our control.

Vigilance is not only pulling someone back from danger. Vigilance is also a prayer for the other, a prayer for the person or situation we cannot control.

To remove the shoes of another, we first watch out and are vigilant for the arrival of such a person.

As Paul writes to the Colossians, “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” (Colossians 4:2)

(__2nd) Stretching, bending.

Sometimes, tying our own shoes is difficult enough. What about the shoes of another person?

To do so, we stretch our arms, back, And, this is an imitation of Christ. As Paul wrote:

“Though he was in the form of God, Jesus did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at. Rather, he emptied himself and took the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of men.” (Philippians 2:6-7)

(__3rd) Manual Dexterity

To tie and untie sandals is an act of precision, of exactness, of skillfulness.
How many months (years) before children develop this skill?

And, as grown ups, we need our own hands and fingers to be in perfect working order.

A sprained finger, a broken wrist, and we may on the 21-day disabled list/NFL injured reserve for tying and untying.

It requires attentiveness to detail, to the smallest of details, and to a tolerance for the dust of the floor.

Will I tie, untie?

Will I take the extra time to tie shoelaces in these cases …

(1) the letter, email, conversation that extra attention to both what we write or speak and how we write and speak so as to speak with both charity and clarity.

(2) The difficult homework assignment which we would rather rush through, the homework assignment for the class we do not enjoy.

(3) And, for my own good, will untie my own shoes, and ask for extra help if I need it? It may seem easier to keep my shoes on and sprint … when slowing down is what you and I need to learn and grow.

(4) Will I untie … by the favor extended to someone who overlooks my kindness, someone who is preoccupied.

It is difficult to be vigilant, to stretch, to use our manual dexterity.

But, in this way, we imitate Christ who also has stooped down to become one of us and who wants to be part of the smallest details and sacrifices of our lives.