Sunday, February 26, 2012

Fasting and the Unseen (Lent, 2012-02-27)

“This kind can only come out by prayer [and fasting].” (Mark 9:29)

[_01_] The 40 Days of Lent start with a profession of faith … a profession which requires no words, appearing on our foreheads. Visible, public.

The 40 Days of Lent also invite us to certain other visible practices, almsgiving (charity), to prayer, and to fasting/abstaining from meat on Fridays, for example.

[_02_] The very first Lenten season, for our Lord and Savior in the desert, was not so public. And, his fasting was unseen, invisible. Yet, his fasting is a preparation… as are all fasts for what is coming next. Also, the fast – can have the effect of changing our attitude – toward a visible object, something tangible.

A fast from a certain form of nourishment may help us to appreciate it more, a fast or a reduction of our consumption of some other good - a reduction of some electronic medium or media, or of our television – also will help us to develop a particular habit.

By fasting, I may be better able to discern what I need and when and why. All of these are benefits of fasting, visible, both to ourselves and to others.

[_03_] John Henry Newman writes in a sermon that fasting and prayer are spiritual practices which give us power .. “which give the soul power over the unseen world” , over what we cannot see.

(Reference: Newman, John Henry, “Fasting A Source of Trial” Book 6, Sermon 1, Parochial & Plain Sermons 1891, San Francisco: Ignatius, 1997, pp. 1192-1193.)

In the Gospel, Jesus goes to the desert and is tempted by the evil spirit. We have heard these 3 temptations, which we might reflect just on the first one.
Nourishment – if you are the Son of God, turn these stones into bread (Matthew 4:3)

[_04_] Jesus withstands these 3 temptations, declining, just saying no.

Cardinal Newman suggests we, in a fast, do not simply say No to the visible thing, to the …. attributes of the “nourishment”, “recognition”, “wealth.” Rather, we also understand better that which is not seen. And, fasting … helps to see what might otherwise be hidden.

[_05_] The Lord is first invited to nourish himself, turn stones into bread.
Nourishment is something good. But, sometimes our desire for nourishment comes from true hunger but also from insecurity, from pride … from boredom.

And, sometimes, we nourish ourselves not only on purely packaged food, but also on purely packaged information, entertainment, images … all with empty calories.

And, we desire these things sometimes out of our own occasional – or more than occasional – despair, jealousy, pride. These are unseen spirits … fasting helps us to be aware of their presence.

[__06] We do not live by bread alone.

But, Jesus also cautions us – in the Gospel of Ash Wednesday – that fasting is not simply about what we can see, touch, or purchase.

Jesus says, “when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden.” (cf. Matthew 6:16-18)

Fasting is not simply about what we see … nor is it about being seen.

Fasting helps us to grow stronger to make our YES mean YES and, at times, our No mean No.

We can say Yes to those who truly love us, and, when necessary No to those who do not.

And, fasting helps us to know the Lord and know ourselves, to know what we need, not only based on a set of product features which we can see …but also based on our own true (or false) desires which may be obscure or out of sight. [_fin_]

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Anticipation, Ash Wednesday (2012-02-22)

This is my homily for Ash Wednesday 22 February 2012. 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] The 40 days of Lent remind us that we are anticipating, hoping, waiting for Easter for the Death and Resurrection of Jesus.
We might ask ourselves, how does our Lenten practice affect or change our experience of waiting and hoping.

During the 40 days of Lent – and in Christian life generally – we speak of
1. Almsgiving (or charity)
2. Prayer
3. Fasting

These practices may seem to make the wait less tolerable, the waiting more uncomfortable. These are sacrifices…

[__02] First , almsgiving, charitable giving.
During a delay or uncertainty, we are tempted to put everyone or everything else on hold until my call is picked up/answered.

We may be eager for the solution or resolution of:
1. Family crisis– family members who are divided/not at peace with each other.
2. Professional obstacle
3. Uncertainty about our grades, standing, future ... what to do after graduation.

Some of the above may take much longer than the 40 days of Lent.

It is difficult to do something for someone else, when we feel left behind in the waiting room.

But, Jesus asks us to remember that it is when become last – even last in the waiting room – that we are truly first. The last shall be first.

Lent reminds us not to postpone indefinitely the generous act, the sacrifice for another person, the gift ourselves.

[__03] Secondly, prayer.

If we were actually on hold– or if we were on someone else’s waiting list, what would we perhaps do ...? Perhaps we would call for more information... try to find someone influential who can move this along...

And, at such a time, we realize that our future is in someone else’s hands.
During our prayer of Lent, we might realize that our lives and the lives of others are also in God’s hands. Do we place our trust there? Or in ourselves.

This Lent, we are called to sacrifice – not only give alms – to promote justice, love, charity...

But also to place our needs in God’s hands, to recognize as Jesus said, Father, not my will but yours be done. And, to ask, how can I respond to God’s will in promoting justice for the poor, the vulnerable, the unborn, the terminally ill. In promoting peace in my family, my relationships....

Appealing to God in our prayer, especially as we wait, we try not only to reduce our wait time, but also to acknowledge... It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.

[__04] Thirdly, fasting. This “fast” and abstinence includes some specific instructions about the meals we eat today and on Good Friday and the giving up of meat on Fridays.

And, fasting, like prayer, helps us to recognize that we are not in complete control. This denial of self, this denial of our will, our desires at times, is a reminder of our dependence on God.

Also, fasting reminds us that our love with others and for others does not depend on the material food we are enjoying at a particular banquet.

Love itself is a banquet without silverware.

Also, fasting reminds us that the Lord has made us to receive many different sources of nourishment.

Also, the actual “fast” or “denial” may mean different things to different people.

For example, if we are older or in a particular health circumstance, the “fast” might simply be the promise to follow doctor’s orders, to eat that which is prescribed, for the fast is meant to be for our well being.

Or, the sacrifice might simply be to eat what is served and enjoy what is served with others. Here on campus, we have the opportunity – and may have the inclination to enjoy our meals whenever we want ... or with whomever. So, perhaps, the “fast” might be to choose regular meal times, regular meal get a recommended daily allowance of human contact.

[__05] Forty days of Lent, of anticipation.

What shall we do with this time?

By almsgiving, charity, we show our generosity, even when we ourselves may be waiting, delayed, uncertain

By prayer, meditation, we turn our lives over to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

By fasting, by these acts of self denial, we also say to ourselves and the Lord that we will accept what he is serving us, where he is leading us ... and that we will accept God’s letter, God’s call, whenever it comes. [__fin__]

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Friendship (2012-02-19)

This is my homily for Sunday 19 February 2012. 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.

[_00_] In the Gospel we have just read, we observe an example of equality among the 4 who are each at one corner of the stretcher.

Consider their task, their project, to carry their friend through and over the crowd, and also through the roof to reach our Lord and Savior at home.

Each of the 4 has 25% - one-quarter of the burden. While one of them might be the size of NY Giant Jason Pierre Paul and another only as large as NY Knick Jeremy Lin
(who is not really a lightweight, 6 foot 3, 200 pounds), all 4 have to carry their share.

The project of our friendships often requires this equality, [[[even conformity]], for the benefit of the other person.

In philosophy and Ethics (Nicomachean Ethics, Books 8-9), the Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote that friendship is a virtue. And, friendship implies virtue.

[_01_] Don’t get me wrong. Not everything that happens among friends or between friends is necessarily virtuous. Also, Aristotle too understood, sometimes, we enter relationships merely for convenience, utility, pleasure.

But, the truest and best form of friendship is one that involves mutual love.
After all, Aristotle points out… how can a love based on “utility/usefulness”be a lasting friendship …or love based on “pleasure”.

Isn’t what we find useful or pleasing is subject to change?

Aristotle writes: “friendship changes with the object that is found pleasant, and such pleasure alters quickly.”

In a way, Aristotle also takes the position that we become friends with those who are similar to us… in other words, birds of a feather flock together.

While “opposites may attract”, for these opposites to become friends, they must discover something they love and share with the other person.

In other words, those characteristics which seem so “opposing” may be superficial. With true friends, ones shares a love for goodness, discovered both in himself/herself and in the other.

[_02_] Aristotle cites the example that true friendship, for example, helps us to avoid slander against another person.

Would it not be more hurtful for me to speak negatively – or degrade – someone with whom I share some aspect of my heart and soul?

In a sense, good friendship teaches us not to do this… teaches us not only to refrain from slander… but also teaches us to trust others, to “love our neighbor as we love ourselves”.

In the Gospel, the 4 companions trusted that each [of the others] was carrying his 25%, his share, of the burden.

[_03_] Friendship teaches us about equality, even conformity, in a healthy productive way –

1. PRESENCE – our friends teach us that our presence matters, our presence at a party, at graduation, on a team …matters, even if we are not the star, even if we are not feeling well … or if we are not feeling particularly cheerful. In other words, we are equal – among our friends – just by showing up.

2. HISTORY – in a similar way, we are equal among our friends because we have experienced certain things together. Our parents may have sent us to school … but with our friends, we experienced it.

3. CONNECTION – in a related way, as we grow older, our “friendship” with our siblings is also matter of shared experience, and of love, and of equality. This provides a necessary support.

4. Jesus says that he calls his disciples – friends – and that they are to lay down their lives not only for God but for each other … they are friends with each other, equals.

[_05_] In the Book of Sirach we read, a faithful friend is a sturdy shelter, he who finds one finds a shelter. (Sirach 6:14)

Friendship – true companionship – is a shelter …

What I’m suggesting here is that the SHELTER is something constant, persistent, enduring.

Meanwhile, our lives are sometimes quite VARIABLE, CHANGEABLE … STORMY.

[_06_] Simple and beautiful are the relationships, the friendships, which teach us to trust, to trust because we know that we are on an equal footing with the other person.

This is not true – or not always true – in our relationships.

Consider that in some relationships – by definition – the 2 parties are very different, not exactly the same.

They may complement – complete – each other, but they are not the same.
• Marriage – husband and wife
• Family – father to child, mother to child…or adult child to a parent of any age.
• Professional work – the supervising manager and the employee.

In all of the cases, the 2 parties are called to respect and honor each other. Yet, each will expect – and receive – different things from the relationship.

This is not simply division of a task into 2 equal portions, 50/50… or in the Gospel, 4 equal burdens 25% each. This variability can be difficult. We need the constancy of friendship as a shelter.

Consider what happens in a marriage. Isn’t it true that if a one of the spouses has a difficulty with the other…. He or she may need a confidante, someone trusted, but also someone “on the outside.”

In such a difficulty in a marriage or an intimate family relationship, perhaps, another family member cannot be informed easily -- or the other spouse cannot be told immediately/directly.

In this way, a good and constant friendship is not opposed to but truly supports one’s primary calling to marriage, family, vocation.

[_07_] 4 friends who are equal in their loyalty and burden bring the paralyzed man to Jesus who forgives and heals him.

Not so clear is degree of faith present in the paralyzed man himself. Jesus does not care so much…

What Jesus emphasizes at this time is not the faith of the one but of the party of five.

And, we are called to give and receive in friendships which will help us to grow in strength and faith.

In Aristotle’s Ethics, we read … “[Friendship] is most necessary with a view to living. For without friends no one would choose to live though he had all other goods.”

And, we need to develop friends which remind us of our inherent value, friendships which help us both to trust others ..and to repent of our wrongdoings – also with trust in the Lord … and trust in a world – or a high school – or workplace – or family … where variability and changeability – even inequality are everywhere. [_fin_]

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Going Public (2011-02-12)

This is my homily for Sunday 12 February 2012. 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.

[_00_] In the Gospel, we read about a leper who goes on to make public the healing which he experiences. (cf. Mark 1:40-45)

And, St. Paul writes about “going public”, his experience as a missionary, as a preacher, as a teacher, the experience of “going public.”

In 1st Corinthians, we read: “I did not seek my own benefit but that of the many, that they may be saved. Be imitators of me as I am of Christ.” (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1) Paul is a public witness.

So, by seeking the benefit of the many, we are, in a sense, going public.

[_01_] In what ways do people go public or are we called to “go public”?
Certain financial benefits – and profits – accrue to corporations and executives who go public. For example, in Silicon Valley and California, Mark Zuckerberg would be happy to make you his friend on Facebook and sell you some shares in his company.

These are corporate actions of going public, which are determined by the readiness of the buyers and sellers, supply and demand. When is the ideal time to sell?
Maybe, we should keep things quiet, private for a while …

[_02_] St. Paul is reminding us that we are called to be public believers, perhaps, and, sometimes at -- inconvenient times or -- in uncomfortable situations.

St. Paul also reminds us that it is by the virtue of love - by loving the many – that we are truly made known.

Paul writes that when the virtue of love grows, then we are truly known. In other words, we do not see each other through a glass darkly – or in a mirror – but we see each other face to face, publicly. (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:10-13)

[_03_] Recently, in the news, the Catholic bishops have been in the news and there has been a conflict with the White House Administration.

This is an example in which we are trying to make our faith public. We also believe we are doing this for the benefit of the many, even those who are not necessarily Catholic.

We are believe we are on the side of religious liberty and the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Of course, there are people who do not have health insurance in our country.

There are people in poor health who lack basic medical care. We are called to pray for the many.

To pray for the many who have benefited from the new health care legislation, the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), signed by President Obama. But, at the same time, our faith invites us to speak about our own virtues and practices.

We pray that there will be reconciliation and peace, not only for Catholics but for all.

[_04_] Paul reminds us that we are truly known when we love each other.

To love another person is not simply a private matter.

In our profession of faith in one Body, one Body of Christ, one Body the Church and one body made possible in marriage, we believe that all of these are essentially public.

Love always involves the total gift of oneself, not just on Valentine’s Day but every day.

CCC 1643 (paraphrased)  Love involves a totality, in which all of the elements of a person enter in, including the appeal or appearance of one’s own person, the instinct, power of emotion, and the aspirations and hopes that we have.

To love the other means we say – “I want what you want.” And, there is surrender that goes on, especially in marriage.

Love is a testimony to the Gospel.

We are witnesses in the way that we love.

We believe also in the special relation and intimacy in marriage when the parties are committed to each other.

And, love is a testimony to the Gospel, a testimony to the desire to know and be known, and it is the ultimate act of going public.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Background Checks (2012-02-05)

This is my homily for Sunday 5 February 2012. 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.

[_00_] There are background checks and there are background checks. Paying a bill with a credit card sometimes involves a very quick identification check. Who are you … But, a new job, new employer, or to a new school, requires more extensive review of our statistics, transcripts, “report card”.

The principal or the boss wants to know the story, the history of our lives. It’s only fair right that everyone should be examined, check out … right ?

Our first reading this Sunday is from the Book of Job. And, Job himself – known also for his great confidence and patience – has also been halted for a background check.

Or, so Job has been told.

It was not always this way for Job.

Now, as the song goes … he is sweeping the streets he used to own.

But, now, Job has lost control, the autonomy that he once had over his life. Job used to be the boss, the lord of the manor. He had 10 children, property, crops, money. (The 1 percent).

Job has suffered collapse (materially, financially). And, Job describes himself as the “hireling”, the hourly wage worker who waits to be hired, and even less, the slave who longs for shade. (cf. Job 7:1-7)

[_02_] In the book of Job, a friend visits Job with an explanation of Job’s status, of his woes/disadvantages.

Actually, the book introduces 4 visitors. But, we’ll consider just a few examples.

For example, there is first friend, Eliphaz who clearly believes in retribution, in revenge.

In other words, as one commentator writes, – “obviously, these calamaties have been sent to punish Job for some transgression or culpable negligence, perhaps unnoticed.

Eliphaz intends to help Job examine his conscience, to repent of his sins, and so to regain God’s favor.”(Jerome Bibl Comm (1968), Job, 31:23)

[_03_] This idea of retribution is certainly attractive, sometimes plausible to us as well …

I might be tempted to say about my situation or that of another person .. that God has been made angry by sinfulness or selfishness.

What we believe as Catholics and as Christians is not that God punishes us for our sins… but that our sinful actions themselves … when we come to know them… that our memory of the actions will indeed be a punishment.

When we come to the Lord in penance and confession, we are not completing a background check. In fact, the Lord knows our sins even before we tell him.

What is beneficial for us is to speak these sins out loud and, thus, be free of them and be forgiven.

[_04_] The life story of Job reminds us of the problem of evil, of temptation and injustice in the world.

The “friends” of Job have a relatively easier answer, considering only retribution.

And, if Job is guilty..they remind him that he has a right to remain silent. In fact, he’d be better off not saying so much…lest the Lord become even angrier with him.

The friend Zophar tells Job … “can you penetrate the designs of God, dare you vie with the perfection of the Almighty” (Job 11:7). In other words, Job is being told to chill out…

[_05_] The Good News of Job tells us of someone who continues to speak, to question, to lament his condition… even to ask why.

Job is not really given a clear answer. But, Job continues to question – to call out to God – because he knows that “retribution” is not the answer. Job is quite correct.

But, ultimately, Job also remains a listener.

The Good News of Job is also that the Lord is not interested in how rich Job once was ..or how poor Job is now. This is not a background check.

The Lord is interested in the present moment for Job, for you, for me.

[_06_] What we read in Job is that the so-called friends do not provide true love and affirmation during Job’s crisis, his “background check”. Only the Lord is his true friend, his redeemer, vindicator.

“I know that my redeemer lives”… this is Job’s profession of faith. (Job 19:25)

Isn’t it true that when we feel blessed, affirmed, forgiven… we are better able to serve and to be with others who are difficult, maybe this is a family member, neighbor, friend?

When we lack the will to serve, to help, to endure, we need to be renewed in God’s grace ourselves.

In the Gospel of this Sunday, we also see this change, this conversion, in the example of Simon’s mother-in-law.

Jesus enters the house where Simon’s mother-in-law lay sick with a fever. Being healed, Simon’s mother-in-law immediately rises. And, we read, “the fever left her and she waited on them … began to serve.” (cf. Mark 1:29-39)

The fact that she immediately starts to serve is significant. For example, isn’t it true that when we feel blessed, forgiven, loved, affirmed .. that we also wish to serve and help others.

Simon’s mother-in-law does not rise and serve simply to make up for lost time to do the tasks that were unfinished.

There is no background check, no history.

Rather, Simon’s mother-in-law gives us the further example of one who is also interested in the present moment. Having been healed, she is similar to the sinner who has been absolved, or who starts over with a restored background and identity.