Sunday, March 25, 2012

Free Fall (2012-03-25, Lent)

This is my homily for 25 March 2012 (5th Sunday Lent). 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.

Readings: Jeremiah 31:31-34, Psalm 51, Hebrews 5:7-9, John 12:20-33

[_01_] Falling to the ground, and dying…

Jesus suggests that this leads to growth, for the seed, for the individual person.
For example, DEATH – burial in the earth -- is what we are experiencing during an intense phase of transformation.

[_02_] A friend of mine, a physician, taught me that growth – which we often imagine to be continuous or perennial– is actually linked to specific episodes/times in our lives.

Quite simply, children grow, they level off, they grow again, and so on.
The 40 days of Lent are such an episode for us.

And, while we all might like to have the annual 4 inches of growth that high school point guards experience, we will probably have different episodes – due to other transitions.

In any case, we need what the seed in the earth needs.

We need roots, planted through our relationship to Jesus, through our communal prayer at Mass, through our friendships.

These roots keep us strong. They help us to develop our consciences, our moral choices.

What are these times of dying and rising to new life?
• Physically/biologically – some of us may have actually at one time – or may one day – grow 4 or more inches in a year. Such a transformation is similar to the seed which “dies” and reappears as the much larger tree or plant. A young person in a growth spurt has also risen to new life and to a new appearance.

• ACADEMIC STUDY – in 1st year of college, medical school, law school, times at which we are buried in books, papers. We also may be unrecognizable due to this intense transformation.

• 40 DAYS OF LENT – a period, a “growth spurt” also in which we are trying to live differently. This does not mean will keep our fasts perfectly, but that we are ever mindful. This is a transformation, a daily dying to our own needs and anxieties as we try to practice prayer, fasting, charitable giving.

These are examples of taking the fall, accepting the fall, in a true way…

Sometimes, we see the contrary example, those who “act out” rather than simply act in accordance with the Gospel.

[_03_] We may be able to cite a few examples. Not exactly what the Gospel has in mind….

On the basketball courts of the NCAA and the soccer fields of FIFA, we see the players “fall” and “take dives.” Point guards, midfielders. These collapses almost seem choreographed. Some ask WHY?

Here is an answer – from a World Cup 2010 blog – “why do soccer players fake injury?”
If you thought that the best actors and actresses in the world are restricted to Hollywood, Nollywood and Bollywood; think again. They actually reside on the other side of the white picket fence, where the grass is really greener. A soccer field, their stage, and free reign to improvise on the script, their blossoming acting careers seem to be a little too perfect.

These so-called ‘actors’ are professional soccer players, also known as footballers, who fake injuries to get a free penalty kick for their team. It usually happens when a player loses the ball to an opponent. Their natural instinct is then to flop on the pitch, as if the victim of a horrible foul that appears to have caused a career-ending injury. The player will grab his ankle or head in a state of theatrical paralysis until the referee stops play, and orders that the player be carried off the field on a stretcher. The injury lasts precisely as long as it takes the stretcher to reach the touchline. Once off the field, the player bounds out of the stretcher, fully recovered, and ready to rejoin the game at the next opportunity.

[_04_] While not actually living the Gospel, these players are certainly – as we say – “acting out” the command to “fall to the ground and die.” We simply demand the attention of others.

So, falling to the ground and dying means different things to different people.

There are real and true examples that we have in our lives …
What about the “dying” part for you and me? Would this only be an exaggeration, similar to what happens inside the 18/penalty box at a World Cup semifinal? Am I really going to die?

• ILLNESS – a person undergoing a serious illness and treatment – say, chemotherapy – is also being transformed. In a very different way, this new life is also a “growth spurt.”

• MOURNING/GRIEF – if we have suffered the death of a loved one, we may find ourselves in an intense period of exploration (even a sense of burial/isolation.).

But, this is certainly no “fake injury” leading to a penalty kick. We are actually hurting inside and need the help of others to rise to new life.

For these roots are not simply yellow cards/red cards or other penalties imposed by some referee who tells us what the rules or by a coach who calls the plays.

Rather, in our decision to follow the Gospel – freely by our consciences – we develop the roots, we go into a “free fall”, a free gift which helps us to rise to new life. [_fin_]

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Light/Conscience (2012-03-18, Lent)

This is my homily for 18 March 2012 (4th Sunday Lent). 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_] Who among us will not feel moved – or motivated – or a bit guilty – during the Olympics, Tour de France, NCAA Final Four, reading about the training regimens of serious athletes and players who rise at 4:00 a.m. in the morning to swim, kick, run, or do their homework?

Dwelling in darkness, first, they later come to the light or play under the lights …and, perhaps, receive a medal.
First, however, they are in darkness without sunlight or spotlights or camera flashes.

[_02_] In the dark is where we find Nicodemus, the Pharisee, in chapter 3 of the Gospel of John.

Nicodemus, not yet ready for London and the Olympic marathon, wants to be in the hills, in the darkness. Away from the stadium and track, Nicodemus goes to our Lord and Savior. Earlier in chapter 3, we also read that Nicodemus has come to Jesus in secret and after dark. He does yet ready to put on his country’s uniform for the Gospel or go through any opening ceremonies.

[_03_] Nicodemus discovers in private conversation/prayer what we all seek, that is:
• What are our true talents?
• How should we use them?
• Should we change our practice routine? (repentance, conversion)
• Who are the other competitors? What are my challenges?

[_04_] In the Gospel, we read: “whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.” (John 3:21)

[_05_] I’m suggesting that what the Olympic runner tries to overcome – an hour before sunrise – is also what we are trying to do in making informed decisions with our consciences.

Sometimes, our consciences tell us something contrary – something opposed – to the LAW, to COMMON PRACTICE, to OUR OWN COMFORT.
What is conscience? Is it the same as the voice I hear while reading in Sports
Illustrated about Olympic athletes and gymnasts?

We are often inclined to equate conscience with guilt or shame. Consider the Olympic example. My “conscience” tells me I should have been a gold medalist.

But, this is not really conscience. This is my “superego” which a psychologist would describe as the internalization of reward and punishment. My superego tells me I am
no good, when I fail and tells me I am great when I succeed.

The superego is not a conscience. The superego is more like the crowd at the London Olympics or London/Wimbledon which either gives the emotionally charged cheer or a boo.

But, this “internalization” of reward and punishment is not a conscience.

A conscience also is about boundaries, right and wrong… but my conscience is not given to me to punish me .. but to guide me.

Moreover, my conscience is not about what I should have done in the past… but is about what can I do now.

And, the presence of the Holy Spirit - in our hearts – is about the same thing.

[_06_] In the news, we read/hear about our Catholic bishops and “conscience” and health care.

This is in the news due to a new provision in the law requiring all employers to pay for services we view as morally objectionable – including Catholic charities, Catholic churches, schools and those of other faiths – [to pay for abortion, contraception, sterilization.]

I think we would all agree that conscience is important in health care. This controversy is about what conscience means for someone who carries insurance or pays for insurance.

Of course, our doctors exercise conscience all the time. We expect them, for example, to see themselves in our place. To treat us as they would want to be treated. In this way, a doctor acts in conscience.

And, in this debate about “conscience” and health insurance, we – as Catholics – are not saying that we want to restrict access to services which are already legally available and, indeed, protected by Supreme Court decisions (e.g., contraception: Griswold v. Connecticut, abortion: Roe v. Wade).

We recognize that these procedures are legal. But, in conscience, we will not pay for them.

And, conscience, has a way of keeping us up at night, in the dark. In this debate, the bishops are making a profession of faith about prenatal life, unborn life, which while also unseen to many – has an inherent value.

Can 2 different persons arrive at 2 different conclusions about inherent value, each of them acting “in conscience”, “conscientiously”? Yes. This is why we as Catholics want to protect religious liberty and conscience. In this regard, conscience is more important than law.

[_07_] Sometimes, acting in conscience, we go beyond what the “crowd” is chanting for, what the audience wants or even what the rules of the match will permit.

Consider the parable of the Good Samaritan, the Samaritan traveler who stops – in the darkness of an isolated road – to help someone who is assaulted and abandoned.

There is nothing in it for the Samaritan. Yet, he acts and reacts for the good.

In fact, the parable hints that the “victim” being helped is someone who might despise, be prejudiced against, Samaritans.

So, in a decision about true health and well-being, we weigh not only what is possible by legal or scientific statutes. We may even have to go beyond concerns strictly medical or immediately measurable.

[_08_] We are called to discover the inherent goodness in any other person, a person for whom we are called to sacrifice.

This is true in any relationship, any friendship, and in the care not only of life at its earliest stages but also life at its latest – the terminally ill, the infirm.

Doing so, we come to the light, and try to see beyond the current situation of darkness. We may need to set our clocks ahead one hour or more.

[_09_] Olympic athletes survive and compete for so long – in the light because they have also put in their time in the darkness.

Would we not say the same of a doctor able to make a split-second decision to save you or me as the patient? The doctor is able to grasp the right thing quickly due to a well trained mind and conscience… one which developed in darkness.

We also – in prayer and action – are called to move back and forth from darkness to light, from prayer to action.

And, doing so, we are also moving ever closer to the natural and public profession of our faith, in broad daylight. [_fin_]

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Three Tents (2012-03-04, Lent)

This is my homily for 4 March 2012 (2nd Sunday Lent). 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_] We have just read the Gospel of the Transfiguration, taking place after Peter, James, and John follow Jesus to the mountaintop.

At the peak, Peter suggests a memorial, a little monument, the construction of 3 tents, 3 shelters, or in other biblical translations, 3 booths.

This would relate to the Jewish-Exodus tent as a sacred place for the tablets of the 10 Commandments and the tent as the dwelling place, the “mobile home” during the Exodus. The tent – this collapsible shelter - recalls God’s presence.

At the moment, however, the Lord has a different idea from Peter about how to survive – spiritually and physically – on the mountain and elsewhere.

[_02_] Going into the actual wild or wilderness – or to the practice field or track in winter – what do we need to survive?

Perhaps, we wish we had an extra layer or two …or longer arms … Or, more strength. Or, we simply would rather be indoors.

[_03_] One of our Lenten practices – our “fasting” – might be to decrease – or eliminate – this comparison … or this regret about our current GPS satellite location.

After all, Jesus invites us into the desert as because of who we are NOW not because of last season’s GPA, statistics, or other things we may be able to carry or “prove.”

And, our physical transformation, in academics – sports – music – the arts – is not only about what we have already done but what we are willing to do in the future.

[_04_] In the Gospel of the Transfiguraton, Jesus is changed – transformed – as an anticipation – future prophecy of his suffering, death, and resurrection.

And, what makes this transformation possible is Jesus’ dedication to God’s will, God’s plan.

And, he invites Peter, James and John – and you and me – to consider God’s will, God’s plan in our lives as well.

[__05_] What do we need to survive on the mountain, the field, the wilderness? Spring practice? Midterms? Surely we need more than a tent, more than a uniform …more than the simple memorization of facts and formulae.

In other words, our transformation depends on more than what we currently lug in an L.L. Bean bag.

We also need – in the wilderness –
• Food, water
• Warmth, Fire, Light

Where will we find these things?

[_06-Food, Water_] We need the food, water of our studies, of our friendships.
What might be less nourishing on this journey is the way in which we nourish ourselves or consume ourselves with jealousy, envy, comparing ourselves to teammates, classmates, and others.

In the community of our peers, we might recall that we all need the same advice, same practice, same discipline. No need for any extra “peer pressure” from within.

And, in a community of believers, we might do the same. Each of us is a sinner in need of repentance before God. Even those who seem to get through life more easily are sinners in need of repentance.

In those apparently slim backpacks might be some very dense objects, heavy burdens.

[_07-Warmth_] And, we need warmth to survive in the wilderness, on the mountain.

Suggesting the 3 tents, we might imagine Peter wants to go in from out of the cold.

And, in this traditional-religious sense, Peter has the memory of dwelling in tents during the 40 years of the Exodus in the desert.

During most of the Exodus the people had few possessions.

And, their food and water came from the miraculous manna and water from the rock. Their light and warmth was from God telling them where to turn.

[_08_] And, our food and water also comes from Jesus’ body and blood in the Eucharist, our light is from his grace.

Jesus – in this Gospel – also reminds us to place our trust in him for light and for warmth.

In some climate conditions – or difficulties at work, in the home, family, the dorm room – we cannot necessarily produce our own light or our own warmth.

Some situations may be unchangeable by our own will. This would be similar to the lighting of dry firewood in a very damp campground.

In other words, we are asked not be too concerned about where to put up these tents.

Rather, simply, invite the Lord into our rooms, homes, our tents ..and he will be our food and light and fire. [_fin_]