Sunday, September 30, 2012

Premium Rush (2012-09-30)

30 September 2012  -  26th Sunday (B) - 

[ Numbers 11:25-29  | Psalm 19 | James 5:1-6 | + Mark 9:38-43, 45,47-48]

This is my homily for 30 September 2012 (Sunday). I am a Catholic chaplain in Teaneck at Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU) campus and for the FDU Newman Catholic Association and at New Jersey City University (NJCU) in Jersey City.  We celebrate Catholic Mass - during Fall and Spring semester - every Sunday Evening (7:00 p.m.) at the FDU University Interfaith Chapel, 842 River Road, Teaneck, NJ.

[__01]  A good messenger – or a system of messaging/communication – is important in a crowded or competitive place.

This includes the arena and field. Coaches and players – especially in football and baseball – have complex gestures and hand signals in order to communicate – and execute – a particular strategy.

Sometimes,  the most important messages are concealed, available only to selected participants.

Orchestra and choir/musical conductors use special messages to communicate volume and  rhythm.

The messages of the NY Philharmonic conductor are not as as secretive as the NY Yankees but only the experienced performers will grasp their significance.

[__02]  Sometimes, in a crowd or competition, we wonder if our message will be heard, comprehended. Will the listener(s) be able to separate – as the sound engineers would say at the Springsteen concert (we are here in New Jersey after all) -the SIGNAL from the NOISE? The SIGNAL being the actual message, the noise being the background noise, disturbance, static.

[__03]   And, in our readings – from the Book of Numbers and the Gospel-Book of Mark – the sound-engineering philosophy of Moses and Jesus is given.

They are also concerned about communicating the message.

And, Moses and Jesus are told about the “unlicensed,” “non registered” prophets and messengers who are, in fact, spreading the word.

Both Moses and Jesus respond similarly,

MOSES -- “Would that all the people of the Lord – of Israel – were prophets”. That is, Moses feels blessed that people are taking it upon themselves to spread the Good News.

JESUSSimilarly welcoming – and affirming – is our Lord Jesus who desires that these non-union, un-registered messengers, would continue, “He who is not against us is for us.”
[__05]   You and I are also called to be prophets, to be messengers for God. Paul describes this as being an ambassador for Christ (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:20).

Jesus goes on to say, even to exaggerate the point, that a messenger who lacks perfect vision, who lacks manual dexterity, a messenger who cannot walk or run quickly… can still be a messenger.

In other words, to be God’s messengers, God’s servants, we do not need to have perfect eyes, perfect hands, or feet.

In fact, if we consider messengers – heroes – we have known, we know that they have given up their own safety for the good of someone else, for God, for the message, or for freedom.
Not everyone of us is called to sacrifice in this particular way.

But, nevertheless, we can recall – in the use of our physical and spiritual strength --  “If we are not against him, we are for him.”

 [__06-SHORTCUTS]   To travel through – or to communicate in a crowded place, messengers often seek shortcuts, new methods, to achieve that high-speed PREMIUM RUSH bicycle delivery or maximum publicity.

Can we not also use some of our desires for speed, for shortcutsd, for brevity on God’s behalf, for God’s purposes, and not only our own will?

For example, to be the PREMIUM RUSH messenger – for the Lord – am I willing to risk a conversation with someone who opposes me, who seems not to like me?

In this, I would be doing the daring-messenger maneuver of going down a one-way street.

And, am I willing to carry an extra burden in backpack, or my heart, in my prayer fro someone else. Those bike messengers pick up extra packages for money. Do we pick up extra?

 [__07]   Yes, I am speaking figuratively, not literally about how we can be of service as messengers, as prophets.

But, it is our call to be of service even if we are occasionally rejected.

But the Lord is suggesting that we do not have to be officially registered prophets. We can do this with his help – also on our own skills.

And, in this regard, it may be risky, but we can try this at home.  [___fin__]

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Greatness (2012-09-23)

[ Wisdom 2:12, 17-20  | Psalm 54 | James 3:16-4:3 | + Mark 9:30-37]

This is my homily for 23 September 2012 (Sunday). I am a Catholic chaplain in Teaneck at Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU) campus and for the FDU Newman Catholic Association and at New Jersey City University (NJCU) in Jersey City.  We celebrate Catholic Mass - during Fall and Spring semester - every Sunday Evening (7:00 p.m.) at the FDU University Interfaith Chapel, 842 River Road, Teaneck, NJ.

[__01]  We might say Jesus could speak this way – and place a child in the midst of the disciples – to emphasize the humility of a child, the precious life of a child.

John Henry Newman, Cardinal Newman writes that the life of a child reminds us of love of charity toward others. Consider, for example, t that there  is someone  in your life who is difficult to love or care for – what to do about it ?

Newman writes – “what better can we do than appeal to the memory of times past, and above all to [the] childhood [of this other person].  Then – [during childhood] did [this person] come from the hand of God.[1]

Doing this, we remember that we are all children of God.

But, in addition to this consideration, Jesus is also offering the child as one who believes, who trusts, who confides in God… and does so, sometimes more readily than the grown ups.

Jesus says –

Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.” (Mark 9:37)

[__02]      Jesus is challenging his disciples – and you and me – to consider not what is already highly rated and popular to be equivalent to greatness.

Rather, Jesus is suggesting we consider the child, the children in our lives.

What is their evaluation system, criteria, top 25?

Or, what I’d like to suggest are the 2 – the FINALISTS – in the essence of greatness for children. What do children want? What do they consider to be great?

[__03]   I will dare to speak on behalf of CHILDREN everywhere – “these kids today” what they want…

To summarize:  (1) ATTENTION;  (2) TRUTH.

Children want ATTENTION, children want to know the TRUTH.

Also, a children naturally pays attention to the person who is speaking the truth. Sometimes, grown ups do not always do so. We may not want to hear the truth.

 [__04-ATTENTION]   First, attention.  Children want attention

A child can be motivated quite easily and rapidly because someone pays attention, pays heed, gives recognition.

Of course, this COULD turn out unpleasant when the child chooses to do something unpleasant or absolutely wrong because he or she is now “on stage” or being noticed.

But, is not Good News that a child is motivated to recognition? Recognition/affirmation is a reward that helps a child (of any age) discover a a talent – or complete – his or her --

  • Homework
  • Rehearsal
  • Practice. 
As grown ups, we are not always on the receiving end of everyone’s admiration.

Is this not true for Peter the Apostle who is now reminded  of this in the Garden of Gethsemane where he is asked to stay awake and pray with Jesus the night before Good Friday/Passion?

It’s hard for Peter to pay attention during the Passion. He, too, is being rejected.

Peter and the disciples keep falling asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane when asked to pray. It’s hard to stay awake.

Simultaneously, in the Garden of Gethsemane, at this moment of agony, we also recall Jesus’ great alertness and intimacy with God the Father. Paying attention is a 2-way street.

And, the disciples learn this as they grow and receive the Holy Spirit later.

 [__05-TRUTH] Secondly,   truth. Children want the truth.

  • What time is it?
  • What time will we get there? Are we there?
  • What will really happen if I don’t do this homework assignment?
  • Are we getting a babysitter?
 This is a very sample “questionnaire” of requests – demands – for the truth.

And, is not a beautiful and necessary aspect of our lives to demand the truth from each other and from ourselves?

The truth about Jesus has implications, consequences which Peter would rather not consider.

We may also commit our lives – in faith – to God to each other – through the sacraments. And, then we are called to consider each day – the full implication of being –

  • A Catholic priest
  • A husband, father, mother, wife
  • A son or daughter
  • A grown up son or daughter with responsibilities towards parents or other loved ones.
  • A freshman, sophomore, junior, senior… faculty or staff.

All of our relationships bring us to the truth about the precious gift of human life.

We might remember that children are ones eager to know what is going on. Such is their integrity, faith, enthusiasm, confidence in God.

[__06]  Honesty/integrity helps a child to flourish/prosper. This is also true for the child who is learning to speak honestly, to speak up. And, it is true for the child who is hearing the truth.

As adults, we may more easily try to present, to spin, to dodge, or avoid the truth.

For example, as we know – we have all been in situations, feeling uncomfortable about the words or actions of others.

As grown ups, we learn ways to correct such situations. And, we also learn ways to avoid such difficult conversations. Sometimes, unfortunately, we miss an opportunity.

Children, however, tend to not to miss these opportunities. They just tell you right away what they are feeling. Or, a child – quite responsibly and faithfully walks away from trouble. A child wants to live in the truth.

[__07]  Consider the “children” in our midst. Consider the “children” in our midst. Maybe, they are the new freshmen at FDU. Perhaps, you have seen them this Fall 2012 term, or in a previous semester. 

Some of them do not yet know what’s going on, what the priorities are.. at least in an academic sense. They are making – at least – an intellectual adjustment, probably also a social and interpersonal adjustment to a new school-environment.

Such children are adapting to a new rule book, a new match.

We are adapting each day as children.    As we pray today, and prepare to receive Holy Communion, we also recall our need for God’s love which reminds us that in the gift of Communion, He has paid attention to us, told us the the truth about love and self sacrifice, and has given a special calling – a responsibility to each of us.

This is his logic, and our true greatness as children of God.  [__fin__

[1] Newman, John Henry, Parochial and Plain Sermons, “The Minds of Little Children”, Book 2, Sermon 6.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Focus Group (2012-09-16)

This is my homily for 16 September 2012 (Sunday). I am a Catholic chaplain in Teaneck at Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU) campus and for the FDU Newman Catholic Association and at New Jersey City University (NJCU) in Jersey City.  We celebrate Catholic Mass - during Fall and Spring semester - every Sunday Evening (7:00 p.m.) at the FDU University Interfaith Chapel, 842 River Road, Teaneck, NJ.

16 September 2012  -  24th Sunday (B) -  [ Isaiah 50:5-9a  | Psalm 114 | James 2:14-18 | + Mark 8:27-35]

[__01]  In this Gospel reading, we might say that …  the disciples are gathered for some Question and Answer, a discussion, prompted by some “research” Jesus is conducting.

The objective of the research question seems to be a discovery of how far ahead (or behind) Jesus might be in the popularity polls? Does the name of Jesus have good public recognition?

We might judge this based on the association of Jesus with those who have gone before him. It is a multiple-choice question and questionnaire for the disciples.

Is Jesus identified with --
(a)   Elijah?
(b)   John the Baptist ?
(c)    1 of the prophets?
·          if a prophet, which 1?

And, depending on which prophet we were to choose, we would indicate how important Jesus is – some prophets were “major” and very well known, some minor, some not so well known.

In business, in politics, this type of discussion is called a focus group. What is a focus group? I’m suggesting we might compare just some of this discussion – and the opinions offered to a focus group … or any group – including a family – where opinions are being offered…

These opinions may tell us something about the world outside my room, my car, my house…

A focus group is “a small group of people whose response to something – or someone – [such as the new Apple iPhone 5 or a political candidate ] – is studied – [the small-group response is studied] to determine the response to be expected from the larger population.[1]

[__02]  The disciples are asked a question about what they see and hear from other people.

“Who do people say that I am?”, Jesus asks.

And, in an actual focus group, the members might tell you what their external impressions of other people with a particular phone, car, product.

But, then, they are also asked ..what do you think? What do you say? This is the key question in the Gospel we have read.

 [__03]  Of course, it is true, that in the Gospel, Peter, James, and John are not simply questioned so that Jesus can gather responses and crunch numbers, statistics on a spreadsheet.

Nevertheless, Peter, James, John and the others are being surveyed, challenged…

And, this is especially true of Peter who has some exclusive top-secret information not yet available online or in person.

[__04]   Peter knows Jesus is the Messiah and reveals this to the Lord and to the other disciples.

But, then, Jesus defines what this Messianic identity is, what does it mean for him to be the chosen one of God.

Jesus says,  “The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and rise after three days.”  (cf. Mark 8:27-35)

 [__05]  At this revelation, Peter reacts forcefully. And, this makes Peter perfect for the focus group. Peter gives his opinion willingly, forcefully and, in his own way, faithfully. Peter believes everything he is saying.

He holds nothing back. Peter indicates, in a way, what other people will say later, seeing Jesus crucified, life taken, buried.

And, in this regard, Peter, James and John also become witnesses to the reality of what Jesus tells them is going to happen and what actually happens.

In this regard, they are more then a test-market or a focus group.  In this regard, the gathering of these disciples becomes a family, a community, a communion, a church, the Church.

[__06]  As we know, one of the things we are inclined to do, among our friends, or within our families is to offer opinions, prophecies, predictions  of what good or evil is going to come about as a result of something happening now. We also do so willingly, forcefully, …and in our own ways, very faithfully.

We (I) may believe every word we are (I am) saying.

At the dinner table, have I not – at times – given my little speech, or the equivalent of a PowerPoint presentation to everyone listening. .

And, certainly there are times that we need to stand up for what – and who – we believe in.
But, standing up for what we believe -- is more than just pushing our way to the front, raising our voice, or scoring points in an argument … or, doing what is most popular.

What did the focus group tell me to do?

Peter, you, I are not asked for what others think, believe but what we believe.

And, I this regard, we are called not only to be “out front” but also asked where do you stand? Behind whom do you stand?

We are asked this, at times, in a difficult choice between doing what is right. Behind whom do I stand? Will I get behind Jesus?

Am I willing to do more than give an opinion, a prediction about the future?

How can I listen more attentively to Christ who speaks to me through others, through the community, through our Catholic faith?

Am I willing to get behind the Lord also?

And, in my efforts to imitate Jesus, who will people say that I am? [_fin_]

[1] “focus group”  Merriam Webster lexicon 10th College Ed definition which dates the word to 1985.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Secrecy (2012-09-09)

This is my homily for 9 September   2012 (Sunday). 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 (7:00 p.m.) at the FDU University Interfaith Chapel, 842 River Road, Teaneck, NJ.

9 September 2012  -  22nd Sunday (B) -  [ Isaiah 35:4-7a  | Psalm 146 | James 2:1-5 | + Mark 7:31-37]

[__01]  Secrecy is an advantage. Secrets are guarded carefully, revealed selectively.

The secret is our security.  And, on hard drives, or on the computers in of the FBI in Washington D.C. or the CIA in Langley, Virginia, national secrets are kept for our national security.
For your protection and mine, we rely on the government, for example, to protect secrets.

[__02] In the Gospel this Sunday, a man is healed miraculously and gains the ability to speak and hear. Speaking and hearing. For the moment, however Jesus would like to keep his dramatically improved condition a closely guarded secret.
Secrecy is an advantage. Or, we might say, there are times to talk, times to listen.

[__03] In this section of the Gospel of Mark, we read of a man who is in his first semester, the Fall semester of following Jesus. Really, his first day of school.

And, we might say that this man is sitting in the front row of the classroom. Actually, this deaf man had been was carried to the front row of the classroom by other people who begged Jesus – the teacher and healer – to help  and heal the deaf man.

Secrecy, for the moment, is to the man’s advantage, but this does not mean that he will keep silent forever.

The same will be true in the Gospel of next Sunday when Peter identifies Jesus as the Messiah. Peter is also asked to keep silent. But, this will be a temporary ban on speaking, cell phone use, and other devices.

[__04 Before we can speak up in class at school or at work, we usually do a great deal of listening, studying, even memorizing. We do this so that information printed in the book is now written in our minds and stated clearly with our words. 

The same is true in the revelation of God’s word, and revelation of God’s commandments.

In the Bible , we read that God’s words – God’s commandments – are to be written on our  hearts.

In this regard, when we follow choose good over evil, we are not simply following an external command but also our internal conscience which has been guided by these commands.

The eager man in the Gospel is on a gradual journey as we are all are.

And, there are certainly times in our lives when we are called to speak up or to articulate what we know to be true in our hearts and in our faith.

Certainly we encounter others who have different values, different priorities and those who would, perhaps, not understand the our Catholic ethic about the sanctity of life, or the sanctity of marriage.

We may encounter those have memorized – or learned from their experience -- a completely different set of values.

This is all the more reason that secrecy becomes an advantage. In this regard, secrecy is not an excuse to keep 
silent, but simply a reason to pray for God’s help in difficult circumstances with people who do not share our values.

In secrecy, we pray to God for strength, so that in public we might also do what the man in th Gospel does – proclaim the Good News – by our words and actions.  [___fin__]

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Pursuits of Happiness (2012-09-02)

This is my homily for 2 September   2012 (Sunday). 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 (7:00 p.m.) at the Interfaith Chapel, 842 River Road, Teaneck, NJ.

[_01__]  In this Gospel, Jesus is asked a question –

“why do you and your disciples not follow the tradition of the elders but instead eat a meal with unclean hands?”  (Mark 7: ___)

Jesus is meeting the hostile crowd, the hostile questioners. We might say that he has left he convention hall, the arena where there had been many like-minded people.

Now, Jesus’ approval rating is in question.

And, Jesus is about to be caught on camera and microphone. What will he answer to the Pharisees who are very influential over public opinion, the public mind?

In this Gospel, however, Jesus is pretty clear that he is not so much concerned with what is public or visible..but more with what is private and often not seen, measured or captured in sound bites or video clips [on Youtube].

Jesus invites to think beyond what is simply the public or visible practice, the ritual practices.

The Lord challenges the Pharisees – and all of us – to consider how sinfulness and evil are manifest in our lives.

Do they simply exist at the surface? Is our sinfulness changed – or cured (or sanitized) – simply by changing what other people see …or what I can see? Visibly? Publicly?

Jesus is not simply speaking about the difference between getting caught or not getting caught, or about the difference between NIGHT-time and DAY-time.

Certainly, if we get caught doing something wrong… if we were dishonest, unethical and someone notices what we did or said, then we might want to change our behavior. But do we change only to avoid future penalty? Or future public scandal?

After all, wouldn’t this exposure hurt us if we were to run for President?

Or, are we invited to change so that our hearts are open to God’s love and grace?

[_02__]   How does sin and brokenness affect/influence you and me?
How is sin and brokenness manifest/demonstrated in my life?

[_03__]   In this Gospel, the Lord emphasizes that our sins – our transgressions – are not measured simply by what we consume.  In this example, Jesus uses the example of foods that are judged impure.

But, there are many things we could consume, which might be unhealthy in a spiritual or physical sense --
  • Images, what we see on TV in movies.
  • Food
  • Wealth
  • Education, Knowledge.

All of the above are on the market, some may be on sale for Labor Day, back-to-school. There may be free shipping for these objects to come into our lives.

[_04__]  But, Jesus is not simply asking us if the food or object of consumption is impure.
Certain things may be excessive which may lead us to sinfulness -

For example, we may consider certain types of entertainment, styles of architecture, certain types of automobiles, certain types of clothing to be ostentatious, flashy and, therefore, unattractive.  We might even call these things to be sinful… or near occasions of sin.

But, while the marketplace of Paramus Park Park Avenue might present an “occasion of sin” for some of us, we also have free will to choose yes or no.  These objects themselves are not sinful.

Rather, we are being asked, what comes out of us, what flows out of our hearts?
[_06__]  The same thing is being asked of us as we begin a new school year, or work year. 2012-2013.

What flows from my mind and heart as I undertake academic study, or work, or as I try to discern what the Lord is calling us to be in my life?

This applies to all of us of every age – the sense of a call. And, this applies to those in elementary, middle, high school .. college.

In an academic environment, a student – any student – and also the teachers – have to consider what they are to consume, to read. 

And, the more they can consume, absorb… the better and more educated they will be.

And, this knowledge is meant to make us more marketable, more attractive.
This knowledge is going to help us to produce, to give back.
But, what are we giving back, producing?  To what are we called? To whose call do we listen?

[_07__]   Consider the the Gospel encounter between Jesus and Zacchaeus, the tax collector. Zacchaeus is very wealthy and he has consumed much. But, the Good News is that Zacchaeus wants to give back. He says, “if I have defrauded anyone, I restore it fourfold [4 times over]” (Luke 19:8)

[_08__]   The Good News for us is that our fidelity is also shown not by what we can buy or consume or get, but by what we can give away.

And, by learning, starting this school year, we consider the long term goal of our own life, our liberty, and our pursuit of happiness.

Students – and teachers – consider their own life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. 

Some of us might think the pursuit of happiness ended sometime in August or on Labor Day.

This pursuit continues as we work. These goals are not simply for the political convention floor and not only for U.S. holiday weekend.

These goals also accord with our own calling to guard and protect life, to act in free will and in conscience and obtain true happiness for ourselves and others.

What is flowing out of us?

The Good News in this Gospel [debate] is that we grow closer to  Christ not only because of what we have but also because of what we give way, what flows out of our hearts. [_fin__