Sunday, January 27, 2013

Life-Survival Strategy (2013-01-27)

This is my homily for SUNDAY 27 January 2013. 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 (5:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.) at the FDU University Interfaith Chapel, 842 River Road, Teaneck, NJ.

[__01]       We use the word ‘metaphor’[1] to describe a likeness or similarity, one often very powerful.

In Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the love-struck Romeo’s metaphor for the beloved Juliet is a star at night or at dawn.  Seeing Juliet, Romeo says, “But soft, what light through yonder window breaks? / It is the east and Juliet is the sun.” (Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene II)

Juliet is the center of his life, of his solar system.

[__02]       What – or whom – would you and I place in the center of life? What would be the metaphor?

In 1st Corinthians, Chapter 12, Paul uses the metaphor of the human body to represent our communion, our Church.

Though remaining the object of Romeo’s great affection, Juliet is really not the sun. It is really a metaphor, a symbol.

St. Paul, on the other hand, introduces the “body of Christ” as more than a symbol, but a reality.

We have experienced this in relationships, have we not?

In a family, a marriage, if a person were missing – or lost due to death – we would experience physical and emotional pain, body and soul.

And, we also know mother and child form a unit. Both are independent, persons of their own. But, they also form one body.
I’d like to use this human body/body of Christ to explain how we understand our dignity of life/respect life teaching in our church.

This past week – January 22 – is the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision – Roe v. Wade – which legalized abortion and on this January anniversary, thousands of people go to Washington not simply to protest and say no, but to say YES, to life all stages

For when we speak of protecting life at all stages, we are also protecting the body of Christ made up of many members, many parts, many individuals.

Sometimes, it may be difficult to determine how we should proceed – or how far this protection should extend.

I’d like to use one example from a recent biography, a bestseller by Laura Hillenbrand.

What we read in this biography is how one particular individual is protected but how this protection turns out to be the Good News for those carrying out the safeguard.

[__03]       Louis [Louie] Zamperini of the United States Air Corps in World War II, a young soldier in Hawaii and the Pacific in the 1940’s, is the subject of a 2010 biography by Laura Hillenbrand.

This biography – this non-fiction book – is titled:
Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption”,  a New York Times bestseller.

The biography of Louie Zamperini, Louie, shows – one the one hand -- his skills of adaptation and endurance:

David Margolick, in The New York Times review, writes – “[Louie’s life] is one of the most spectacular odysseys of [World War II] or any other war, and “odyssey” is the right word, for with its tempests and furies and monsters, many of them human, Zamperini’s saga is something out of Greek mythology.

To survive in wartime, in the Pacific, strength is necessary. The body is important to Louie who as a young man in his 20’s, is also an accomplished runner on the track:

Zamperini grew up in Torrance, Calif., and thanks partly to a bout of juvenile delinquency — he became adept at breaking into homes, then fleeing the police — he developed into a world-class runner. He ran the 5,000 meters at the 1936 Berlin Olympics (even Hitler – [in Germany] -- commented on him) and later, [on the track] [at USC] at the University of Southern California, flirted with a four-minute mile. His coach said the only runner who could beat him was — you guessed it — [the thoroughbred horse] Seabiscuit.”

This comparison to Seabiscuit is quoted in the book – intentionally – by the author. Laura Hillenbrand also wrote a historical account of the thoroughbred horse, Seabiscuit.

Louie is fast; Louie is strong.

And, this is going to help him, in World War II, in the Pacific.

[__04]        On the other hand, speed and strength are not enough.  There is also the will to live, the will to survive. There is a desire for life within each one of us.

When we speak of being pro-life, or supporting the dignity of life at all stages, we are affirming the God-given presence of life in each of us.

And, this life begins well before we are born or before we demonstrate strength or gold-medal speed.

And, this life endures after our average speed – or velocity – is calculated in single digits, after we have slowed down. This God-given life endures during an illness, a disability, advanced age.

[__05]       The Unbroken  journey of Louie demonstrates not only speed and strength but also the will to survive and to protect others who are vulnerable.

And, it is not easy to maintain this protection – to keep your guard up for the most vulnerable – amid threats and dangers on the battlefield. Louie is on an odyssey of his own.

[__06]  One particular mission is a test of Louie’s endurance – both physically and spiritually.   It is also a test of his regard for the life of another soldier.

On this mission from Hawaii, where they fly hundreds of miles from inhabited regions, the aircraft malfunctions and crashes in the Pacific.

Of the approximately 12 airmen on board the plane, only 3 survive – Louie, Phil (the pilot) and MacNamara.

And, of the survivors, Louie remains the physically and emotionally strongest. MacNamara is, by far, the most severely injured, the least able to help, and the most traumatized.

They float on a raft. And, in this chapter of the odyssey, the storms overhead and sharks below them are many.

They have very few provisions – a few pints of water in canteens, and 3 bars of chocolate.[2]

The very first night on the raft, while Louie and Phil, the pilot, are sleeping, MacNamara panics, eats all the chocolate, drinks all the water.

[__07]       Discovering this , Louie and Phil are upset, but manage to restrain themselves and only Louie says it…and only says it once to MacNamara aloud, “I’m disappointed in you.”    “Disappointed”– that’s an understatement!

[__08]    But, could we not say that this restraint, this attempt at patience is also a manifestation of respect toward the vulnerable and weak MacNamara.

Later, Louie will acknowledge that MacNamara’s efforts – while small in magnitude – were in fact a critical part of their survival.

Louie reflects later, had Macnamara not survived the crash, Louie and Phil might well have died themselves. Macnamara himself will die of his injuries.

And, in respecting his life, body and soul, Louie and Phil give him the most dignified burial at sea possible under the circumstances.

Up until the end, it is MacNamara’s will to live, to redeem himself afterwards that allows him to work, to contribute, to put an oar in the water.

But, first, it is their sense of the body – of unity, forgiveness, that allows them to work as a team.

Or – as we pray in the Our Father – “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Forgive him for drinking all the water, he know not what he was doing.

[__09]    We read in 1st Corinthians, Chapter 12 this Sunday:  “Now you are Christ’s body, individually parts of it.”  (1 Corinthians 12: __)

There are many parts but one body.

This is not simply an ethic – or personality characteristic – for West Point, the western Pacific, or World War II.

It is an ethic for how we guard the sanctity, the dignity of life at all stages.

As we read in Matthew 25:

I was thirsty and you gave me drink … whatever you did for the least of my brothers and sisters, you did for me.”  (Matthew 25)
We are called to guard the God-given presence of life in every person.

This is true in protecting our own lives, the very young, the unborn, the elderly, those in advanced stages of illness.

This treatment – this protection – strengthens the whole body of Christ.

Louie Zamperini offer this protection to his teammate in a difficult match.   He offers this protection to Macnamara who is troubled, even physically disabled. 

By doing so, Louie is saving himself.    Louie invites – welcomes -  the weak Macnamara to do whatever he can.

And, it is also true that in our ethic of protecting life at all stages --  It is by caring for the weakest that also the strong will survive.


[1] Merriam Webster: “metaphor” = (1) a figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them (as drowning in money) (2) an object, idea treated as a metaphor: SYMBOL.
[2]  I could add that the Hillenbrand reports that the chocolate was designed to lack flavor so that no one would eat except in an emergency … or would not eat too much at one time ?  This does not stop MacNamara.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Water into Wine (2013-01-20)

This is my homily for SUNDAY 20 January 2013. 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 (5:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.) at the FDU University Interfaith Chapel, 842 River Road, Teaneck, NJ.

2nd Sunday, 20 January 2013  [Isaiah 62:1-5 | Psalm 96 | 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 | John 2:1-11]

[__01]       Water is the source and necessary natural resource for life.

Scientists – from archaeologists to astrophysicists – seek to know where water has flowed in previous centuries, on earth and on other planets.

Find the water, the ice, the glaciers. There, you will find where life was in the past – or is currently – sustained.

[__02]       And, in last Sunday’s Gospel, the origin of Christian life and sacramental life is traced to the water of the Jordan, to baptism.

Water – H20 – is our starting point – in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

[__03]        Water is the source – and necessary resource for life.  Water sources are also protected, by the government, by individuals.

But, isn’t it also true that WATER – on its own – does not constitute life

In the Book of Genesis, the Garden of Eden is places between two rivers.  The plants up because they are watered. And human life originates also when the clay – the earth/soil and water – are mixed together by the Lord to create Adam.

Water is transformed into living things.  The water itself needs to change, to be transformed.

[__04]  This change of water into wine is the Cana miracle. There is a wedding, a marriage at Cana.  Consider what happens in the first few hours (not very long) after the wedding, the bride and groom and partygoers have run out of wine.

In any commitment we make, we would feel anxious uncertain – if our original energy (whether as water or wine, or enthusiasm, or affection, or comfort) becomes scarce, runs out.

 [__05]         An important aspect of the Cana miracle is that only a limited group of individuals observes what Jesus has done.

[This is typical of other miracles, other situations where Jesus also builds relationships personally, gradually with a  small group of followers.

Through these relationships – and through his relationship with his – he teaches us about forgiveness, love, honesty, humility.]

At Cana, at the wedding, who are these selected observers?

Those who know – those on the inside track – are the working folks in the kitchen, the servants.

They are the ones who fill the basins with water.

The workers, the servants – without VIP access or reservations – are in the front row for the miracle.

[__06]    They are in the front row observing what God can do with the water we bring, the water we already possess.

In this and other miracles – such as the multiplication of the loaves – Jesus again sends no one to the marketplace to buy more.  What we already possess is transformed and multiplied.      

[__07]   C.S. Lewis – writing about marriage in his book, Mere Christianity -  writes that the state of being in love does not last. It is what we sometimes run out of.

[Page 109] à ”Love is not merely a feeling but rather a deep unity maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit, reinforced by the special grace which the partners ask and receive from God.

They can have this love for each other even at those moments when they do not like each other, as you love yourself [and take care of yourself] even when you do not like yourself.”[1]

[__08]         C.S. Lewis continues his reflection on marriage –

Ceasing to be in love does not mean ceasing to love.

Or, as Lewis summarizes it in Gospel terms, no one really lives unless he or she first dies.

We read in John 12:24:

“Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat. But, if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24)

And, it’s Good News when we willingly die, lay down our lives for each other, even amid a struggle to do the right thing.

The source, the natural resource of our water, becomes God’s wine, the best saved until last.

[1] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, page 109.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Mary, Mother of God (2013-01-01)

[__01]   This feast day – January 1 – is the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.

Mary’s life is a model for our own. That is, whether we are at home, at school, in River Dell or Oradell or across the river in New York, we are called to make Jesus present in the world.

For this mission, Mary is selected, elected. And, we might say, inaugurated by God.

[__02]        God has transferred, shared his power of creation – and redemption -- with the Blessed Virgin Mary.

And, God shares his power of creation with mothers and fathers today who welcome and bring up children today.

This is a transfer of power – to the Blessed Virgin Mary – and to every mother, father, teacher, guardian of a young person or of a family.

[__03]      In the ceremony of inauguration, we we acknowledge the transfer of power, the peaceful transfer of power.

For the Blessed Virgin Mary, the “inauguration” happened in private, away from photographers and film crews. This was, however, news.

It was an early headline of first Good News in the Gospel, the Annunciation.  We would not know if Mary raises her right hand.  We only know that she ACCEPTS THE NOMINATION, she says YES, “let it be done to me according to your word.”

In this inauguration – through this annunciation, power is shared with Mary, our Blessed Mother.

[__04]        The ceremony of inauguration – or the oath of office – is typical of late December and early January. These inaugurations attract attention, news, reporters….


  • Friday December 28 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn - 1,159 police officers took the oath, making a promise to serve the people of New York, in the NYPD.

  • Sunday January 20 in Washington DC, the president will be inaugurated.

  • And, today in River Edge, at town hall, a new council members are being sworn in, inaugurated.

  [__05]       What Mary realizes is that this transfer of power doesn’t happen all at once.

This is different from the Washington-style inauguration where the former president is ushered out of town quickly on a Marine helicopter and the new president selects a cabinet of advisers.

In our sacramental journey, in our faith journey, we are always being re-elected … re-selected by God.

That is, we are always being called closer to God’s ways which we may not understand at the beginning.

 [__06]      Is there someone in my life how is difficult to love? To care for?

Toward such a person, we may want to conserve all of our energy so that we can run away from them, avoid them, or take revenge  - perhaps in a subtle way – against them.

That is, we don’t want to share power. We want to seize power.

[__07]        Mary herself continues to learn, to observe all of the events surrounding the birth of Jesus. The visits of the shepherds, the star in the sky.

Mary gives us a model to follow on New Year’s Day – or any new day – and also model for the new year’s resolution that we are called to pray, keep all these things in our hearts, to ponder these things.

To ponder/consider –

  • The person who is difficult to love
  • The decision which is difficult to make

We are also called to consider how God’s power is inaugurated in you and in me.