Sunday, September 30, 2018

No. (2018-09-30, Sunday-26)

30 September 2018     /   26th Sunday Ordinary Time, Year B
••   Numbers 11:25-29 •• Psalm 19    •• James 5:1-6 ••  •• + Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48

••       Title:   No

[__01__]    A few years ago, I got used to people talking on their cell (mobile) phones all the time. And, I was one of the talkers with a phone.
            And, then, I had to get used to TEXTING, all the time, on the tiny alphanumeric keypads, sending little messages with my thumbs, letting my thumbs do the texting and talking.
            About a week ago, I received one of these little messages that I am still not used to fully. I’m behind the curve with texting. I was invited to dinner and was told …” to join some friends for dinner, if I were available, I should be there by 6:30 pm”, if I were able to eat with them.
            So, I sent a text message back, adding this unnecessary question. “Yes, I can be there, or … should I be there earlier than 6:30 pm – question mark ?”
            I got another text, answer: NO.
            I did not know what that meant, at first. What does “No” mean?  “No” = equals there’s no dinner.  “No” = don’t come.
            I eventually figured it out that 6:30 pm is good, earlier than 6:30 pm is not necessary. I, however, found the NO response quite abrupt and uncivilized. We laughed about it later.

[__02.01_] / To follow Jesus involves saying YES, but also involves saying NO, at times. Not just texting NO, but saying NO and accepting certain limits and boundaries, not simply out of FEAR but also out of LOVE.
          When we FAST or sacrifice or give something up willingly, we do not to say No to something that is inherently evil or bad, but to say No to something that is inherently good, for an even greater good.
          For example, maybe we are saying No to TXTING, but – for me – that would not really be a fast /sacrifice.
          Maybe, we are saying No to some entertainment or program or media, or saying No to the number of minutes or hours of news we consume.
          Or, for those of us who may push ourselves a little too hard on homework or work in general, sometimes, saying NO means just going to sleep at a reasonable time rather than pulling an all-nighter.
          We say No to something is good, for some greater good.

[__02.02__] Another example would be this -- consider all of us experience frustration and may respond or feel anger about something that has gone wrong or been done wrong.
          And, sometimes, our anger is kickstarted by something that is genuinely evil, genuinely bad or wrong.
          We cannot expect the anger to leave us magically like turning off a device or snapping our fingers.  There may be good reasons to be angry, but when we “fast” from our “give up” anger, we are trying to give up the recriminations, the vengeance, the angry words, the bitterness, that can result if our life or anger remains unchecked or unexamined and could destroy us.
          However, in some cases, the anger might be righteous and good and a justice.

[__02.03_]      Jesus is teaching us in this Gospel about giving things up, even giving up our hands, or feet, or our eyes.
          Who would do that?
          Is there any precedent? Any reasonable comparison?
          I suggest an imperfect comparison based on the idea that if we have a serious weakness or defect, we generally want – not to kick start it – but just to kick it, remove it, and move on.
          Consider the “Achilles heel” and what mean by an “Achilles heel.”
The Achilles heel is that little tendon in the back of your ankle that I dread snapping it because it is a real pain to repair and heal from.
          But, if I say I have an “Achilles heel” it means that I have some fault or fragility or weakness that could by my downfall.
          And, so I either try to hide it or heal it.  Hiding it is, often, Step # 1.
          Let’s take the example of a person on a team with an Achilles heel – or weakness. His or her Achilles heel could be the downfall of the team. Consider New York Yankees’ baseball catcher Gary Sanchez. He is a catcher who seems to have trouble “catching” – that’s his Achilles heel. Nobody wants him in the game because he cannot catch.
          So, if someone has a particular technical weakness, we call that the Achilles heel. If you can cure the Achilles heel, then everything is fine.
          But, healing/curing the so-called heel – or healing the one thing is really troubling us – can be difficult.
          And, Jesus gives us his mercy not to leave us where we are but to change, sometimes to give up our ways, change our ways, because it is better into life without the Achilles heel – or without a precious possession – than not to receive eternal life.
          Jesus is comparing the hand, the foot, the eye to something we hold precious, a precious possession, a precious opinion I do not want to give up, a sin I do not want to repent of.
          He is teaching us about the blessing of accepting his mercy so that we can change direction.

[__03__]  First, the danger of doing little things wrong. Jesus gives us the example of the harshest of punishment, the millstone, the millstone around your neck or my neck, and you will be cast into the sea, if we were to lead a little one astray.
          A little one could be a child, or any vulnerable person who we might lead astray. If I am unable to give up my own comfort for a greater good, I could be leading someone astray.
          Sometimes, my inability or unwillingness to disagree with someone could lead him or her astray.
          We are called to fast from self-satisfaction if the ‘satisfaction’ is only about me.
          That’s the bad news. The millstone. But, there is good news here.
          There is a contrast to the millstone and it has to do with water. With the millstone we are tossed into the water.
          The other example is the drink of water. Jesus says: “Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will surely not lose his reward.”  (Mark 9:41)
          In other words, it’s good to do little things right and good for others, even it is just a cup of water.
          And, in this regard, we are imitating Jesus each day.     

[__04__]  We are doing what any mother or father or teacher – or anyone who loves a child would do --– would regard our own hands, would lay down their feet, or eyes, for someone vulnerable. Vulnerable = valuable..
          And, Jesus risks himself to save us, to lay down his life and to make us members of his body.
          St. Paul summarizes this in 1st Corinthians chapter 12, we are his hands, his feet, eyes, being Christ’s presence each day in the world.   [__fin__]   

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Self Control or Remote Control (2018-09-23, Sunday-25)

23 September 2018     /  25th Sunday Ordinary Time, Year B  
••    Wisdom 2:12, 17-20  •• Psalm    •• James  3:16 - 4:3 ••  •• + Mark 9:30-37

Title:   Self Control or Remote Control?

[__01__]    When Bill Belichick wins a Super Bowl with the New England Patriots, we often find that what is studied or on display is not only the victory but also his style and structure for the team that leads to success and championships.
          We might call it control or confidence, or self-control or self-confidence.
And, naturally, we associate this attitude with success, Super Bowls, championships.

[__02__]     The great UCLA basketball coach John Wooden was quoted as saying that  “failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”
          In other words, practice is just as important as the game itself and a team’s willingness to play hard and try their best is more important than ability or lucky breaks.
          Self-control, it is understood, develops with practice.
          We associate SELF-CONTROL with success, with greatness.
          But, do we associate SELF CONTROL with service to God and to neighbor? Or, is self control all about what the virtue can do for me?

[__03__]     In the Gospel this Sunday, the disciples were caught – on tape we might say by Jesus Himself – arguing about something that they might have preferred to keep out of the public record and away from the inquiring mind of their rabbi, Jesus, who has been teaching-coaching-guiding them.
          Jesus interrupts them on their walk, their journey and asks, “What was it you were talking about….”
          And, Jesus discovers that they had been arguing about who among them was the greatest.
          We might say that they lack SELF CONTROL.

[__04__]    Bill Belichick would not tolerate such talk and for Jesus – for whom the stakes are really much higher … it is life and death – he also does not condone their chatter about who is the greatest among them.
          Jesus was trying to teach them something – for real – about self control, about self-mastery and also about their real ability to give themselves.
          We read in the Acts of the Apostles the famous saying – it is better to give than to receive. And, the paradox here is that by “giving ourselves away” (see Thomas Merton quote…?) we are really growing in our ability to gain self-control.
… we are not losing by “giving away” but gaining by giving away.
          Now, of course we have seen the opposite of SELF CONTROL.
          Growing up in the 1970’s and 1980’s, I recall that I lacked much of the SELF CONTROL or patience that I would associate with truly gifted athletes.  And, I truly admired those athletes who possessed self control and I came to dislike those who did not. I cannot stand tennis player, John McEnroe. 
          But, I just say that it’s not enough to “want” SELF CONTROL or admire self control or expect SELF CONTROL …
          .. because the paradox – as Jesus teaches us and the disciples through his example – that we gain true self-control or the virtuous self control by surrendering our desire to control everything.
          For who among is the best at surrendering control and yet remaining “in control”.
          A child. A child does it best. Yes, of course, we may see a child having a bad day or a bad moment – but adults have these too.
          What Jesus is teaching us, by placing the child in our midst is that the child – who does not have all the vocabulary or knowledge or predictive analytical power of adults – can actually display “self control”.
          Are we not also reminded – when we observe children – that a child may be more in touch with his or her true feelings and emotions and only momentarily – not perpetually – ruled over by these emotions.
          A child’s self control is based on his or her continuous orientation toward what is next rather than what is past.  A child is not interested in how many birthdays he or she has had. There is only the next birthday that matters.
          For this reason, the role of you –as parents, grandparents, grown-ups – is so important to teach your children all of the virtues of faith, hope and love and also to teach the fruits of the Holy Spirit – which include “self control”. And, children learn this self control not by stuffing or ignoring their emotions or feelings but by acknowledging their feelings appropriately to and with others.
          In this regard, they learn self control.
          And, as Jesus reminds us – a child even can teach SELF CONTROL, can teach you and me true greatness.


Sunday, September 16, 2018

What Did You Expect ? (2018-09-16, Sun-24)

16 September 2018    /  24th Sunday Ordinary Time, Year B
•• Isaiah 50:4c-9a  •• Psalm 116 •• James 2:14-18 ••  •• + Mark 8:27-35

••       Title:   What did you  expect?

[__01__]     I’d like to speak in this homily, reflection on the Gospel about
[__01.01__]    To  say that fact of the past or a prediction of the future is UNDENIABLE means that we have evidence or an indication.
            Last summer (2017), there was a total solar eclipse in which there was this so-called path of totality – or path of total darkness – in which you could witness the so-called ‘umbra’ or shall we say, the “umbrella” of the moon covering the sun, in the middle of the day, there was darkness.
            It was undeniable. To be honest, even if you could not witness the eclipse by turning upward to the sky – with the proper eyewear and glasses of course – we witnessed people  - on the ground driving to certain locations, causing congestion on certain highways, camping out in unusual locations … or leaving work early.
            Undeniably, something was happening in the sky.
[__01.02__]    In the days, months, years, decades after 9/11/2001, people would say there was undeniable evidence that the U.S. could be on the receiving end of a foreign terrorist attack on our own soil, something that had not happened since Pearl Harbor in 1941.
            There was undeniable evidence, but somehow everybody missed, overlooked the possibility of a terrorist attack – using planes – on U.S. soil.

[__03__]    In the Gospel, Jesus our Savior gives clear – undeniable – clues and cues to his disciples that he will have to suffer and die and be raised from the dead.
          This is the prediction – to the disciples – of a total and very long lasting darkness of a solar eclipse. Jesus is their sun and solar-star power. They do not want him extinguished.
          It is even more troubling to the disciples because Jesus will suffer at the hands of the Pharisees and scribes for whom these are clearly the adversary.
          Jesus. Good. Pharisees. Bad.
          Why would Jesus suffer at the hands of the Pharisees?
          So, Peter – and the others too –are denying this possibility.
[__03.01__]    [SUFFERING FOR GOOD.]    The disciples would logically accept – as would all of us / most of us – that we have to suffer for something this is good.
          The old adage: no pain, no gain.
          So, we suffer and sacrifice to produce reach good goal, academic, physical, personal.
          This is undeniable. Suffering is undeniable. Some suffering is good.
          In fact, if you and I were to live our lives in avoidance of all suffering and all sacrifice, our families and friends would soon starve. I have a huge appetite. I would eat everything.
[__03.02__]       [SUFFERING FOR EVIL]  However, our Lord is speaking about doing something else – suffering for something that is evil.
          Consider the tragic situation when someone around you is physically or mentally ill.
          Consider the lengths you might have to go to … if, say, you knew someone with fragile and misguided personal image and body image… let’s take the case of an eating disorder.
          Such a person would suffer. Such a person would also cause other people around him or her to suffer.
          There may be no end in sight.
          Consider the life we might have to lead if we were to live with someone with alcoholism or a drug addiction.    The person suffers; everyone around him or her suffers.
          It is a heavy cross and also a demonstration of true love when we can love someone who is actually causing us pain.
          It’s undeniable.
[__04__]    [► UNDENIABLE SUFFERING]   There is undeniable suffering in the church right now.
          It is undeniable suffering due to evil, due to the incorrigible and incomprehensible evil perpetrated by members of the clergy against young people and, in some cases, vulnerable adults in their care.
          It is relatively easier to suffer for something or some cause that is good.
It is much more difficult to suffer for the person who causes harm. We may not want to admit it ..or we would prefer only to look at it from a distance.
          As a Catholic priest, I am required to consider the undeniable and recall that damage cannot be fixed or repaired.
          And, we suffer because as St. Paul wrote – “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26)
          In family, we do not suffer simply to gain what is good but also to endure what is evil. Holiness does not insulate us from suffering – but holy practices such as prayer, such as being intentionally compassionate and charitable, such as fasting sacrifice – enable us to endure suffering.
          It is a paradox that a practice such as fasting or taking quiet time of prayer should calm us down rather than increase our anxiety. I can only testify that it works. It is effective.
          It is helps us also to deny – not the truth – but to deny ourselves, to take up our cross and follow him.
          It helps us to answer the question that Jesus asks all of us, given that he has given his life and risen from the dead and that he has the power to heal and forgive sins:  “who do you say that I am?”  (Mark 8:29)

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Cooperate. Confide (2018-09-09, Sunday-23)

9 September 2018    /    23rd Sunday Ordinary Time, Year B
•• Isaiah 35:4-7a  •• Psalm 146 •• James 2:1-5 •• + Mark 7:31-37

••       Title:   Cooperate. Confide.

[__01__]     I’d like to extend a special welcome to guests, alumni, friends and neighbors of the parish who are here today for the continued celebration at Lourdes of West Orange Old Timer’s Day.
          The Gospel – this Sunday – is about both our call to “COOPERATE” and to “CONFIDE”.  To work together and to build trust, COOPERATE, CONFIDE.
          “West Orange Old Timer’s Day”  is a day to recall the COOPERATION of many coaches and players, officials and volunteers through whom young people have been served and taught to kick, to shoot, to swing but more importantly, as we say, “how to play the game.”
          And, by these efforts, they become citizens themselves, team-players, and those who understand that CONFIDENCE – and CONFIDING in
one’s coaches and teammates – is is not only a strategy for scoring, but a virtue to cultivate when you are defeated or sorrowful.
[__02__]     There is a Gospel lesson this Sunday also about COOPERATING and CONFIDING.
          About working together and building trust.
          Cooperation was evident in the teamwork of the group who brought – perhaps dragged along – the man who is hearing-impaired and speech-impaired to Jesus.
          But, did not all of the disciples  - do not all of us – require what this man received:
          EXAMINATION one-on-one. The healing happens one-on-one away from the crowd. We are called not only to worship publicly collectively but also to examine ourselves one-on-one. Similarly, are not our relationships with each other strengthened – marriage, family – not only by the things we do together but also the prayers, reflections we offer for each other 1-on-1 before God.
          That is, we are called to pray for our spouses, our children and through this it is God who helps us to listen to each other, to hear each other, in cooperation.
          It is God who helps us to hear and speak with each other.
          Cooperation leads to examination.
          Even if cooperation means what we are called to challenge another person to help each other to grow.

[__02.01__]      CHURCH. It also takes cooperation to address injustice, to raise awareness, to make a rescue of any kind.       It will take cooperation to rebuild the trust and trustworthy leadership of Catholic community and Church leaders.
          However, it will not simply require a public cooperation but also the individual personal commitment of every priest, every bishop, every church leader – and every one of us praying for them – to rebuild trust.
          We cannot do so simply by following what is popular, but by what is true, by what God teaches us. The commandments are not simply about keeping boundaries, but about dignity and respect for the inner mystery of person. That’s cooperation.
          I do not have a solution or resolution but recognize that just as collective inertia or indifference – in some cases by some - permitted these evils it is examination and cooperation with God’s plan for justice and with and a common vision that will be the remedy.
          That’s COOPERATING.

[__02.02__]    IN THE MIRACLE-we see not only outward cooperation but also CONFIDING + CONFIDENTIALITY.  Even -- SECRECY.    It is strange to read that Jesus asks for secrecy or taking down any online posts about the miracle.
          Why the secrecy? One commentator observed that this is simply Jesus’ reminder to the disciples that just as he is not “marketing” himself as a healer or magician, they are also not to seek renown or reward for their own teachings or ministry or miracles.
          And, in addressing ourselves to the current Church scandal, or to the everyday task to lay down our lives for each other, to forgive each other, am I looking for reward, are we looking for renown?
          If Jesus himself did not want credit, why should we feel dissatisfied if something we do – or we rightly avoid doing – goes unnoticed.
          It’s an act of faith or confiding in God. One-on-one.

[__04__]     The miracle event or encounter in the Gospel is not a reminder of the other people whom God helps, but that He helps all of us.
          Just to return to this Old-Timers’ Day.  
          This “old-timers’s event “ may remind us of those who are advanced in age.  But, spiritually, we are not separated chronologically.  We also not separated by statistics or successes or sorrows, but united by a shared history. 
          Consider: Paul wrote to Galatians ….. there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)
          Similarly, we are not divided as OLD – versus – YOUNG. To our Lord and Savior, all of us are OLD for already knows every hair on our heads, and all of us are YOUNG and growing and need of his help, to hear and to speak.
          Our Lady of Lourdes, Pray for Us.     [__fin__]

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Water, Elevation, Inspiration (2018-09-02, Sunday-22)

2 September 2018   /   22nd Sunday Ordinary Time, Year B
•• Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8  •• Psalm 15 •• James 1:17-18, 21b-22 •• + Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

••       Title:   Water, Elevation and Inspiration

[__01__]     I’d like to connect this Gospel episode to:
►WATER + purification.
►WATER + concentration. How do we respond to crisis? In our lives? In the church? It’s problematic when a high volume of water is concentrated, and comes all at once.
►WATER + precipitation. Our storm of Saturday August 10th, 3 weeks ago.

[__02__]     ►1st. WATER. And purification.
          In the Gospel, this Sunday, the washing (water) of hands and other items is the manor concern of the Pharisees and Scribers who are finding fault with Jesus and his disciples’ practices.
          And, you and I – as Catholic/Christians – still bless ourselves after the ancient Jewish custom. Holy Water is a sign of life and also of deliverance from death to life.
          So, for example, when a child – a little girl or boy – is baptized/christened – we come as close as we possibly can to pouring the water over the child’s whole head. When adults are baptized, they are often fully immersed and submerged in water.
          This water is an outward sign. This the definition of a sacrament: an outward sign of an inward reality or grace.
          An outward sign of what is meant to happen inside. Jesus does not just want to purify our hands but our hearts.
          Jesus wants us not to be a signal  or a traffic light for goodness, but to be a signifier, to mean it. Or, as he says, in Matthew’s Gospel: let our Yes mean YES and our No mean no. (Matthew 5:37)
          When we ask for forgiveness, when we do penance, we do so not to change HISTORY (outwardly) but change our HEARTS (inwardly).
          And, when we endeavor to forgive another person, I suggest this is not so that we can reconcile and give everything a good “look”, but rather so that we can let go – inside – of the hurt, resentment, anger.
          In this regard, it is both the water and blood of Christ that touches us inside. So this is water and purification.

[__03__]      Secondly, water and CONCENTRATION.
►What about WATER and concentration or a crisis?
          Sometimes, the layers of a problem are thickly concentrated and we are not sure what to do.
          Recently, my father’s cousin passed away under tragic and sudden circumstances. And, my father’s cousin had one son who is now an adult, but nevertheless as a young man had now lost both of his parents.       It was not clear whether or not there would be a funeral mass.  And, I must admit that the high concentration of tragic circumstances made me want to withdraw. But, at one point, I suggested to a relative that maybe I should call Richie, the surviving son, an idea that was very enthusiastically embrace and encouraged.
          I needed that encouragement to overcome my own fear and grief over the situation, that encouragement was an inspiration and elevation.
          We need the help of others to find the high road, the elevated road, which is not always clear of mud or water.

[__03.01__]   ►What about WATER and concentration of bad news in the Church right now?
          There is a flash flood faced by the Church and by many church leaders right now.
          In the Gospel, we recall that Jesus constructed his house on the Rock of Peter. It was a rock that did not have mechanical pumps to push out the bad water. Peter as the first Pope – and every Pope since Peter – has been a sinner in need of redemption. Nevertheless, this rock and construction reminds us that we are elevated by Christ and can be restored and made new. The Church will survive this storm.
          Jesus built the church on rock. He did not say that he would build our church on rock, or that he would “deed” the rock to us and we would build it. You are here because He built it. He is in charge.
          The Church is  Christ’s and we are His. That is the ELEVATION.
          What about the INSPIRATION?
          This is a challenge right now. Because the inspiration, the prayer, the penance to which all of us are called may seem to be objectionable.

[__04__]       So, why should you or be elevated or inspired in this way?
          To be an example, to be a witness.
          Let’s say it is Christmas Day and it’s super-cold outside: 12F.
And, you or I are in a rush to get someplace. And, we are driving around Washington or Gregory School or some school zone where the speed limit is significantly reduced.
          But, you are in a hurry. There are no police anywhere to pull you over. But, still, you would – and I hope I would practice what I preach – slow down out of respect, out of care, for the child you cannot see,  you have not seen, or may never see.
          You do so as a sacrifice, as a little penance, to be an example, to be a witness, to elevate, to inspire.

[__05__]      Thirdly, water and PRECIPITATION. An example, and an example of the blessing of Lourdes church.
          Our Lady of Lourdes Church, 1 Eagle Rock Avenue, 07052 was built with water in mind not just the miraculous healing waters of Lourdes in France, but with the WATER of a stream of which our church is constructed.  (NOTE: mechanical pumps running 24 x 365 lower level church.  Due to water volume increases / rain, they work harder.)
          How do we survive precipitation and heavy rain? I suggest it is due to our
          ELEVATION: i.e., we are not actually at the bottom of the valley.  We have some elevation here
          INSPIRATION, and we have your inspiration, prayerful commitment to Lourdes.
          We are blessed. An example…

 [__05.01__]     Precipitation. 3 weeks ago, around 4 pm on a Saturday, severe thunderstorms and flash floods occurred in this part of Essex County and also in Passaic County and Little Falls.
          This led to a flash flood about 3 feet of water in our adjacent Mississippi Avenue (to your right) which lived up to its name. And, because water flows down, there was 5 feet of water outside the church basement door on the side of the church.
          Water was leaking into the church basement – Connor Hall – for about 30 minutes. It turned out to be one very shallow puddle. It could have been worse.
          And, I believe ELEVATION saved us.  While we there are acres and acres of land above us, we are not at the lowest point. And, after a while, the water was able to flow further downhill, further downstream, and went away.
          But, in addition to ELEVATION, there was also your INSPIRATION. The inspired and devoted help of many of you to check the basement, to clear a drain, to call the Fire Department and also …to listen, to advise, correct my understanding of the true nature of the problem. Thank you for your patience. 
          We are grateful that LOURDES has both elevation and inspiration so as to survive water and precipitation.
          And, you by your prayers and sacrifice make this ELEVATION and INSPIRATION possible.