Here is my homily for March 1, 2009 – the First Sunday of Lent – AND – the conclusion to our the Newman Catholic Campus Ministry at Montclair State University and Ramapo College’s (aka “MONT-APO”) Spring retreat called “UNSTOPPABLE.” We had close to 70 students attend the weekend where we reflected on and drew inspiration on St. Paul’s conversion to Jesus Christ. The readings can be found at http://www.usccb.org/nab/readings/030109.shtml

Thanks for all your prayers and, as always, for reading and commenting:


For those of you who are considering purchasing a Tom Tom or some other GPS system for your cars, you might want to think twice about your purchase – Talk to half of our retreat team who got lost either going in and out of the Lincoln Tunnel, the Verezzano Bridge on their way to the retreat center on Friday because of their GPS’ – or better yet, you might want to talk to a man by the name of Mr. Jose Silva.

Jose Silva a few weeks ago took a trip to visit a Grand Prix racing facility in New York state. He was driving with his son and his nephew. Now, not being from the area, he didn’t know where he was going, so he was relying pretty much solely on the GPS system in his car. For the two of you out there who might be unfamiliar with what a GPS is – that’s an abbreviation for”Global positioning system.” So basically a GPS is a small computer like device in your car that guides you along your journey. You type in where you want to go to, what your destination is and the computer gives you direction, gives you commands along the way saying things like “turn here,” ” take the next exit,” “make a right at the next intersection.”

So Mr. Silva had gotten to the race track without too much difficulty. As he was making his way home is where, you could say, things got a little “off track.” He was following the directions of the computer device. The GPS said “Left turn here,” he made a left turn. “Take the next exit” he dutifully took the next exit. Then the GPS directed him to make a right turn, and, he did – instantly, obediently – which placed him right on a set of railroad tracks, which he continued on until eventually his car was stuck on them.

As he sat on the tracks with his son and nephew, I wonder did the GPS start berating him and saying “Really, did you think I meant a Right turn – right here and now? Seriously, right on to the train tracks. Yeah, that’s right, it’s me Mr. GPS just playing with you – ha ha” or “are you really, really this stupid?”

Fortunately, we can report that Mr. Silva didn’t wait for the device to tell him to get out of the car and to take his son and nephew with him out of the car as a Metro North Train came barreling towards them which ultimately demolished the car.

In the “sad but true” category, Mr. Silva is, supposedly, the third person within this past year, to do the same exact thing. In fact, the Railroad company is planning to install signs warning people to ignore their GPS and not turn on the railroad tracks!

GPS systems can be helpful tools, but they’re computers. And computers do fail at times and can make mistakes. Just think of a time that you lost a paper because of a computer crashing to remind you of the lack of perfection we find in electronics. It’s interesting that some would put that kind of faith to the point that they are willing to let go of all reason in blind obedience to it’s direction.

In our independent mind sets (especially for those of you first tasting independence being away from Home – being in college for the first time) we don’t like to think that in our lives any voice directs us like that. That’s part of the “rebellion” that happens for most people when they begin college. The reality is that there are still a lot of “voices” trying to direct us. Whether it’s professors, academic advisors, legal authorities, priests (d’oh!), even parents.

But now it’s up to you to decide, to discern which voices to listen to. People have said to you”Don’t go out and drink” – 7 Irish Car-bombs later, a ticket for underage drinking and a visit to the hospital you learn the reasoning behind that warning. A friend says to you, come on let’s stay up and watch another movie or go to the diner at 1 am- then when you can’t get out of bed at 7:30 the next morning for class, you wonder why!

That’s part of the whole “growing up” thing – trying to determine who to listen to, who ultimately has our best interests at heart – and who has their own interests, their own agendas in mind.

In today’s Gospel, we find that the Holy Spirit not only directs, suggests, points out where he wants Jesus to go, the Gospel says that the Spirit DROVE Jesus there himself (so Jesus didn’t need a GPS, he had a chauffeur – yeah, I know that’s bad…couldn’t resist)

Why would the Spirit want Jesus to go there? What’s the purpose of that? In the Gospel just a few lines preceding, Jesus had just been baptized, God had called out of Heaven and said “You are my beloved Son, my favor rests on you.” If that were me, I’d turn around and be like “hey did you all hear that, did you all get that – Beloved Son here, maybe you guys should take time to listen to me…”

The Spirit directs Jesus into the desert so that he doesn’t do something like that. He calls him out of the world for a time so that he can focus simply on hearing the different voices. Learning to determine how they sound – what each voice is prodding, challenging, even trying to direct Jesus what to do next. He hears Satan who’s tempting him with things like “you should go back and tell all those people – uh, didn’t you hear God’s voice – Beloved son here, maybe you guys should take time to listen to me…” (Yeah, I just identified myself with Satan – something I need to work on…)

He hears his Father’s voice more clearly too. The voice that will direct him to clearly know how to confront evil when he will encounter it. The voice that will provide his much needed strength to sustain those trials. So we see that Jesus before he embarks on his ministry – before he goes back to Galilee to proclaim the Gospel wants to clearly be able to distinguish between those two voices and know how to say Yes to His Father and No to His tempter.

For those of us just returning from our Spring Retreat, that was one goal of the weekend. To take some time to get away from the world and to listen. To hear how loving God’s voice is. To see the challenges that come from listening to that voice. To hear the call to change our lives – radically change them and to be transformed to be bold and dynamic in our faith, as St. Paul was.

But it’s not something that simply “all those retreat people” have to deal with. There’s a reason this Gospel comes on the first Sunday of Lent. And going on a retreat is one way to begin that process of examining who’s voice we’re listening to. Which “directions” we’re following. It’s hard because in the chaos of our everyday lives, we are bombarded on a daily basis with voices. Some voices offer us something that “don’t seem like a big deal” – and appeal to a desire I have, so what’s the problem? Some voices say things that we know are probably the “right thing to do” – but it seems too hard, not as pleasurable as the other thing.

Lent provides a spiritual desert where we are asked to quiet ourselves a bit, to be more reflective and see where we’re at. Who’s voice is navigating our direction in life? Where am I being led off the true path, the road to ultimate fulfillment and the joy of being a child of God? Fortunately, if we find we’re a bit lost, this season of Lent is a great opportunity to reset our GPS and make a U-turn.