Hi everyone – here’s my homily for SEPTEMBER 8, 2013 – the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time. The readings for today can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/090813.cfm. As always, thanks for reading, commenting and sharing this blog… I’m always deeply grateful (and surprised) when I see the statistics of “hits” each week and how people are reading this all over the country (and the world) – so if you have a chance, please feel free to drop a comment and where you’re from.

This Sunday is our “Opening Week” – First Sunday Mass of the Semester, so the homily is a bit more directed to our college students, but I’m sure most readers can relate to it. (Oh, and because I’ve had a number of people asking about an “audio” version of this, I’m going to attempt to record them and upload them here if I can ever figure out how to do that!) Have a blessed week! Fr. Jim


So it’s the first week of the new Academic Year.  Every year we get pretty excited about this time of year here at the Newman Catholic Center.  It’s so different from being in a local parish because every year we lose about 1/4 of our community (not because they don’t like us anymore! because they graduate!) And even though we’re happy at that achievement for our members, its hard to say goodbye after we’ve been together for 4 (or 5 – do I hear 6 years)…. So the end of the Academic Year is always a bittersweet moment.  But this time of year is always just a sweet moment… As we get to meet all of you new students – whether you’re a freshman here for the first time or a transfer student coming to MSU from another campus or someone who’s just joining us tonight for the first time.  So again, on behalf of all the staff at Newman, the FOCUS missionaries, the Student Leaders of Newman Catholic – I just want to say WELCOME and thanks for coming tonight, for joining us for the MOST IMPORTANT thing we as Newman Catholic do each and every week… Sunday Mass – To gather together, to praise and worship God our Father, to receive Jesus Christ in Word and in His Body and Blood in the Eucharist and to open ourselves to the Direction of His Holy Spirit in our lives. My prayer is that for all of you that you will make this – our home – your home away from home…

All that being said, as all of us at Newman were gearing up for the opening of the year; going over the whole list of events leading up to tonight’s First Sunday Night Mass here on campus, I was eager to see what the Gospel reading was going to be… What words of Jesus would we have to welcome all of our newcomers… and to welcome back all of us as we gather together for this first Sunday night.  And as I read the Gospel I kind of was like – Really? That’s this week’s gospel???

…Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” That heavy expectation comes right after we heard this jolting line about “hating” father, mother, wife, children, brothers and sisters – and even our own lives – (which, really quickly – Jesus isn’t saying “hate” as in not love those people, or treat the gift of life we have with lack of gratitude… basically He is saying that if we want to follow Him, nothing can take priority over Him – over Jesus Christ). 

Just hearing all of that, well we’re not ready to hear all that, are we? I mean, it’s the first week of class. You guys have been through so much already that it’s not uncommon that you come to Mass and might be looking for a “gentle Jesus…” “Understanding Jesus” proclaiming some new Beatitudes – you remember the “Beatitudes” the “Blest are they” statements…  Well, I’m sure there’s part of us that wants Him simply to look at all we

are struggling with and say:

    Blessed are they who cannot find a parking spot on campus

    Blessed are they who has a roommate they can’t stand

    Blessed are they whose schedule is atrocious with early courses that start at that dreaded 8 AM hour and go until 10:30 PM

    Blessed are you when you have a professor who you think is terrible.

And then concluding with something like:  REJOICE AND BE GLAD! You will one day win a prized parking spot in the midst of the campus behind the Student Center; get a single room with no roommate; have a schedule with classes on Tuesday Wednesday and Thursday that shalt not start before 11 am and be finished by 4:00 (with at least an hour for Lunch in between) and have the greatest, most entertaining, understanding of professors ever.

Wanting Jesus to be some type of genie in a bottle, well that’s true not just with all of you our students here. A lot of us (most of us ?) come to Mass on a weekly basis with our lists of things that we have that’s troubling us, bothering us, annoying us that we are looking for that concept of “understanding gentle Jesus” that we’ve come up with in our minds to look at those things, call us blessed and promise to fix them for us.  Blessed are you Fr. Jim when you already have a hectic schedule and have a meeting scheduled tomorrow that you don’t really want to attend – Rejoice and be glad, it’s been cancelled. 

We often look to Christ – we often come to Mass looking to unburden ourselves, not wanting to add stuff on.  So hearing this “carrying cross” stuff can really seem to be just that – another thing, another obligation, another burden that we’re being forced to take on.  If it becomes simply that, then no doubt many will find it overwhelming or inconvenient to our lives, our schedules. We can’t or won’t seem to be able to fit that in to everything else that we need to do and will kind of get exasperated and drop away. Or perhaps we’ll try to delay a response saying something like “I know I gotta do that, but…I can’t right now, I’ll do it later.” 

So often we don’t realize what the problem really is here. We are trying to make Jesus fit into what our schedules already are.  We are trying to plug him into an aspect of our lives. We know He’s good – or maybe we think we know that, like on an intellectual level we’ve heard Jesus is good and we want to believe that, but don’t really know that in our heart of hearts… in our lives and experiences.  And that’s the problem.

Jesus Christ so desperately, recklessly, loves us… loves you.  He’s so madly in love with each and every one of us – even more deeply than our friends, our families – even our parents ever could want  to Love us. So much so, that it’s been said that were you the only person ever in the world that needed to be saved from your sins, Jesus would do that, die on the cross, just for you…. whether you asked Him to do it or not… whether you know Him or not… whether you love Him or not. 

Yes, He does look at all of us, at our busy, hectic lives. He sees the things that stress us out, or worry us. He knows those things that we’ve allowed to occupy way too much of our lives along with some of those legitimately serious frightening and troubling burdens we’re already carrying… And in all of that, He asks us to trust Him. To put Him first in our lives and all those other things aside.  To love Him as selflessly and completely as He once did when he carried and was nailed to His cross for us, by looking to be selfless and sacrificially loving in our own day, our own time, in our own spaces – right here on our campus here at Montclair State University, right here at our homes with our loved ones and families and friends…  You see when we start putting Christ first, all those things that we’ve displaced and allowed to become front and center in our lives, start to lose their grip on us. We stop fixating on things we can’t control, things that are just a part of our lives and routines and simply look for ways to live as if He truly is first in my life. 

Then we start to see, we start to experience how Blessed we truly are, because we are following Him. We are living for Him as life continues on around us. We recognize we are indeed Blessed… Yes, Blessed even when we’re not able to find a parking space, when upon seeing one we don’t fight and drive like a lunatic cutting people off, maybe even giving that up for someone else… We’re blessed when maybe we don’t get along with that roommate but try to find ways to be kind, to get along, to not talk badly about them…We’re blessed to be receiving a college education whether it’s at 8 am on a Monday or 8 pm on a Friday night… We’re blessed in so many different ways, not because we’re trying to pretend those different things don’t annoy us or aren’t burdensome to some extent.  But rather, because we see how our whole life’s perspective has shifted by putting Jesus Christ at the center. 

When we do, we’re constantly and consistently looking for ways to simply REJOICE over that fact.. Realizing as we do that carrying our cross is not something extra we do, some extra burden to take up, but it is our lives, the good and the bad of them, the things we love and the things we would rather not be there – in short, all of us, everything about us.  That is what we take up, what we carry – and when we give that, all of that, the good, the bad and the ugly, give that to Christ unreservedly, asking Him to transform that, to draw good out of it, even our mistakes, even our sins, to bring us closer to Him and His love.  Well, then, then we’ve started down the right path,

the path to happiness,

the path to Him.

I look forward to walking that path together with all of you throughout this new Academic Year.