Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER – APRIL 29, 2018 the readings for today’s Mass can be found at: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/042918.cfm.  Thanks as always for reading, your feedback and comments and for sharing it on Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit.   God Bless you and have a great week – Fr Jim

I’ve joked a bunch of times that the Gospel of John is my least favorite of the 4 Gospels.  John writes very differently from Matthew, Mark and Luke.  In John, we don’t get to hear any of Jesus’ parables or even some of the more historical aspects of His life story.  Instead, we often hear these long teachings, speeches of Jesus that some feel are poetic.  I think they sound Dr. Seuss-like..  So initially this week, I concede I wasn’t feeling anything with this Gospel reading. Usually something jumps off the page, or an idea pops into my head that slowly evolves and takes shape.  But I had nothing – to the point where I was looking at the first and second readings for a different idea. 

Then the more I thought about all that happened this past week, the more Jesus words seemed perfectly timed for all of us – myself included. 
Because it’s been kind of an emotional week or so — at a lot of different levels.  It all started with a funeral a week ago Friday for a woman who had been the parish secretary of the Church where I was first assigned as a priest.  I’ve known Pat for almost 19 years now… and was very close to her the 7 years that I was at Our Lady of Lourdes in West Orange.  Pat was a hard working, dedicated, faithful woman…  Her being 100% Irish and me 90% Italian there was an adjustment period – and me being 25 years old when I first arrived and she being around my Mom’s age, well, she was always very respectful in calling me “Father” even though she often was treating me like one of her kids.  A couple of weeks ago when I went to visit her in the hospital, our hour long conversation was so normal and ordinary that I really didn’t see (or want to see) the urgency of getting to spend time with her.  I guess I was kind of in denial that she was dying.  It kind of caught me off guard that at her wake, as her granddaughter was sharing heart warming stories and memories of her grandmother, that I found myself tearing up… and worked really hard to swallow the lump in my throat at the end of her funeral Mass to offer a eulogy.

Then there was our Senior send off last Sunday.  Not to get the graduates all emotional – yeah it’s hard for me – it’s hard for us – to prepare for you guys to graduate and to leave us.  It’s not a shock or surprise that you are graduating (well maybe for some it is… ) I mean, in campus ministry, we know that all of you guys are here for a limited time…  But even though we know that, we get used to you all being here…  We get to know you at a pretty important time in your lives and get to see you change a lot in that short period… so we get to like you – get to love you all a lot.   And just talking with some of you seniors, we know you’re feeling a lot of the same things… yeah there’s the excitement and joy about graduation and new opportunities on the horizon… but at the same time, a lot of you guys have talked about how nervous, afraid, unsure you are of what’s next (even if you have a job or something lined up next)   And part of that comes from knowing that you’ve got these next big steps to take and that you’re taking them away from MSU, away from this Newman Catholic Community

Then on Tuesday night, at our weekly “Newman Night” the topic was about how to keep your faith alive during the summer months.  It struck me hearing you all talking about how when you’re not around your friends encouraging you to come to Mass; when perhaps the last Mass scheduled on Sunday at home is a little earlier in the day than 8:30 PM; when maybe you’re the only one in your family who really gets to Mass on Sunday (let alone during the week, or participating in service things like the Midnight Run last night – or apart of the countless other things that we have going on here every day that would most certainly stand out to your family and friends back home) how challenging a thing this really is for you guys.  I’ll be honest, this wasn’t a struggle for me and my friends when I was in your shoes.  But I can hear how legitimate a fear it is for some people now – how will they remain faithful over the next few months.
All of these transitions, these changes, these goodbyes – they unnerve us.  We worry about what is going to happen next – to us, to those we love and care about.  We know it’s part of life – some of it is a joyful change, some of it is more painful – but we also know these transitions, changes and goodbyes unites all of humanity.  Everyone will experience it at some point.  Which is why that quote from Jesus hit me on my umpteenth time reading it:

Remain in me, as I remain in you 
In the face of these realities, these changes – that first word almost always seems to capture our initial desire–  that wants to remain  We somehow want things to remain the same…
You may want exams to be over (check that – you do!) but you want to remain with your friends, and your community, and for things to remain the same just like how they are here every week (maybe a little sunnier and warmer) but basically the same. 
You want to graduate, but you want that the certainty of that confidence you have now as a senior to remain as you begin your careers or embarking on a next step.  
I wanted my friend Pat to remain with her family, her friends, her parish community and the people that she loved and loved her. 
Yet all of those changes did happen or are happening.  Things don’t remain the same.  And that’s where the fear, the sadness, the anxiety creeps in, which is why we have to let Jesus finish his sentence.  He doesn’t say remainhe says remain in me as I remain in you.   

That’s more than just a nice sentiment or thought.  Because this whole Gospel comes from Jesus speaking to his disciples in the Upper Room on that first Holy Thursday at the Last Supper.   Jesus had already washed the disciples’ feet – called out Judas and seen him leave to betray Him.  He was alone with them and His thoughts about what was about to unfold:  His arrest, his unjust trial, brutal torture and crucifixion.  He who could see the betrayer’s heart, also sees the hearts of those who remain – and He is also able to look out into history, into this room and this very night to see our hearts as well.  In spite of the agony that awaits Him, Love – true love – makes it impossible for someone to remain self-focused.  He is not thinking about himself at that hour or what faces Him  – but us – each and every one of us who He is pouring out His life for.

To those in that upper room, Jesus knows they don’t quite know what’s happening (they were confused by the washing of the feet, and thought Judas had gone out to give money to the poor).  So this lengthy Last Supper Discourse in that moment probably didn’t click.  More than likely on Good Friday Night, these words “remain in me as I remain in you” must’ve cut to the core – as they had run away in cowardice, fear and grief.  But now post Easter Sunday – in the light of the Resurrection, where Jesus has risen from the dead, they have new meaning. 
They are words of hope.  They are words of new life.  They are words of promise.  As we remain in Him (by keeping his commandments, as St John tells us in the second reading) we can move forward with confidence knowing that  He remains in us.   That is what we have to focus on, instead of our fears and worries.  He remains in us, as we continue to grow, and move forward… He’s transforming us and utilizing us to bear fruit
He remains with us – as we leave this room where we celebrate Mass every Sunday Night, or the chapel in the Newman Center… or for that matter any place where we’ve celebrated the Eucharist.    That’s precisely why the Mass ends with a simple charge “Go forth, the Mass is ended” – basically that’s the Holy Spirit is telling us:   we’re not supposed to remain here, comfortable among ourselves – we’re supposed to go forth and spread the Good News that we’ve just received.
He remains with you who will leave this Campus in a few weeks.  Jesus encountered you here in a particular way in this particular space.  But there’s a world out there that needs you… to bring the joy you’ve experienced here out there – to your families, to your friends, to whatever it is that comes next after this… Its okay to feel that mixture of feelings right now – of some sadness, fear – but hopefully joy at what you’ve experienced during your time here at MSU.  Because as great a chapter in time as your college years have been,  you were never destined to remain here forever (even if it’s all here as the MSU marketing people would have you believe) –

The reason for this is simple.  Ultimately ,  life is about this one journey we’re all on.   Which is why Jesus wants us to remember we’re destined to be with Him forever.  That’s why I could say goodbye to my friend Pat, recognizing that this was nothing more than a temporary goodbye…  She had entrusted herself to Jesus in this life, and strove hard to love Jesus and keep his commands during her life.  The tears her family and friends shared were because they could recognize and appreciate that in a new way as they celebrated her life.  They could rejoice at the good fruit she produced by being rooted in Christ.

St. Pope John Paul II once said The true Christian can nurture a trustful optimism, because he is certain of not walking alone.  In sending us Jesus, the eternal son made man, God has drawn near to us.  In Christ, he has become our traveling companion.   That’s an important thing to remember.  May each of us, regardless of the season in life we find ourselves  in,  whatever trials, tribulations, changes, or challenges we’re facing or are yet to reveal themselves to us – allow and welcome Christ to be that ever trustworthy, never failing companion… as we remain in Him and He remains in us.