Peace be with you!

My name is Nader Ata. I am a Conventual Franciscan Friar of the Our Lady of Angels Province, USA. I am a transitional deacon preparing for Priesthood Ordination in the fall.

Seeking to live with Franciscan Joy each and every day!

*All of photos on this blog were taken by me unless noted otherwise. Please ask permission before using them. Thank You!*

*Also I am not the greatest speller or writer in the world, so please let me know if something is misspelled. Thank you!"


Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

         If the Trinity could have a motto, I think this would be it: Come home and be loved. Two Sundays ago we heard at Mass that God is love, thus the Trinity that we celebrate today is also love. The Trinity is the source of love.
         In the Gospel Jesus instructed the disciples to “Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations” And they are to achieve this by doing two things:
         1) Baptizing in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
         2) Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.

         Come home and be loved.

         In Baptizing others, the disciples are saying come home. Come to God, come in union with the Trinity and be at home.
         In Teaching others, the disciples are saying be loved. For in observing all that Jesus has commanded them, is to love. Jesus’ teachings are centered on love. Love of God, Love of Self, Love of Others – Neighbor and Enemy, and Love of Creation.
         Now where does that leave us – well the call is still the same – “Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations” – by baptizing and teaching –  come home and be loved.
         All of us may not be called to physically baptize people, but each us are called to bring people home. We are to bring people to God. We may not realize it, but we are different because we were baptized, because we are Christian. In Baptism our sins were forgiven both original and personal, we received the gift of the Holy Spirit, and we entered into the community of God and are united with all those in heaven and on earth. In baptism we received the virtues of Faith, Hope, and Love. Faith being the foundation of our relationship with God. Hope being the promise of eternal life. Love being the bond between all of us: God, creation, and humanity; that gives us the strength to live the Christian life of love. Because of our Baptism, we know what it is like to come home. You and I can share that with others. We can invite people to come home, both into our physical homes of our biological family and into our parish home of our spiritual and eternal family.
         All of us are also called to teach, to invite people to “be loved”. We teach by the way that we live our lives. We teach by the way that we love others. We may not say to others “be loved” but we do so by our actions. By sharing with those less fortunate than us, by forgiving others when they hurt us, by admitting that we are wrong and making amends when that happens, and by praying for each other.
         Come home and be loved. This is the heart of the Trinity and is the heart of our faith. When we open ourselves up to the sacrament of confession we say to God “I want to come home and be loved” and God is saying to us “Come home and be loved.” When we come to Mass we are making a decision to “come home and be loved.” Throughout Mass, through songs, through the Word, and through the homily, we hear the message of “come home and be loved.” In the Eucharist, Jesus invites us to “come home and be loved.” In becoming the Holy Eucharist, the Body and the Blood, Jesus earns to be in the physical homes of our body and wants to love us. In receiving the Eucharist, we invite Jesus into our homes; we invite Jesus to love us. And when we leave Mass, Jesus commands us as he did his disciples back then, to go, therefore and make disciples of all nations – by baptizing and teaching. Go, show people love, go bring people home, go and help them be loved.
        Welcome home and be loved. 

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity
May 31, 2015
St. Peter's Church
Point Pleasant Beach, NJ

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Seventh Sunday of Easter

         You probably have heard people talk about the “real world.” Like when someone is about to go to college or when someone is graduating from college, people often say “Wait until you graduate and go out in the “real world” ” or “Graduating next year? You’ll finally be in the “real world” or “Now when you go into the “real world”….” blank and blank. In talking about the “real world” we often are referring to a “world” that is tough, harsh, full of challenges, and of people who let you down or who won’t like, there is a negative meaning.
         I talk about the “real world” because it is important to understand the “world” referred to by Jesus in John’s Gospel. The world also carries a negative meaning here, it is not about the physical earth, rather the world is everything that was hostile to Jesus and his disciples. The world included Jews and Gentiles alike, it represented those who refuse to accept or believe in Jesus. The world was understood as hating Jesus and hating those who believe in and follow after him. The world referred to the people who preferred darkness to light. But despite all of the negativity around the “world” in the Gospel, Jesus is adamant in his prayer to God “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.”
         As parents of grown children know, one of the difficult experiences of parenthood comes at that time when the child is growing up and is about to separate from them and go on his or her own. Of course, parents acknowledge that they must allow their child to be on his or her own, to go out into the “real world,” and to experience all sorts of risks; yet this doesn’t diminish their anxiety about the child. All parents know many a sleepless night, worrying about their children, where they are, what are they doing, are they making the right decisions, I know my parents did.
         This is similar to what Jesus is going through with his disciples. He has a great concern for them, Jesus realizes that he will shortly depart from them and he anticipates all the suffering, abuse, disbelief, and skepticism they will encounter when they begin to go into the world to carry on Jesus’ mission. Like a caring parent, Jesus is truly concerned for them; he has a kind of anxiety and worry, which is rooted in his very profound love for them. The deeply felt prayer that we hear in today’s Gospel is prompted by this concern “Holy Father, keep them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as you are one” – Jesus is essentially praying for their protection.
         This prayer is not just for his disciples, but is for us too. During this waiting time between the Ascension of Jesus into heaven and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, we can be assured of Jesus prayers for us. Jesus prays that we are protected, that we share with his joy completely, that we are guarded from the evil one, and that we are consecrated to truth. Jesus asks God, to protect and guard us. As like a parent gives his or her child, so Jesus gives his disciples and us, freedom. Freedom to live our lives. Parents must rely on the fact that they have done a good job raising their children and that they have tried their best to instill proper values in their children. Hopefully these will sustain their children in whatever difficulties they face. Jesus, too, relies on this. He passionately communicated to his disciples his teachings and his love as well as their responsibilities and obligations. After his death and resurrection he too, had to trust that once he had left them, they would be able to withstand all the risks and dangers they would surely encounter. He did trust them; he wanted them to remain in the world and to be given the strength to live in the world. He continued to pray for and to show his concern for them as he does for us today, after all he gave us the Holy Spirit. As Jesus cared for them, so in the dangers and risks we face, Jesus also cares for us.
         Jesus wants us to be in the “world” or the “real world.” He prays that when we are in the world, that we do not lose ourselves. That we hold fast to his Word and his teaching. As we heard in the second reading “God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him” Jesus wants his disciples, Jesus want us not just to love, rather he wants us to become love. To be walking models of love, who care for and love one another. We are to be one with God, ourselves, others, and all of creation.
         Yesterday, I got the chance to visit some college friends of mine, Tara and Jimmy. They just had their first child, in February, a baby girl named Cecilia. I had the privilege to hold her yesterday and to have her sleep in my arms. There is a love that seems to radiate from an infant sleeping. There is a deep sense of utter peace and joy. May we radiate utter love, peace, and joy in the way we live our lives. May we be people of light and may we remember that we are never really alone or separated from Jesus in the dangers and risks we face in our lives, he is always there supporting us and understanding our difficulties.

Seventh Sunday of Easter Homily
May 17, 2015
St. Peter's Church
Point Pleasant Beach, NJ

Monday, May 4, 2015

Fifth Sunday of Easter

          One of my favorite parts about living in Point Pleasant is that there is Hoffman’s Ice Cream only 2 blocks away. If you know me you know that I love ice cream. I never knew people who liked ice cream more than me until I met Fr. Phil and Fr. Richard. They particularly like their ice cream sandwiches. They sell 4 types the vanilla, chocolate, vanilla with sprinkles, and chipwhich (vanilla with chocolate chips and chocolate chip cookies. Have you had them? They are good. Hoffman’s does not sell either the vanilla or chocolate flavor, it sells both/and not either/or.
         In the second reading, the author emphasizes that life is about both/and not either/or, he brings together things that are often separated from one another in our thinking. For example:

We must believe in Jesus and be obedient to his commandments. We can’t believe in Jesus and then not live out his commandments. This is like talking the talk, but not walking the walking. What we say we believe and what we do are to be the same.

We must love in word or speech and in deed and truth. You can’t love in name only, you have to live it. This is the debate over faith and works. The Christian life is not about only having faith or only doing good works, it is both/and, our faith leads us to do good works, and our good works are reflections of our faith.

We must believe in God’s son and love one another. Believing in Jesus can’t end with just the belief, we must be open to transformation to become like the One in whom we believe. And the One in whom we believe loved others. And to love  others is to respect his or her person in every sense of the word. This means loving everyone, even our enemies. Saying that we believe in who Jesus is, and yet choosing to not live like Jesus, is a contradiction.

         Now is it easy to live a both/and Christian life. No. It is difficult and takes work. Some days are easier than others. Some days it is really difficult to walk the walk, to do good works, or to love your enemies. Or some days it is really difficult to believe in Jesus or to have faith.
         But as we heard in the Gospel, whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit because without me you can do nothing. See a vine and its branches are so intricately connected. The life of the vine is the life of the branches. The life of Jesus is our life. The vine bears fruit through its branches, and the branches bear the fruit of the vine. Jesus bears fruit through us and through us we bear fruit for Jesus.
         May you and I always remain connected to Jesus the vine and may our Christian lives be both/and not either/or.

Fifth Sunday of Easter Homily
May 3, 2015
St. Peter's Church
Point Pleasant Beach, NJ

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Good Shepherd Sunday

         Growing up, I feel in love with a woman who is an actress with red hair, a great smile, and an infectious laugh. That is the one and only Mrs. Julia Roberts. 

I jokingly say, if she were to ask me to marry her, I would. In reflecting on today’s Gospel, I came across a commentary that used Julia Robert’s portrayal of Erin Brockovich, a former beauty queen, now twice divorced with three children, who begins to work for a local law firm with now real experience, as a researcher for a case. The film is called Erin Brockovich. During the film Julia Roberts visits plaintiff after plaintiff, family after family in this small town of Hinkley, California and finds that the effects of the local gas company’s industrial pollution in the water supply have been covered up for years and that over 600 people have aliments because of it. She deals with the victims personally and they feel she is a friend. She possesses Good Shepherd qualities: she knows her clients (the sheep), genuinely cares for them, and generously sacrifices for them.
         Later in the film a hired professional law firm comes into the picture, but they do not know the clients (the sheep). The professional law firm only cares about the facts about the sheep and the sheep are reluctant to even speak with them, after they have already spoken with Erin. When Erin’s knowledge of the sheep are challenged by the professional law firm, Erin amazes everyone by firing off the names, phone numbers, and details of each plaintiff from memory.
         Julia Roberts and her boss in one way lay down their loves for the people of Hinkley, California: all of legal costs for the case spreads their local firm very thin and working round-the-clock takes Erin out of touch with both her boyfriend and her kids. Erin's kids resent the lack of attention from her and her attempts to explain the merits of what she is doing to her eldest son are futile, but, one day her eldest son happens across one of the many documents pertaining to the case. He reads of a child his own age who is very ill, and knowing that Erin's work will help this child, asks her why the child's mother cannot provide him with the help he needs. When Erin explains that it is because the child's mother is also very ill, her son, for the first time, appreciates the nature and importance of his mom’s work. Sorry if am about to spoil the end of the movie for you, but in the end Erin Brockovich wins the case, settling for $333 million which the largest settlement ever in a direct-action lawsuit in US history.

         Today is Good Shepherd Sunday, a day in which the Church publically fulfills the Lord’s instruction: “Pray the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into his harvest.” It is a day where we remember and pray for the men and women, young and old to hear and respond generously to the Lord’s call to the priesthood, diaconate, and religious life. When I think of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, I picture him all dressed in white, nicely groomed, with a sheep around his neck, a bunch of other sheep around his feet. For me it is a very distant image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. I want to see Jesus dirty and disheveled hugging and playing with the sheep. As Pope Francis says, we are supposed to take on the “smell of the sheep.” Priests are to be with the people, to closely identify with the trials of life.

         Erin Brockovich, was a dirty and disheveled Good Shepherd hugging and playing with the sheep and so was Jesus. Know that the Jesus that you and I believe in and profess as our Savior, is one who knows us and calls us “the children of God”. Jesus is one who literally laid down his life for us. Jesus, the Good Shepherd leads, guides, and influences us as his sheep, not like an outsider, but as one who took on flesh like you and me. Pray that Fr. Phillip, Fr. Richard, Fr. Michael, Fr. Bob, all of the Sisters, and I may be your good shepherds who take on the “smell of the sheep.”

Fourth Sunday of Easter Homily
April 26, 2015
St. Peter's Church
Point Pleasant Beach, NJ

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Happy Easter and Third Sunday of Easter Homily 2015

Happy Easter Everyone!

 I love that we get to celebrate Easter for 50 days. In the Church's wisdom we have 40 days of Lent to prepare and 50 days of Easter to celebrate the wonderful mystery and gift of the Resurrection.
Below you can find my homily for the Third Sunday of Easter:

         This week I drove Fr. Phil up to Staten Island so that he could give a talk to some Secular Franciscans and while he was giving the talk I surprised a close friend of my family who is like another mother to me, I call her Aunt. I unexpectedly showed up at my aunt’s front door. She was on the phone and slowly opened the door to see who would be knocking at the door. Once she realized that it was I, she hung up the phone and gave me a big hug and kiss. She recognized me immediately. She invited me into her house and to have something to eat. We took time to talk about how things have been going and what has happened since the last time we saw each other. She asked about how it was to be living in Point Pleasant and I said “It was all right.” No I told her that everything was great, especially living with Fr. Richard (He was the presider at Mass). But after the initial joy of the reunion was somewhat spent, we got down to talking about more serious things that are important to both of us. For example she asked if I was really happy living as a friar and how things have been going in my family. In the end we both were reminded of how it is always a joyous occasion when someone to whom you feel very close drops in to visit you unexpectedly. Maybe you have experienced the same thing when a son or daughter who has moved away to another state comes home unexpectedly to visit or when a close friend of yours surprises you at work, there is tremendous joy in the reunion.

(From when I surprised my friend Pokey during his volunteer year with CFYM)

         In the Gospel we hear of a reunion like this. Jesus unexpectedly stands in the midst of the disciples. There was no knock or opening of a door, Jesus just appeared. The disciples were startled and terrified like my aunt was. They had no time to prepare for Jesus coming, in fact the disciples did not recognize him. Jesus now in a resurrected state was not easily recognizable, but Jesus showed them his hands and his feet, offering them to touch them. He reminded them that he had flesh and thus was not a ghost. The disciples were then filled with joy. Jesus and his disciples did what we do with guests, they ate together. Even after Jesus rose from the dead, he ate with his disciples like he always did. We see continuity between the pre-Easter and post-Easter Jesus, he did a very human thing, sharing a meal.     
         We need to remember, that no one saw Jesus rise from the dead. We do not have the event captured through any eyewitness accounts or pictures. Jesus’ resurrection was made known us from the fact that the tomb was empty and by his appearances to his friends and disciples, like the one we hear today.
         We know that Jesus and his disciples talked. Maybe they took time to talk about how things have been going and what has happened since the last time they saw each other. Maybe the disciples shared what is what like to watch Jesus die or to live without him for a couple days. We do not know. We do know that after the initial joy of the reunion, Jesus and the disciples got down to talking about more serious things that are important to both of them.
         I can’t imagine what it was like for the disciples to have Jesus – now risen from the dead – in their midst talking about himself being the fulfillment of the Scriptures. To have Jesus talk about the forgiveness of sins, which is now to be offered to others through the disciples themselves. To receive the mandate to preach to all nations in Jesus’ name.
         This mandate does not stop with the first disciples of Jesus. This mandate for the forgiveness of sins and to preach in Jesus’ name to all the nations, continues with you and me. Forgiveness of sins may be done by actually forgiving someone when they say “Sorry.” This may mean letting go of past hurts, instead of holding on to them forming resentment towards those that hurt you. Or talking to and supporting that family member that others seem to ignore. Preaching Jesus’ name to all the nations, may be as simple as telling your friends and family where you really are on Saturday Evenings (or Sunday mornings) - at Church - instead of just saying you are busy at that time. It could be writing "God Bless You", "God Loves You", or "I am praying for you" in the next card you write or text you send. Or it can be posting something about your faith on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. What began in Jerusalem, continues here in Point Pleasant Beach. What began with the disciples, continues with you.

Third Sunday of Easter Homily
April 19, 2015
St. Peter's Church
Point Pleasant Beach, NJ

Friday, April 3, 2015

Good Friday Homily 2015

         To be honest, often times I don't like to think to about Good Friday, between the beating, the scourging, the crown of thorns, the blood dripping, the carrying of the cross, the nailing to a tree and watching someone die is not something I enjoy to think to about. I would much rather think about Easter, between the celebration of new life, the joy, the bells ringing during the Gloria, the flowers, and the baptismal font. There is the great food and the gathering of family and friends to look forward to; I would rather stay in this place. Maybe you prefer to celebrate Easter than Good Friday too. I have come to realize that there is something wrong with that way of thinking; I am trying to skip Good Friday and go right into Easter. I am trying to skip the Cross and go right to the empty tomb. Essentially I want to ignore the suffering and go right to the glory.
         In reality Easter means nothing without Good Friday, in fact it means nothing without Holy Thursday either. You and I can't celebrate the resurrection of Jesus if Jesus never suffered and died. You and I can’t celebrate the resurrection if Jesus never gave us his body and blood in the Eucharist. Our faith would be based on pretty shaky ground if we celebrated Jesus just rising after taking a nap. No Jesus rose after dying on a cross.
         I think it is easy for us to go right to Easter, to go right to the empty tomb, and to go right to the glory, we know the next chapter of the story. The disciples, the soldiers, the guards, the chief priests, the Pharisees, Annas, Caiaphas, Pilate, not even Judas or Peter knew the next chapter of the story. Mary, the mother of Jesus, the two Marys, and the Beloved Disciple who were at the foot the cross they did not know the next chapter of the story. You and I do know.

         In the midst of the Passion and Death of Jesus, we are fortunate enough to see the victory to see the glory of cross. For others the cross of Christ is a symbol of weakness, condemnation, and death. But for us as Christians, the cross of Christ is a symbol of strength, honor, and life. The cross of Christ is the means of our salvation, it is the root of hope, light, and is the guarantee of eternal life. We are able to see that Christ’s dying on the cross destroyed death and that his raising restored life.
         At the beginning of this homily I mentioned that “Essentially I want to ignore the suffering and go right to the glory.” During this day, I couldn’t help but think about the suffering of my father. In January, my father Nabil passed away. For 45 days he was in a coma, I watched as he suffered or what I thought was suffering. The week of his death, I was so mad at God, why was my dad and my family suffering in this way? I couldn’t handle hearing one more person say “Nabil, open your eyes.” I just wanted him to die so that he could experience the glory of heaven, his resurrection, his Easter.
         And then I stopped thinking about heaven or why he was suffering, I learned to just be with him in his suffering. I thought of Mary watching her son’s Passion and death and not being able to do anything. There was nothing I could do for my dad to make him stop suffering. I couldn’t help him get over it or to take it away. I had to live through it. Rather, I chose to live through it. Maybe my dad needed to have another family member come see him or for another health care worker to care for him before he died. Maybe my dad needed to work something out with God or with himself before he died. I don’t know why he was in the coma for as long as he was, I only knew that I needed to be there and to live through it with him.
         Today we celebrate the cross of Christ. We celebrate the wood that bore our Savior, the wood that bore our sins, and the wood that bore our salvation. As we venerate the cross, we gather together in the memory of all of the living and the dead. We remember that suffering is not about getting over it, suffering is not about avoiding it, and suffering is not about taking it away. Suffering is about living through it. Know that unjust suffering caused by abuse, discrimination, or violence is not to be lived through or tolerated, but should be stopped and one should reach out for help.
         On the cross Jesus was stripped of his clothes, his arms were stretched out and his legs and arms were nailed to a tree; he was as vulnerable as one can be. He was in the total care of God the Father. When you and I carry our own crosses due to the poor choices we have made or due to the sufferings that accompany being human – we are vulnerable as we can be. We are called to live through those crosses and to be in the total care of God the Father. And who knows, once that next chapter of life begins, maybe those crosses or those moments of suffer, will be seen as moments of strength, honor, and life and will be celebrated and adored.

Good Friday Homily
April 3, 2015
St. Peter's Church
Point Pleasant Beach, NJ