Saint John, Apostle and Evangelist

Today’s readings

“He saw and believed.” The “other” disciple, often called the “beloved” disciple or the disciple “whom Jesus loved,” is Saint John the Apostle and Evangelist, the one we celebrate today. Saint John had a very special relationship with Christ. He wasn’t as zealous and boisterous as Peter could be, but he had a faith as strong as Peter’s in his own way. His was a faith that observed and processed and believed. His was a faith that grew quietly, as he made connections between what Jesus prophesied and what came to pass. It’s no wonder that when he stood at the tomb, “he saw and believed.”

In Saint John’s writings, the theme of love is almost overwhelming. We hear that in today’s first reading, from his first letter. That love is bound up in the whole theme of fleshly existence. John proclaims that because God loved the world so much, he could not bear to be apart from us or aloof from our nature. Instead, he took on our fleshly existence, this body that can so often fail us, can so often turn to sin and degradation, can so often lead us in the wrong direction. Taking on that flawed human flesh, he redeemed it for glory. Through the Incarnation, God proclaims once and for all that we have been created good, that we have been created in love, and that nothing can ever stand in the way of the love God has for us.

Saint John’s preaching of love and the goodness of our created bodies is a preaching that has a very special place in the celebration of Christmas. It was because of that love that God had for us, a love that encompasses our bodies and our souls, that he came to live among us and take flesh in our world. His most merciful coming was completely part of his loving plan for our salvation. That’s the message Saint John brings us on his feast day today, and throughout this celebration of Christmas.

The Nativity of Our Lord: Mass During the Night and During the Day

Today’s readings: Mass During the Night | Mass During the Day

We settle for mediocrity way too easily sometimes, I think. All of the “stuff” that we have to have or get to give at this time of year is an example of that. The latest gadgets will be out of date very soon, and the hard-to-get toys will all be forgotten or broken shortly after the new year. The things we think will make us happy are not happiness givers after all, and then we are left with a sense of want for something else, which also will leave us unfulfilled. But tonight/today we celebrate that that does not have to be our enduring reality. We are given, in this celebration, the gift that won’t ever go out of date, or be broken or useless. Today we are given the great gift of the Incarnation of our Lord.

The Incarnation is a great and holy mystery that tells us that God loved us so much, he couldn’t bear to live without us. When we had gone our own way and wandered far away from him, he pursued us to bring us back. He went so far as to become one of us: the Great and Almighty One, who is higher than the heavens and more glorious than all the heavenly hosts, this God of ours took on our frail human flesh to walk among us and touch us and bring us back to himself. He so perfectly assumed our humanity that although he never sinned, he willingly laid down his life for us, paying the price for our sins, the price of a tortuous, ignominious death on a cross. And far from letting death have the last word, God raised him up, gloriously throwing open the gates of the Kingdom for all to enter in.

This, brothers and sisters, is truly a great and wonderful feast! It’s no wonder the angels sang on that glorious night! If it weren’t for the Incarnation – Jesus’ taking on our mortal flesh – there could never be a Good Friday or an Easter, there could never be salvation, never be hope for us. But there is. That’s the good news that we celebrate tonight (today) and every day of our lives.

Knowing God’s love in this way is the whole reason the Church exists. That people would not know God’s love and not experience his friendship was so unthinkable to the early followers of Jesus that they went forth everywhere preaching the Good News of God’s love and grace.

So we come to this holy place tonight, gathered together to gaze on the gift of Christ in our Manger. The message of this peaceful scene is that God wants to save the world. He created us in love and for love, so he greatly desired in his grand plan that we would all come back to him one day, and live forever with him in the kingdom. But he knew that, steeped in sin as our world can be, fallen and flawed, as we individually can be, that we could never really return to him on our own. We were – and are – too bogged down in mediocrity, too caught up in things that are not God, and that are not ultimately going to bring us happiness. So he knew that the only thing that he could do was to enter our history in a decisive way.

And he could have done that in any way that he pleased – he is God after all: all-powerful, all-knowing and present everywhere. John’s Gospel, though, tells us just exactly how God chose to enter our history: “And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” He chose not just to visit us, but instead to become one of us, taking upon himself all of our weaknesses, our pain, and our sorrows – like us in all things but sin. He was born a baby: the all-powerful One taking on the least powerful stage of our existence. He was born to a poor family and announced to an unwed mother. The one who created the riches of the world and who himself was clothed in the splendor of the Almighty turned aside from all of it so that he could become one with his people. Because he chose to take upon himself all that we must go through and then some, he is the way to salvation for all of us.

The only way that the full brokenness of our human form could be redeemed was for Jesus to take on all of it when he came to save us. That’s why his birth was so messy, why he had to be born in a manger with all the farm animals, that’s why he never had a place to lay his head in all his life. What is amazing is that, as wretched as our earthly lives can be sometimes, God never considered himself above it all, never hesitated for a moment to take it on and fill it with grace.

God didn’t take on our form so that he could become less, he took on our form so that we could become more. So, yes, God becomes one of us and takes on all of our infirmities and weaknesses. But in doing that, we ourselves become more than we could ever be on our own. Our lowliness is filled with grace, our sadness is filled with rejoicing. That was always the plan God had for us.

That’s our story. It’s really important that we don’t forget it, and even more important that we tell it to everyone we can. It’s the best and really only reason for us to celebrate so joyfully every December the 25th. Our story is what makes us who we are, what defines us as a Church and as a people. The story of Christ’s Incarnation is what makes us a living sign of God’s love in the world. That is who we really are, despite the world’s attempts to define us as something far less. The great gift of God’s love shines glorious light into every dark corner of our world and of our lives and calls us broken ones to redemption and healing and joy.

It’s crucial for us to live that story and not accept what others want to make us. If you’re joining us for the first time tonight, or if you’re visiting family, or if you came here looking for something more for Christmas, then we welcome you and we hope that you experience Christ’s presence among us. We hope that you find in your time with us and with the Lord tonight (today) a desire to go deeper in life and find the meaning of it all. Please know that we would be glad to help you in that journey, and please see one of us, to point you in the right direction. Please don’t walk away from this glorious celebration without knowing that God did it for you – for all of us, sure – but specifically for you.

If you’re an active member of our parish family, then I hope the message that you receive tonight and your encounter with Christ tonight leads you to a desire to share Christ’s presence with others. That’s our job as Christians, every one of us pointing the way to Christ in our own way, in our own place, so that everyone we meet knows what wondrous joys await those who live in Christ. The gift we have been given absolutely must be shared, and it is part of our baptismal commitment to Christ to share it.

The Incarnation – the birth and personhood of Jesus Christ – along with his Passion, death and Resurrection, changes everything. When we all rediscover Christ, the Incarnation can change us too, so that we may then go out and change the world around us. When that happens in us, the angels will sing just as joyfully now as they did on that most holy night. Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will!

The Nativity of the Lord: Children’s Vigil Mass

Today’s readings
#christmasnd

Once upon a time, there was an old shepherd named Elias. He had been a shepherd for his whole life long, just like his father, and his father’s father. Being a shepherd was hard and lonely work. He took care of a large group of sheep and did his best to protect them from wolves and to keep them together. He would lead them by day from pasture to pasture, allowing them to graze, and bring them safely to market where they would give their wool for people to use.

Nights could be very lonely and sometimes scary. There was no one else to talk to, and he did his best to keep the sheep safe. Sometimes, if he listened hard enough, he could imagine the wind talking to him as it blew through the trees. That made him feel like he wasn’t so alone.

One night, as he was nearing the place where he and the sheep would spend the night, he saw a bright light up in the distance. He couldn’t help but wonder what was going on so he moved toward it. When he got close enough, he got the sheep settled down for the night and he went to check out the light and make sure there was nothing to worry about.

Other shepherds had done the same thing, and they all arrived to see the angel of the Lord, surrounded by the bright light of God’s glory. It was frightening to see, and Elias and the others just stood there, awe-struck, not knowing what to think.

Then the angel spoke to them. He said, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”

Then the sky grew really bright as hundreds of angels joined in and began to sing: “Glory to God in the highest! And on earth, peace to those on whom his favor rests!”

When the angels left, Elias and the other shepherds decided to travel the short distance to Bethlehem, the city of David, and to search out the Savior that the angel talked about. Bethlehem was a pretty small village, and so it didn’t take much looking to find the baby.

He was in a manger – a feed-trough for animals. His parents looked like ordinary people, but Elias knew that this baby was special, and that the family was holy. The angel was right: there was joy and peace here, it was a special feeling that Elias knew could only come from God’s blessing.

Elias never forgot that night. He went about taking care of his sheep, but whenever he was in town, he would try to find out about the baby he saw that night. He found out the boy’s name was Jesus, and he would often hear of wonderful things that Jesus said and did. When he was very old, Elias heard that people had turned against Jesus and they nailed him to a cross. But he also heard that three days later, he rose from the dead, and all of his friends were now starting to go out and tell the Good News about him.

Elias knew that Jesus was special from that very first night he saw him. He knew that Jesus had come to change everything. And he was right. Got changed everything then, and he continues to change everything now, if we let him. Jesus didn’t just get born two thousand years ago; Jesus is born right here, right now for us, if we would just make a little space, a little manger for him in our hearts.  Just as Elias didn’t know exactly what God had in store for Jesus, we don’t know what God has in store for any of us in the year ahead.  But we do know this: God sent Jesus so that He could be here among us, and he is here among us now, leading us back to him, telling us that we are his special children, and loving us all with love beyond anything we can imagine.

Things were hard for Elias and the other shepherds, and for Jesus and his family, and sometimes things will be hard for us too.  But all along the way, there are angels, guiding us to where God wants us, watching over us, shining the light, and helping us to find the Good News.  Today, God brings us here to worship, so that like those shepherds, we can find Jesus again, and we can see Jesus in those who love us, and in our own hearts.

Advent Penance Service

Today’s readings: Isaiah 30:19-21, 23-36 | Psalm 27 | Matthew 5:13-16

During this time of year, there’s a lot more darkness than I’m sure most of us would like to see. The daylight fades very fast, and there’s a lot of cold and cloudy days. And so, as joyful as this season is supposed to be, it can be so hard for many people. And then there’s the thought of another year coming to an end: some people look back on the year, and they lament what could have been, or what actually has been. And we could probably do without all the news of war, crime and terrorism here and abroad. So if we feel a little dark right now, we’re not alone.

But the struggle between light and darkness is what Advent is all about. The season of Advent recognizes the darkness of the world – the physical darkness, sure, but more than that the darkness of a world steeped in sin, a world marred by war and terrorism, an economy decimated by greed, peacefulness wounded by hatred, crime and dangers of all sorts. This season of Advent also recognizes the darkness of our own lives – sin that has not been confessed, relationships broken by self-interest, personal growth tabled by laziness and fear.

In Advent, God meets all that darkness head-on. We don’t cower in the darkness; neither do we try to cover over the light. Instead we put the lamp on a lampstand and shine the light into every dark corner of our lives and our world. Isaiah prophesies about this Advent of light: “The light of the moon will be like that of the sun, and the light of the sun will be seven times greater [like the light of seven days].” This is a light that changes everything. It doesn’t just expose what’s imperfect and cause shame, instead it burns the light of God’s salvation into everything and everyone it illumines, making all things new.

Our Church makes the light present in many ways – indeed, it is the whole purpose of the Church to shine a bright beacon of hope into a dark and lonely world. We do that symbolically with the progressive lighting of the Advent wreath which represents the world becoming lighter and lighter as we approach the birthday of our Savior. But the Church doesn’t leave it simply in the realm of symbol or theory. We are here tonight to take on that darkness and shine the light of Christ into every murky corner of our lives. The Sacrament of Penance reconciles us with those we have wronged, reconciles us with the Church, and reconciles us most importantly with our God. The darkness of broken relationships is completely banished with the Church’s words of absolution. Just like the Advent calendars we’ve all had reveal more and more with every door we open, so the Sacrament of Penance brings Christ to fuller view within us whenever we let the light of that sacrament illumine our darkness.

And so that’s why we’re here tonight. We receive the light by being open to it and accepting it, tonight in a sacramental way. Tonight, as we did at our baptism, we reject the darkness of sin and we “look east” as the hymn says, to accept the light of Christ which would dawn in our hearts. Tonight we lay before our God everything that is broken in us, we hold up all of our darkness to be illumined by the light of God’s healing mercy.

Tonight, our sacrament disperses the gloomy clouds of our sin and disperses the dark shadows of death that lurk within us. The darkness in and around us is no match for the light of Christ. As we approach Christmas, that light is ever nearer. Jesus is, as the Gospel of John tells us, “the light that shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Monday of the Fourth Week of Advent: O Root of Jesse

Today’s readings 

In these late days of Advent, we pray the “O Antiphons.” These antiphons are the various titles of Jesus as found in Scripture. Today’s antiphon is “O Root of Jesse” and it is found as the antiphon for the Canticle of Mary in Vespers: “O Flower of Jesse’s stem, you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples; kings stand silent in your presence; the nations bow down in worship before you. Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.”

Zechariah in today’s Gospel certainly knew what it was like to stand silent in the presence of the Root of Jesse. Having been promised a son by an angel of the Lord – what one might consider a very trustworthy source – his disbelief moved him to silence in God’s presence. Here is a man who, one would think, should know better. But maybe his years of childlessness have led him to accept a life that was not God’s will. Certainly we could not blame him if the angel’s message was a bit unbelievable; we who have the benefit of so much science would probably be a little harder on the angel than Zechariah was. 

When you’re accustomed to living without hope, any sign of hope can be met with an awful lot of skepticism. Would Elizabeth and Zechariah ever give birth to a child? How would that even be possible? Would God save the world from the darkness of sin and death? Why would he even want to? Can God be born here among us, giving us rootedness and a solid foundation for our lives? Why would he even care?

Better to be silent than to voice our lack of faith and hope. Then, in the stillness of our hearts and souls, maybe God can give rootedness to our scattered lives, bring hope to a world grown dark in sin and crime and war and too much death. Today’s Gospel has God bringing hope to a elderly, childless couple. God forbid that we would doubt that he could bring hope to us too. 

We pray today: Come, Lord Jesus, come root of Jesse, give rootedness to our lives that are sometimes adrift in despair or apathy, give hope to a world grown cold in darkness and disappointment, give life to a people burdened by sin and death. Come, let us stand silent as we await the dawning of your hope in our lives, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid. Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly and do not delay! 

The Fourth Sunday of Advent

Today’s readings
#adventnd #christmasnd #advent #christmas

What has captured my imagination as I’ve prayed this Advent is how we have been given this wonderful gift. This gift eclipses anything we’ll ever be given, anything we will ever earn, anything that will ever cross our meandering path in life. Today, the readings call that gift Emmanuel – God with us. I think sometimes we forget how wonderful this is. That the infinite all-powerful awesome God, who is not in need of anything or anyone for His self-worth, that He would choose to come to earth and take the flesh of his creatures, this is a truth too wonderful to even imagine. But not only that, this God took on our imperfections so completely that he paid the price for our many sins, both individually and as a society. He died the death we deserve for our waywardness, and then he rose from the dead in the Resurrection that assures us access to eternal life, if we will but love and follow him. No gift on earth is like this one!

The most important thing that we can know about this Gift is that it isn’t just for us. It is for us, but never only for us. We are meant to share it. Because we have been loved by God who is Love itself, with a love so complete and sacrificial and permanent, then we have to be willing to love that way too. The people God puts in our lives: our family, our friends, our coworkers, our neighbors – all of them deserve to be loved in this same way too, and it’s up to us to be conduits of that love to others.

So we have to be on the lookout for ways to do that. Think about it: those of us who are here all the time could well, and often do, get our noses out of joint at this time of year. We put in all the effort to get here every week, so maybe the lack of parking and the packed seats inconvenience us to the point of irritation. But what if it didn’t?

What if, instead, we used this as an opportunity to put the discipleship we’ve been learning about all year long into practice? What if we chose to see Jesus in all of them, to be aware of Emmanuel – God with us – in such a way that we did everything we could to make their first time with us, or their first time in a long time, a memorable one? What if we as a parish decided that a loving relationship with our God was so glorious, so important, that we didn’t want anyone to go without one? What if, as a community, we decided there is nothing we won’t do to make those who visit us on Christmas irresistibly attracted to our community, so that when they’re here they think, “Those people at Notre Dame know something I don’t, and I have to find out what it is”? Well, that’s what I’d like us to try and do this Christmas.

I liken it to the whole way Jesus came into the world. We all know the story, don’t we? The whole world was on the move, headed to their native places to be counted for the census, and there wasn’t an inn anywhere that would take Mary and Joseph, and the coming Christ Child in. But one innkeeper made some room out back and gave the newborn King the best he could offer. We absolutely know that Christ is in our brothers and sisters, so how on earth can we turn them away? As Saint Benedict teaches his monks, “Let all guests be received as Christ.”

And so I’m going to make some suggestions for things that we can all do to make people feel welcome, to help them to know that there is a joy here in our community that has to be shared. First, make some room. I know we all want to get here first for a good parking spot. But if you can walk here, would you consider doing that, just to make a spot for a visitor? I can remember when my family would try to get to Mass as soon as possible to stake out a good seat, and I’d see so many people with coats over whole sections of a pew like they were lawn chairs on parking spaces in the city! We all want to have room, but if you can move in a little and let some other folks sit with you, would you consider being a bit uncomfortable so that someone can be welcome?

Lots of times people will come here and won’t know where they’re going. We all want to get to Mass on time, but if you see someone looking puzzled, would you consider taking a moment to ask if you could help them? If they’re looking for the bathroom, would you go out of your way just this once to walk them there so they don’t get lost in the crowds coming in on a busy day? Again, as intent as we are to get to our seats, if you notice someone coming in who needs some help walking, could you offer them your arm, or hold the door open?

We all like to see our friends and the people we know at Mass. It’s a comfort to us. So it might take a little concerted effort, but would you consider smiling at someone you’ve never seen before, perhaps introducing yourself and telling them what you like about Notre Dame? Because it just takes a tiny little gesture, or a little inconvenience for us, to make a huge difference. What if every person who walked through the door on Christmas Eve or Christmas had a life-changing experience because of the way that we treated them? We can do that, and I really think that we should. Would you all be willing to do a little something extra to make someone know God’s love in an awesome way? I’m counting on all of you to do that. If every Guest is received as Christ, then as Saint Benedict also said, we will all go together one day to eternal life!

Friday of the Third Week of Advent

Today’s readings
Mass for the school children.
#adventnd #advent #Christmas

I can’t believe it but Christmas is only just nine days away now! I know everyone is so busy writing letters to Santa, being good so they don’t get on the “naughty” list, wrapping Christmas presents for their parents, and baking cookies for Father Pat! But before we do all that, our Church asks us to take a minute and remember what it is that we’re about to celebrate.

And what we’re about to celebrate is pretty special. God loved the world so very much that he sent his own Son to live among us and bring us closer to him, and to take upon himself the punishment for all our many sins. God would rather die than live without us, and so he did. But death doesn’t have any power over us because Jesus rose from the dead. And all of this wonderful mystery begins in just nine days, or at least that day a couple of thousand years ago.

And we know the story: An angel came to Mary to tell her that she would give birth to a son by the power of the Holy Spirit. Because she was faithful, she said “yes” to God’s plan for her, and because she said “yes,” our world and our lives have been different – better, more hopeful – ever since! Jesus grew to be a man who was both mighty in his power to save us, and a wise prophet who helped us to learn about God and his kingdom.

And this reminds us of the two stories we heard in our readings today. Isaiah was a prophet who pleaded with the people to change their lives. He saw they were doing all sorts of things that made them think they were right with God, but they were really only doing it for show. They still ruined the Sabbath day by leaving worship and going back to all the evil things they were doing, especially taking advantage of the poor. So Isaiah was pleading with them to worship rightly and live what they believed. That would eventually prepare them for the coming of a Messiah, an anointed one who would lead the people to God’s promise.

John the Baptist was also a prophet and led the people to repentance so that they could recognize God and be open to the gift God was giving them in Jesus. Just like Jesus, he was blessed by God and led by the Holy Spirit. All that he did and said prepared the people for the coming of Jesus, the Anointed One who would lead us all to God’s promise.

Isaiah was a prophet of the Old Testament, and John the Baptist of the New Testament. The fact that their stories are so similar to the stories about what Jesus came to do tells us that God has been preparing his people all along to be saved. He was getting them ready to recognize the way that Jesus was born among us.

And so, when we look on our mangers and see Jesus laying in there, we know that he came for a very specific reason. God sent him to be one of us, because it is only by being one of us that God could really save us. Jesus took on a body, just like all of us, and he experienced the same kinds of pain and sadness that we all experience from time to time. He even went so far as to die, just like we all do at some point in our lives, so that he could know what it was to be just like us. When we look at the wood of the manger, we know that one day, Jesus will die on the wood of the Cross. When we celebrate Jesus’ birthday, we know that we will eventually remember his death and celebrate his Resurrection.

So today, we take a minute in all our busy Christmas preparations and shopping and wrapping and cookie making (I like chocolate, by the way…) – we take a minute and pause, and think about baby Jesus, and know that by becoming one of us, everything was changed, everything was better. We thank God for loving us so much that he became one of us and gave us a gift better than anything we could ever ask for, better than any of the brightly-wrapped gifts we will receive in nine days, the gift of eternal life with God forever one day.