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Blessed Virgin Mary Christmas Homilies

The Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God (Vigil Mass)

Today’s readings

Sometimes we get an awful lot of information to process.  On this, the last evening of the auspicious year of 2020, there’s a lot I could say about all that we’ve been through, more or less together (although certainly socially distanced) this year.  So much of our attention has been, deservedly, focused on the COVID-19 pandemic: the health care emergency, its effects on our social, political, educational, and economic environments, and even its effects on our own lives: our health, our emotions, our psychological wellness, and, of course, our spiritual lives.  That alone is a lot to process.  But 2020 has produced a good list of other bad news, including:

  • The wildfires in Australia in December and January which burned 47 million acres.
  • Tensions between Iran and the United States in the early part of the year.
  • Conflict between Syria and Turkey in March.
  • The Harvey Weinstein verdict that fueled the “Me too” movement.
  • The killing of George Floyd which brought to light other deaths including Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Breonna Taylor, Jacob Blake, and others, spurring racial protests and social unrest.
  • The global recession triggered by the pandemic which produced the Dow’s biggest one-day point drop ever in March, and which, throughout the year, has resulted in so many businesses closing and unemployment we haven’t seen in a very long time.
  • The arrival of “murder hornets” in the United States.  It was only a matter of time, unfortunately.
  • A massive explosion at a port in Beirut which resulted in the death of some 190 people in August.
  • Climate disruption brought catastrophic wildfires, a record number of tropical storms and hurricanes, and intense drought in many regions.

And I’m sure you could think of many others.  Any way you look at it, it’s a lot to process.

Mary’s story had a lot to process too.  Certainly the announcement of the birth of Jesus is one that she didn’t expect. Even though she was and is full of grace, that didn’t include omniscience, so the will of God had to be revealed to her. And when Gabriel did that, it spurred questions (“How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”), but of course, ultimately and importantly, faith and acceptance: “Be it done unto me according to your word.”  And that was just the beginning.  Think about it:

  • She had to explain all of this to Joseph, and to others who were not full of grace.
  • Joseph will decide to let her go quietly in order to avoid embarrassment, until he too receives a visit from an angel in a dream.
  • In today’s Gospel, shepherds arrive and tell her what they had been told about Jesus.
  • Shortly, astrologers will arrive with mysterious gifts foreshadowing who Jesus was and what he would become.
  • Again in a dream, Joseph receives a message from an angel about a plot to kill Jesus which causes them to flee to Egypt for protection.
  • At the child’s presentation in the temple, a prophetess and a priest find the culmination of their spiritual lives in the birth of the child, and foretell a future of sorrow and of greatness.

Becoming a parent for the first time is hard enough, but add in all of that, and it’s an awful lot to process.  Mary relied a lot on the grace she had been given, and on the strength of Joseph, and the protection of God, but still.  She had a lot to ponder in her heart.

Here’s the thing.  Every age is filled with all kinds of challenges; every life has a story that includes hard stuff.  But every age and life is offered grace, and when that grace is accepted all of the craziness, all of the sadness, all of the horror and scandal can be transformed into glory.  That happened in Mary’s life because of the Cross and Resurrection of her son, and it can happen to all of us too, by that same grace.

Mary’s reflection on the life of Jesus is really a model for us.  Keeping those events close to her and reflecting on them later is her way of reflecting on the Word of God.  She kept all these crazy events in her heart, and went back to them later in her life – even after the death and resurrection of Jesus – and came to a new understanding guided by the Holy Spirit.  And thank God she did that.  It’s probably her later reflection on those events that made the early Church Evangelist able to record them and pass them on to us.

We too, must reflect on the Word of God if we are to make sense of the craziness of our time and the story of our life.  We have to put ourselves in the presence of The Story, story with a capital “S,” and ponder it in our hearts.  If we’re confused by Scripture, we have Mary as our patron to help us reflect on that Word and come to understand it, guided as we are by the Holy Spirit.  But we also have her encouragement to keep those Scriptures in the scrapbook of our hearts, to keep coming back to them.  That’s the only way the Spirit can work on us and help us to come to new and more beautiful understandings of the Word of God, and in doing that, to come to a renewed and vibrant relationship with our Lord.

If we would make a resolution for this new year, let it be to follow Mary’s example.  Maybe we could set aside some time on a regular basis – even if just once a week or five minutes in a day – to put ourselves in the presence of the Word of God.  And not just here at Mass, although that’s a good start.  But maybe in private prayer or even in an organized Bible Study – we have a few of them going on in our parish on a regular basis.  If we regularly open ourselves up to the Word of God, maybe we too could come to new and more beautiful understandings of the Scriptures and understanding of our own lives, and a closer and more beautiful relationship with Jesus Christ, the Eternal Word of God.

Mary, mother of God the Word, help us to understand the Word as you did.

Pray for us, O holy Mother of God:
That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Categories
Christmas Homilies Saints

The Fifth Day in the Octave of Christmas (Saint Thomas Becket)

Today’s readings

The birth of Christ in our world ought to mean something to us: the birth of Christ ought to mean a change in our attitudes and our behaviors and even in the course of our lives.

Today is a commemoration of Saint Thomas Becket, the archbishop of Canterbury who ultimately lost his life to the man who gave him that prestigious post. When King Henry began to usurp Church rights, Thomas found himself in a bind. Would he be beholden to the king, or would he protect the Church on behalf of the King of Kings? While it was a struggle for him, he ultimately knew that he must take a stand, no matter what the cost.

In today’s first reading, Saint John makes the point very clear. We cannot say we love God and yet defy his commandments. And we certainly cannot love God who is love itself, while at the same time refusing to love our brothers and sisters. Being Christian looks like something, and the world looks at us to see what it is. If the birth of Christ means something to us, we have to share that meaning with the world by loving, no matter what the cost.

Perhaps the one who knew this best was Mary herself. Simeon the prophet knew that he had seen the promise when he looked at the child Jesus. Then he clearly told Mary that this Savior would cost her some happiness in life. Because Jesus would be a contradictory sign in the world, her heart would be pierced with sorrow. But all of this was to make manifest God’s glory.

The birth of Christ in our world and into our lives this Christmas ought to mean something to us. A watching world should be able to look at us and see Christ. On this Christmas Day, may we be found changing our hearts and minds so that we can be that Christ for all the world to see, no matter what the cost.

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Christmas Homilies

The Nativity of the Lord – Mass During the Night & Mass During the Day

Today’s readings

We settle for mediocrity way too easily sometimes, I think.  In some ways, I think, it just seems easier.  But in accepting mediocrity, we miss out on the greatness for which our God created us.  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/today), 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, things 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 a young woman who had never had relations with a man.  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 all through 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.

And let us be clear: 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.

In this year especially, this terrible year of 2020, people need to see Christ incarnate in us here and now.  They need to see us living our faith, even in the midst of a pandemic – especially in the midst of a pandemic!  Reaching out to others when we are hurting too.  Giving of ourselves in whatever way we can, even when we are in need of healing ourselves.  Jesus came to suffer and die and give us salvation through the resurrection of his own broken body.  So we too, broken by pandemic and social unrest and political uncertainty and racial injustice and every evil that has reared its ugly head this year, we can rise up out of all that and be a light to the world if we keep the faith, if we continue to live by the salvation we have in Christ Jesus.  For the believer, nothing gets to take away our joy, and that joy grows brighter when we freely share it with others.

The Incarnation – the human birth and personhood of Jesus Christ – along with his Passion, death and Resurrection, changes everything.  When we all keep the faith in Jesus 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 and through us, by the power of our God, 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!

May the Incarnation of Christ brighten your lives and fill you and your families with joy.

Categories
Christmas Homilies

The Nativity of the Lord – Vigil Mass (Saint Joseph’s Story)

Today’s readings

Once, a very long time ago, there was a man named Joseph.  He was a well-respected and hard-working man, from the family of the great king David.  But Joseph himself was not a great king.  No, he was a humble man, a carpenter, who worked hard and loved God.

Joseph was to be married to a young woman named Mary – their marriage was probably arranged by their families.  They would come together to be man and wife when the time was right.  One day, she came to him with an unbelievable story about being pregnant, with a child given to her by the Holy Spirit.  Joseph didn’t know what to think.  He clearly knew he was not the father of the baby, and so he decided not to marry the young woman, but instead to let her go quietly, so she would not be embarrassed.

The night he decided to do this, Joseph had a dream.  In the dream, an angel appeared to him and told him not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife, and that God wanted him to do just that.  The angel told him that the baby was very special, that he would come to save all God’s people from their sins and would be called Emmanuel – a name that means that God is here among us.

So Joseph did what the angel told him.  He took Mary as his wife.  And about that time, a proclamation came from the government that said that everyone had to go and be registered as a citizen.  They had to go to the city where they were from to do that.  So Joseph made plans to travel with Mary from Nazareth in Galilee where they were living, to Bethlehem, the city of David, which was where Joseph was from.  The way was long and dangerous, and they traveled by foot and on a beast of burden.  They were hoping to get to Bethlehem before it was time for Mary to have the baby, but it didn’t happen that way.  While they were travelling on the way, the time came for Mary to have her baby.

They looked desperately for some inn or any house to take them in, but every place was full because so many people were traveling for the census.  Eventually, they at least found a shelter: a rickety little shack for farm animals, and they went in there.  That’s when Mary had her baby.  She was scared, and Joseph had never delivered a baby before.  But the child was beautiful, and Joseph held him while Mary slept, exhausted from travelling and giving birth.  They placed the baby in the manger, a feed-trough for the animals, and they named him Jesus.

Later, they had visits from shepherds and from astrologers from the east, who came to worship the child, because they had seen visions too, and followed a star that foretold the baby’s birth.  Mary and Joseph were amazed at all that was happening, and the wonderful visits they were receiving, and they treasured all of this in their hearts.

One night, Joseph had another visit from an angel in his dreams.  The angel told him that people were planning to harm the new baby.  So, at the angel’s instruction, Joseph got up from bed, took Mary and Jesus, and fled to the land of Egypt so that they would be out of harm’s way.  They stayed there until the angel told Joseph that those who wanted to harm Jesus were dead, and it was okay to go back to their own town now.

Joseph watched the child grow up, and was so proud to be his foster-father.  He taught Jesus how to live and how to respect others, and all about the religious law, just like any father would do for his children.  In his private moments, Joseph always wondered what would become of Jesus, wondered what God had in store for him.  All he knew was that something wonderful was happening, and as hard as it was sometimes, he had been called to help it happen.

And God wants to continue to do wonderful things for us.  Jesus wasn’t just 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 Joseph 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 God 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.

If there is anything we can learn from this story, it should be this: God loves us with love beyond all telling.  Our sins can’t keep us from that if we look to God for mercy.  Just like the birth of Jesus couldn’t be stopped by a long journey, or the plotting of insecure men, so nothing can get in the way of God’s love for us.

Just like things were hard for Mary and Joseph as they travelled along, trying to find a place to stay, sometimes things for us will be hard too.  But all along the way, there are angels, guiding us to where God wants us, watching over us, and helping us to find the Good News.  All along the way, Jesus walks with us and comes to us, as often as we prepare that manger in our hearts for him.  Today, God brings us here to worship, so that like those shepherds and astrologers, we can find Jesus again, and we can see Jesus in those who love us, and in our own hearts.

This has been a hard year for so many of us.  Many of our friends haven’t been able to come to Mass.  Many of us haven’t been able to see friends or loved ones because of the virus.  So many people are suffering in a lot of different ways right now.  But Saint Joseph’s story tells us that even when things are hard, maybe especially when things are hard, God comes into our lives, born among us, and fills us with his presence and mercy and guidance.  Thanks be to God!

In this year of Saint Joseph, we should let him be our guide.  Let him teach us how to do what God asks us to do.  Let him teach us how to be courageous.  Let him teach us how to be faithful to God and to the people in our lives.  Let him teach us how to love God and love others.

For God so loved the world, that he gave us his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him would not perish, but have eternal life.  That’s the best gift we will ever get.  God’s love for us; love beyond all telling.

Saint Joseph, pray for us.

Categories
Advent Homilies

The Fourth Sunday of Advent

Today’s readings

Do you remember the best gift you ever got?  What was it?  Who gave it to you?  How long did it last?  Do you still have it? 

Every gift is a little different: some are big, some are small, some make a lasting impact, some are used up and soon forgotten.  The best gifts, I think, are those that create a memory of good times; perhaps the best gifts are those that can be shared.

God gives us gifts too.  And some are big, and some are small, but all of them are important to us and to others.  In this season of giving, I’d like to take a moment to talk about God’s gifts, and how they are to be enjoyed.  There are four points I want to make.

First, God’s gifts are given to be used.  They’re not supposed to be like an action figure that is to be kept in its package and preserved so it can be sold in ten years for a lot of money on eBay!  They aren’t like the “good china” some of us have and almost never use.  They’re supposed to be used for our happiness and God’s glory.  So if it’s a talent for sports, we ought to play.  If it’s intelligence, we ought to study and research and invent.  If it’s creativity, we ought to paint or act or sing.  Keeping it in a box and denying it is an insult to the Giver.

Second, God’s gifts are never just for us.  God gifts us in ways that we can build up our community and our world and help people to come to know God’s love for them.  Always.  Mary never could have kept Jesus to herself, and we’re not supposed to keep our gifts to ourselves either.

Third, we will never know how wonderful our gifts are until we share them with others.  Our gifts are supposed to create memories and bring people together and help people to know God.  When that happens, the full wonder of those gifts will be revealed to us and in us, and we will enjoy them in ways we never could have before we shared them.

Finally, we don’t lose our gifts when we share them.  They don’t get used up when we give them away.  Just as Mary didn’t lose her Son when she gave him to the world, so we won’t lose what God has given us when we share it with others.  That’s just how God’s gifts are.

In today’s Gospel, Mary received a gift.  I don’t know how any of us would feel about that kind of gift, but Mary received it in faith, because Mary was full of grace.  She received the gift of a Savior before anyone else did; her fiat meant that she received salvation before it was ever played out on earth.  It was the best gift ever, and she got to watch it all unfold before her.  Some of it was difficult and painful, but so much of had to be amazing.

Because of Mary’s faith, God was able to send the best gift possible to be shared with all of us: the gift of his only-begotten Son.  Jesus took on our flesh as a little baby, and grew to become a man like us in all things but sin.  He walked among the people of his time and helped them to know of God’s kingdom.  Though he was without sin, he eventually took on our sins and went to the cross for all of us, dying to pay the price for our sins, and canceling out the power that sin and death had to keep us from God.  Because of Mary’s faith, we received the gift of salvation, if we are open to accept it.

And just like all our other gifts from God, those same four principles apply: we have to use, or live our salvation; we have to share the gift of salvation with others; salvation becomes more wonderful every time someone else is saved, and salvation is not something that ever gets used up – it’s meant for everyone.

So this is a bit of a “pep talk” for the coming feast of Christmas and how we should receive and live that gift of salvation.  Let’s be clear: we always need a Savior.  We are sinful, and in our sinfulness we could never enter into relationship with God.  And in this year, our need for a Savior seems to be even greater: the darkness of a pandemic and the sadness of racial unrest and all the other societal unrest we have endured this past year.  This year has been hard on families and workers and schools and just about everybody.  We need to be people of faith and follow our Savior more than ever. And we have to be people who share that gift with others, pointing them to the love and salvation we have in Jesus. 

Our salvation, our relationship with God, is a gift, and it’s up to us to spread it around.  It’s a shame if someone doesn’t know about God and his love for them.  But if they don’t know because we didn’t use our gifts to tell them, then it’s a sin.  This is the season for giving gifts.  The very best gift you can give to anyone is a relationship with God.  Whether it’s your children, or coworkers, or people in the neighborhood, your gift will do so much to make the world a better place.  All we have to do is respond like Mary: “I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me according to your word.”

Categories
Advent Homilies

O Wisdom

Today’s readings Mass for the school children.

Did you hear that? That was quite a list of names, wasn’t it? It always strikes me that this list of characters, which is basically the human family tree of our Lord, is so much like any of our families’ history. This is a list of forty-two generations of the nation of the people of Israel led by people of greatness, and, well, people of something else. Some of them were heroic like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Judah and to some extent David and Solomon. But some of them were pretty wicked, especially Manasseh, whose wickedness in shedding innocent blood made God so angry that he allowed the Israelites to be taken into captivity by the Babylonians during the reign of king Jeconiah. So we have forty-two generations of people, some of whom were saints and some who were sinners, great men and flawed men, all leading up to the Incarnation of Christ, who was the only way to end the cycle of sin that spiraled all through the story.

We’re just about to start the last week of Advent, and today we begin the more intense period of Advent that extends from December 17th through the morning of Christmas Eve.  During this time, the Church’s Liturgy makes us yearn all the more longingly for the birth of Jesus and his presence in our lives.  Just as forty-two generations of a mix of wisdom and foolishness could only be fixed by the presence of Christ, so the foolishness of our time calls for Jesus too.

During these last days of Advent, we pray the “O Antiphons.”  We hear those antiphons famously in the song “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”  The verses are also used during Evening Prayer.  Today’s is “O Wisdom,” and the verse from “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” is, “O come, O Wisdom from on high, and cheer us by your drawing nigh.  Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadow put to flight…” We trust God to come near, to be Emmanuel, God-with-us, to satisfy our longing for wisdom, to make sense of all the craziness in the world, with the loving presence of Jesus.

And so we pray: Come, Lord Jesus and bring us peace. Come, Lord Jesus and put an end to the world’s foolishness. Come, Lord Jesus and bring us your Wisdom. We need you! Come quickly and do not delay.

Categories
Advent Homilies

Tuesday of the Third Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

One of the television shows that I like to watch sometimes is called “Chopped” on the Food Network.  If you’ve ever watched the Food Network, you’ve probably seen it because they seem to run it about 18 hours out of the day.  On this show, they start with four chefs, and they give them a basket of really different, and sometimes strange, ingredients, all of which they have to use, to make either an appetizer, main dish, or dessert, depending on the round.  The dishes are then presented to a panel of three judges who are chefs and restaurateurs.  These judges critique each dish and, of course, pass judgment.  As each course goes by, one of the contestant chefs gets “chopped” or eliminated, while the others continue to compete.  At the end of the show, the winner gets ten thousand dollars.

On one particular episode, one of the chef contestants had a real problem with arrogance.  He couldn’t see how anyone could possibly make a dish better than his, even though his always came out looking ragtag, and from what the judges said, tasting the same.  He would not listen to any of the critiques, because, well how did these people know anything?  He survived the first round, but was quickly eliminated in the second round, mostly because the judges got tired of his arrogance.

That came back to mind when I read today’s gospel reading.  Jesus tells the chief priests and elders, “tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the Kingdom of God before you.”  That had to be terrible news.  Because those chief priests and elders were living what they thought was a good life.  They were the “decent people” of society.  Nobody could be noticed by God before they were, surely.  But Jesus says they certainly are.  Why? Arrogance – again.

Like the arrogant chef, those chief priests and elders refused to listen to any kind of criticism.  John the Baptist had preached repentance, and the tax collectors and prostitutes, the riff-raff of society, had listened, and were gaining entrance to the kingdom of God.  Meanwhile, those so-called decent folks, the ones who should have known better, were in for an eternity of wailing and grinding their teeth.

The arrogant chef merely lost out on ten thousand dollars.  The arrogant chief priests and elders had lost out on quite a bit more: eternal life.  Today, we all pray for the grace to overcome any arrogance in us and accept correction for the sake of our salvation.

Categories
Advent Homilies

Tuesday of the Third Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

One of the television shows that I like to watch sometimes is called “Chopped” on the Food Network.  If you’ve ever watched the Food Network, you’ve probably seen it because they seem to run it about 18 hours out of the day.  On this show, they start with four chefs, and they give them a basket of really different, and sometimes strange, ingredients, all of which they have to use, to make either an appetizer, main dish, or dessert, depending on the round.  The dishes are then presented to a panel of three judges who are chefs and restaurateurs.  These judges critique each dish and, of course, pass judgment.  As each course goes by, one of the contestant chefs gets “chopped” or eliminated, while the others continue to compete.  At the end of the show, the winner gets ten thousand dollars.

On one particular episode, one of the chef contestants had a real problem with arrogance.  He couldn’t see how anyone could possibly make a dish better than his, even though his always came out looking ragtag, and from what the judges said, tasting the same.  He would not listen to any of the critiques, because, well how did these people know anything?  He survived the first round, but was quickly eliminated in the second round, mostly because the judges got tired of his arrogance.

That came back to mind when I read today’s gospel reading.  Jesus tells the chief priests and elders, “tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the Kingdom of God before you.”  That had to be terrible news.  Because those chief priests and elders were living what they thought was a good life.  They were the “decent people” of society.  Nobody could be noticed by God before they were, surely.  But Jesus says they certainly are.  Why? Arrogance – again.

Like the arrogant chef, those chief priests and elders refused to listen to any kind of criticism.  John the Baptist had preached repentance, and the tax collectors and prostitutes, the riff-raff of society, had listened, and were gaining entrance to the kingdom of God.  Meanwhile, those so-called decent folks, the ones who should have known better, were in for an eternity of wailing and grinding their teeth.

The arrogant chef merely lost out on ten thousand dollars.  The arrogant chief priests and elders had lost out on quite a bit more: eternal life.  Today, we all pray for the grace to overcome any arrogance in us and accept correction for the sake of our salvation.

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Advent Blessed Virgin Mary Homilies

The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary: Prevenient Grace

Today’s readings

I love that the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary is celebrated during the season of Advent.  Advent is a season of anticipation: God’s promises echo through the Old Testament, and in these Advent days, we see those promises coming to fruition in exciting and world-changing ways.  Today’s feast is a glorious glimpse of that reality.

We are honored today to celebrate this, the patronal feast day of our parish and of our nation.  This, of course, celebrates Mary’s conception, not that of Jesus, which we celebrate on the feast of the Annunciation.  Blessed Pope Pius IX instituted the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary on December 8, 1854, when he proclaimed as truth the dogma that our Lady was conceived free from the stain of original sin.

This feast celebrates the belief that God loved the world so much that he sent his only Son to be our Savior, and gave to him a human mother who was chosen before the world began to be holy and blameless in his sight.  This feast is a sign for us of the nearness of our salvation; that the plan God had for us before the world ever took shape was coming to fruition.

The prayer over the offerings today uses a very technical theological term to describe how Mary was born, conceived actually, without sin, and that term is “prevenient grace.”  The prayer specifically says, “…Grant that, as we profess her, on account of your prevenient grace, to be untouched by any stain of sin…”  Prevenient grace is the same as other kinds of grace in that it relies on the saving action of Jesus on the Cross at Calvary, dying for our sins.  But prevenient grace refers to grace applied before that happened, as would have been in the case for Mary who was obviously conceived before her son was put to death.  This prevenient grace relies on the fact that God loved us so much that he foresaw the sacrifice of the Cross and applied the grace of it to Mary at her conception.  As the Collect prayer today said, “…as you preserved her from every stain by virtue of the Death of your Son, which you foresaw…”  All of this is a very technical discussion that boils down to the fact that God will not let the constraints of time limit the outpouring of his grace.  And that’s the really good news we celebrate today.

So, I think we know why this prevenient grace, this Immaculate Conception, was necessary: the readings chosen for this day paint the picture.  In the reading from Genesis, we have the story of the fall.  The man and the woman had eaten of the fruit of the tree that God had forbidden them to eat.  Because of this, they were ashamed and covered over their nakedness.  God noticed that, and asked about it.  Of course, he already knew what was going on: they had discovered the forbidden tree and eaten its fruit.  They had given in to temptation and had grasped at something that was not God, in an effort to control their own destiny.

Thus begins the pattern of sin and deliverance that cycles all through the scriptures.  God extends a way to salvation to his people, the people reject it and go their own way.  God forgives, and extends a new way to salvation.  Thank God he never gets tired of pursuing humankind and offering salvation, or we would be in dire straits.  It all comes to perfection in the event we celebrate today.  Salvation was always God’s plan for us and he won’t rest until that plan comes to perfection.  That is why Saint Paul tells the Ephesians, and us, today: “He chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him.  In love he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ…”

And so, in these Advent days, we await the unfolding of the plan for salvation that began at the very dawn of the world in all its wonder.  God always intended to provide an incredible way for his people to return to them, and that was by taking flesh and walking among us as a man.  He began this by preparing for his birth through the Immaculate Virgin Mary – never stained by sin, because the one who conquered sin and death had already delivered her from sin.  He was then to be born into our midst and to take on our form.  With Mary’s fiat in today’s Gospel, God enters our world in the most intimate way possible, by becoming vulnerable, taking our flesh as one like us.  Mary’s lived faith – possible because of her Immaculate Conception – makes possible our own lives of faith and our journeys to God. 

Our celebration today is a foreshadowing of God’s plan for us.  Because Mary was conceived without sin, we can see that sin was never intended to rule us.  Because God selected Mary from the beginning, we can see that we were chosen before we were ever in our mother’s womb.  Because Mary received salvific grace from the moment of her conception, we can catch a glimpse of what is to come for all of us one day.  Mary’s deliverance from sin and death was made possible by the death and resurrection of her Son Jesus, who deeply desires that we all be delivered in that way too.

Pray for us, O holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Categories
Advent Blessed Virgin Mary Homilies

The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Today’s readings
School Mass

I think we’re so blessed that we get to come to church and celebrate so many of Mary’s feasts.  Today is a very special feast because Mary, Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, is the patroness of the United States of America, and also the patroness of our parish, and so she is very special to us.

I think today’s readings can be a little confusing.  The Gospel makes it sound like this day is about the conception of Jesus, but it isn’t.  We celebrate the conception of Jesus nine months before he was born, so that would be March 25th.  We call that day the Annunciation, because that was the day the Angel Gabriel came to announce to Mary that she would have a baby, but we’ll talk more about that in a minute.  Today we celebrate the conception of Mary, nine months before her birthday, so if you do the math on that one, her birthday is September 8th, just a few months ago.  This day celebrates that Mary was free from sin from the very beginning, the only person other than Jesus to be born without sin.

The other confusing reading is the first one.  Why do we go all the way to the beginning of creation when we’re talking about Mary today?  Well, I think the reason is that Mary’s life and her faith in God solved a problem that began all the way at the beginning.  And that problem is sin.  From the very beginning, we human beings have been tempted to sin.  Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden, and people have been committing sin ever since.  Again and again, God broke in to history, leading people back to him, giving them prophets to show them the way, and again and again, people turned away from God.  And we continue that today.  Again and again, we are tempted and we sin and we turn away from God.  Eve represented our fall into sin.

But God didn’t want that to be the way things ended up for us.  So he sent his Son to become one of us.  God knew that in order for Jesus to be born among us, his mother was going to have to be pretty special.  So before Mary was ever in her mother’s womb, God chose her to be his Son’s mother.  He made her free from sin so that no stain of sin would ever touch his Son. 

Because Mary was so special, she loved God very much.  So when the angel came and told her she would have a baby by the power of the Holy Spirit, she said yes to God’s plan.  She might not have known at that moment all the detail about how it was going to take place or what would happen to Jesus in his life, but she said yes anyway.  We call that her fiat, her “yes” to God’s plan for her.  Fiat is Latin for “let it be done.”  She took a big leap of faith that day, thanks be to God, because with her leap of faith, we have been blessed ever since.

This is all very good news.  But there is even more good news: because Mary was so special to God, she shows us how special we are to God.  As we celebrate God’s love for Mary today, we also celebrate his love for us.  Mary got to hold her Savior – the One God promised us – in her own arms.  When those of us who are old enough come to Communion, we are able to hold our Savior – the One God promised us – in the palm of our hand.  Mary’s life was brightened when Jesus was born.  Our lives will be brightened too, this coming Christmas, and every time we make room in our hearts for Jesus.

Pray for us, O holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ. Amen.