Homilies Ordinary Time

Thursday of the First Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

My eldest niece is going to graduate from college this year; I can’t believe how time has flown.  But back when she was little, she knew how to wrap Uncle Patrick around her little finger.  I remember one time when we were out at the mall – you know, back when we could do things like that! – she said something like, “If you want, you can buy me a cookie.”  It reminded me of the way the leper approached Jesus in today’s Gospel.  And my niece found out that I did indeed want to buy her a cookie!

You know, the most amazing thing about this miracle isn’t really the miracle itself.  Sure, cleansing someone of leprosy is a big deal.  But for me, the real miracle here surrounds those first three words the leper says to Jesus, “If you wish…”  “If you wish, you can make me clean.” Isn’t it true that we so often wonder about God’s will for our lives?  Especially when we’re going through something tragic, or chronically frustrating, we can wonder how this all fits into God’s plan for us.  If God wishes, he can cleanse us, forgive us, heal us, turn our lives around.  But sometimes we just aren’t sure what God wishes to do in our lives.  Sometimes I think, we underestimate God’s concern for us.

And here the poor leper finds out that healing is indeed God’s will for him.  But not just the kind of healing that wipes out leprosy.  Sure, that’s what everyone saw.  But the real healing happened in that leper’s heart.  He surely wondered if God cared about him at all, just as we so often do, and in Jesus’ healing words – “I do will it” – he found out that God cared for him greatly.

Not all of us are going to have this kind of miraculous encounter with God.  But we certainly all ask the question “what does God will for me?” at some point in our lives.  As we come to the Eucharist today, perhaps we all can ask that sort of question.  Reaching out to receive our Lord, may we pray “If you wish, you can feed me.”  “If you wish, you can pour out your blood to wipe away my sins.”  “If you wish, you can strengthen my faith.”  “If you wish you can make me new.”  “If you wish, you can take away my doubt.” “If you wish, you can heal my family.”  “If you wish, you can heal our nation.” 

What does God wish to do in your life?

Christmas Homilies

The Baptism of Our Lord

Today’s readings

Sadly, friends, today is the last day of the Christmas Season.  Now, the rest of society may have tossed out the Christmas trees over a week ago, and taken down the festive decorations, but not us.  What a wonderful gift we have as Catholics to celebrate the birth of our Lord for an extended period of time!  Last Sunday was the Epiphany of the Lord, a time to celebrate Christ our Light, manifested in the flesh, the greatest gift of God to his creation.  On the occasion of the Epiphany, we have three traditional readings.  The first is the reading is the Epiphany we all think about, about the magi visiting the Christ Child.  The second is the wedding feast at Cana, where Christ turned water into wine, the first of his miracles.  And the third is the Gospel we have today, of Christ being baptized by John the Baptist in the River Jordan.

As we heard last week, Epiphany means “manifestation.”  In each of these Gospels, Christ is manifest in our world in a different way.  The magi celebrated that this baby was truly the manifestation of God in our world, because no other birth would have been occasioned by such great astrological signs; this child truly was the Light of the world.  The wedding feast at Cana celebrates that Jesus is no ordinary man, that he had come to change the world by the shedding of his blood, just as he changed the water into wine.  And today his baptism celebrates that Christ is manifest in the weakness of human flesh to identify himself with sinners through baptism.

Obviously, Jesus did not need Saint John the Baptist’s baptism, because it was a baptism for the forgiveness of sins, and Christ was, as we know, like us in all things but sin.  So he chose to be baptized so that he could identify himself with us sinners through baptism.  That being the case, then we who have been baptized must also identify ourselves with him.  We must manifest him in the world through living the Gospel and following in his ways.  Today we hear in the first reading from the prophet Isaiah that God sent his Word into the world to make things happen: “My word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.”

So today we need to reflect on the end, the goal of all that we have celebrated in these Christmas days.  What was God’s purpose in sending his Son to take on our frail flesh and live among us?  Well, we know the whole story, don’t we?  God sent his only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, into our world as a human being, born to a poor family as a tiny child.  He did that because he had created us good, and even though we acquired sinfulness through the great fall, and all along the way, our humanity was never so broken that it could not be redeemed.  He would not have us die in our sins, so he sent his Son to take flesh and lead us to heaven, our true home.  That’s a glorious grace, worth celebrating for many days, and that’s why our Christmas season extends beyond the point where the stores put out the Valentine’s day candy!

Christ is baptized today so that our own baptism can be the source of eternal life for all of us.  His baptism sanctifies the waters of baptism forever, and to make the waters of baptism, with which we too were baptized, consecrated in holiness.  Then we who have been sanctified in baptism must now go out and do what Jesus himself did: doing good and healing the broken and all who are possessed by evil spirits.  It is easy to see how we can go about doing good.  There are literally thousands of opportunities to do that in our lives.  Every day there are opportunities to do good in ordinary and extraordinary ways.  All we have to do is decide to live our baptismal call and do it.  Healing those oppressed by evil spirits might seem harder to do.  But there are lots of ways to cast out demons.  Teaching something, especially teaching the faith, to another person is a way to cast out the demons of ignorance.  Reaching out to an elderly neighbor is a way to cast out the demons of loneliness.  Visiting the sick, or, in these COVID days, at least calling them or FaceTiming them, is a way to cast out the demons of illness.  Educating ourselves on the evils of racism is a way to cast out the demons of hatred.  We have opportunities to heal those oppressed by the devil all the time.  All we have to do is decide to do it.

On this Epiphany Day, on this Christmas day, Christ, born among us, enters the waters of baptism to sanctify them through his body.  Our own baptism is a share in this great baptism and outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  We who have been baptized then are literally in-spired – given the Holy Spirit – in order to continue to make Christ manifest in our world.  All we have to do is decide to do it.

Christmas Homilies

Friday after Epiphany

Today’s readings
This was for the school children.

How many of you have already taken down your Christmas decorations?  I think probably a lot of people have done that.  Probably if you go to some of the stores, you’ll see Valentine’s day decorations and candy for sale.  In our world, we always want to move on to the next thing right away.  

But our Church is different.  In the Catholic Church, we celebrate things for a while, these big things like Christmas and Epiphany, and later on, Easter.  We celebrate a whole season of these important feasts, because, well, they’re important to us!  At Christmas time, we remember that God loved us so much that he sent his only Son to be born among us so that we could come to know that we are loved, and so that we can learn and follow the Way to heaven.  At Epiphany, the message of Christmas is continued and we celebrate that Christ is the Light of the World, that he came to shed the light of God’s love into every dark corner of our world and our lives.

So that’s important Good News, and we want to celebrate it for a while.  That’s why our decorations are still up: we didn’t forget to take them down!  They’ll stay up and help us to celebrate until this coming Sunday, the official end of the Christmas season for us.  But today, we continue to celebrate the Epiphany, which was last Sunday.

When we celebrate the Epiphany, we usually think about the visit of the Three Kings, which was our Gospel reading last Sunday.  And that’s a part of the Epiphany: it helped us to see that Jesus came to be the King of kings (that’s what the Gold was for), that he came to be our High Priest (that’s what the frankincense was for), and that he came to die for our sins (that’s what the myrrh was for – it was used to anoint the dead for burial).  But today we still celebrate the Epiphany, and we look in the readings for light, especially light that helps us to see Jesus and what he came to do for us.

In our Gospel today, the light shows us that Jesus came to be a healer.  The leper says to him, “Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean!”  I think that was two things.  First, it was a prayer: the man desperately wanted to be healed of leprosy so that he could be an active member of the community again.  But it was also a kind of a profession of faith.  Here he is saying that he knows Jesus can do what he wishes to do: if Jesus wishes, he certainly has the power to heal him, to make him clean.  The man says what he believes, and Jesus responds to that belief. 

When we believe, when we trust that God can do what he wants and needs to do in us, then that opens a little door in our hearts and in our lives.  Then Jesus can and will come in, because he wishes to make all of us clean.  We might not need to be healed of leprosy, but we all need to be healed of something.  We all certainly need to be healed of our sins, of the times we have ignored the light of Jesus’ presence among us.  

So maybe in our prayers today, we can say to Jesus, just like the man with leprosy did: “Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.”  You can make me clean of my illnesses.  You can make me clean of my sins.  You can take away whatever stands in the way of being friends with you.  Lord, please do that.  Please make me clean.  And then, when we pray that, let’s listen for what Jesus says to us.  I just know he’s going to say the same thing he said to the man with leprosy: “I do will it.  Be made clean.”

Come, Lord Jesus.  Fill us with your light.  Make us clean from the inside out.

Christmas Homilies

The Epiphany of the Lord

Today’s readings

See, darkness covers the earth,
and thick clouds cover the peoples.

Barbara had a real problem dealing with Christmas this year.  The bright lights and the festive decorations were all reminders to her of the joy she should feel this time of year, but could not bring herself to actually experience.  Whenever she had a quiet moment to think, she would recall her father, who passed away from complications of COVID-19 earlier this year.  Dad had been Christmas for the family.  His joy at this time of the year built up to frenzy on Christmas Eve, and rubbed off on everyone around him.  This was the first Christmas without him, and Barbara could not begin to have that Christmas spirit without Dad.  On Christmas Eve, she had a Zoom call with her children and grandchildren, which helped a little.  They had received the gifts she had sent, and that made her feel a little better, but nothing could truly fill the emptiness.  Not being able to be with those she looked forward to seeing only made the sadness more palpable.  This time of social distancing just left her feeling so alone.

See, darkness covers the earth,
and thick clouds cover the peoples.

Herod was a jealous and insecure man. His authority rested on the good will of the Roman government, and he was always on the lookout for those who would usurp his throne.  The truth was, his throne wasn’t all that big a deal to begin with. Jerusalem wasn’t that important in the grand Roman scheme of things, but well, it was his.  Three visitors from afar were bad enough to get him feeling uneasy, but when they came asking for the newborn king of the Jews, Herod was furious with jealousy.  He was indeed “greatly troubled” and all Jerusalem – at least all the nobility, the ones who mattered – were troubled with him.  He put into motion several schemes to defend his position.  He interrogated the visitors, he put the scribes and chief priests on the case, he even eventually had all the boys less than two years old murdered.  He turned out to be a rather pathetic and miserable king. 

Both of these stories are indicative of anything but the Christmas spirit.  But, brothers and sisters in Christ, this is what’s out there.  I am sure several of you here today resonated with Barbara’s story.  And if you didn’t, you probably know someone who would – it’s almost the anthem of 2020.  The joy of Christmas is lost on those who have suffered the death of loved ones, or are afflicted with depression, or put up with abuse, or don’t have enough money, or have just received a bad diagnosis of illness, or who haven’t seen their loved ones or hugged their grandchildren in months, or any one of a thousand forms of thick dark clouds that affect us.  It’s easy for people to identify with Isaiah’s observation of darkness and despair.  And if that’s where you find yourself these Christmas days, then the joy of everyone around you only adds to the misery and sadness that you feel. 

To those of us who have had to deal with this kind of feeling, or perhaps are still dealing with it, Isaiah’s words today provide the best comfort we can hope for:

but upon you the LORD shines,
and over you appears his glory.

Out of the darkness that sometimes permeates our lives and our world, God’s light appears.  Maybe this doesn’t seem like much comfort to those who are suffering in darkness, but here is what we need to hear: God created light out of nothing at all.  The universe was awash in darkness and chaos, but out of that, God brought order and light and everything that exists.  Every light that we see: stars, moon, sun, love, grace, forgiveness, and all the rest; all of these have been created by God and are ways that the Lord shines upon us. 

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Epiphany.  An epiphany is a divine revelation into the world of humanity.  It’s God doing a God-thing.  An epiphany is when God breaks through all the mundaneness of our human condition and destroys the limitations of our fallen world and makes his presence known among us.  On this feast of the Epiphany of the Lord, we celebrate our Lord revealing his light to those of us who spend a lot of time observing the darkness.

Wherever you may find yourself on the darkness spectrum right now, the Epiphany of the Lord can be your redemption.  Indeed, the Epiphany celebrates that the light that God brings in his Epiphany is a radical transformation.  It’s not the paltry comfort of a pat on the back and a “there-there.”  It’s not the relatively small comfort of the resolution of all your problems.  It’s instead the great opulence of brightly-shining gold and the rich fragrance of the most precious incense.  Isaiah says it will be like this:

Then you shall be radiant at what you see,
your heart shall throb and overflow,
for the riches of the sea will be emptied out before you,
the wealth of the nations shall be brought to you.

In the darkness of the created world two millennia ago, magi from the east observed a star rising in the eastern sky.  That bright star guided them to the place where they found the newborn king of the Jews. The brightness of that star was nothing compared to the brightness that came into the world with that tiny Child.  In Him, God revealed himself as a loving, compassionate God who does not just observe his creation from afar, but rather breaks into our world, takes on our human condition, and redeems us from the inside out.  The Epiphany takes hold of the world in the glory of the Incarnation, and that Incarnation reaches its fulfillment in the Paschal Mystery.  Christ comes to take on our human form, wipe away our sins, and bring us back to the glory of God for which we were created.  That’s the best antidote to the perils of the last year, especially a year like 2020.  The Epiphany is a radical transformation of our world and our lives – for the better. 

May this new year find us watching for our rising star, and finding light for our darkness in Jesus Christ, the light of the world.  May we all find God’s Epiphany in every place we look.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.”

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.