Categories
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.

Categories
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.

Categories
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.

Categories
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.

Categories
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
Christmas Jesus Christ The Church Year

The Presentation of the Lord

Today’s readings

Who is this king of glory?
The 
Lord of hosts; he is the king of glory.

Today we celebrate the traditional end of the Christmas season with this feast of the Presentation of the Lord.  The current liturgical end of the Christmas season was back on January 12th, the feast of the Baptism of the Lord.  But the older tradition reflected what we have seen in the readings for the Sundays ever since, and that is remnants of the Epiphany, or manifestation of who Christ is in our world.  On Epiphany, Jesus was manifested to the Magi as priest, prophet and king.  On the Baptism of the Lord, Jesus was baptized as the eternal Son of the Father, with whom the Father was well-pleased.  Today, Jesus is manifested as a light to the Gentiles and the glory of Israel, as the king of glory.

Like Epiphany, this feast of the Presentation of the Lord is a feast of light.  On Epiphany the world was illumined by a star that pointed to the true Light of the world.  Today, a world grown dark is illumined by that true Light and the glory of God sheds light on the whole world: Gentiles and Israelites alike.  So today, the Church has always blessed candles, which we did at the beginning of Mass today.  The reason the Church lights candles is always to draw our attention to Christ our Light, in the midst of whatever darkness the world throws at us.  This feast is a foreshadowing of the Easter Vigil, when the deacon proclaims in a darkened church, “Lumen Christi,” “The Light of Christ,” and the Church responds, “Deo Gratias,” “Thanks be to God.”  Today is a foretaste of Easter, when the true Light of the World, Christ our Light, will definitively conquer every darkness.

And so you will be invited today to purchase some of the candles we just blessed to take into your home.  Traditionally these blessed candles have been used in many ways: to be a sign of Christ’s presence when the priest is called to anoint a dying loved one; to be lit during a storm to remind us of Jesus who had power to conquer every storm; to be lit when the family gathers for prayer so that we remember that whenever we gather in Christ’s name, he is there in our midst.  Every family should have blessed candles in their home because every family has times when Christ’s light needs to be shown brightly.

Those blessed candles which remind us of the presence of our Savior in good times and in bad remind us that we, too are meant to be the light of Christ.  And we are called to be the light because the world has times of darkness too.  The world needs us to be the light that scatters the darkness of apathy by looking in on a sick neighbor or bringing a meal to a family that has suffered the death of a loved one.  We are called to be the light that scatters the darkness of ignorance by mentoring a young person, or opening our home to a foster child, or being a catechist.  We are called to be the light that scatters the darkness of racism by standing in solidarity with our brothers and sisters, no matter where they’ve come from.  We have to be the light that scatters the darkness of death by taking every opportunity to oppose abortion, euthanasia, and any endeavor that cheapens human life.  We have to be the light that scatters the sadness of a spiritually bereft world by joyfully living our faith and standing up for what we believe.  The world needs the light of Christ, and you might be the only candle someone sees on a given day.  Be the light, friends: be Christ’s presence.  People of faith don’t have any other option than that.

The Methodist minister William L. Watkinson once said, “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.”  We can look at the darkness of our world – and there is plenty of it! – and shake our heads and walk away in sadness, but that doesn’t shed any light.  We have to acknowledge the darkness and remember, as the Gospel of John proclaims, “the Light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”  We are Catholics and we believe and proclaim that there is no darkness on earth that Christ our Light can’t overcome with the brightness of his glory.  It is up to us to light the candle that helps others to see that glory.

In today’s Gospel reading, Simeon and Anna experienced the power of the Light of the World.  They had been waiting and praying and fasting for the day of his appearance, and those prayers were answered.  The Lord came suddenly to the temple, as Malachi prophesied, and they could now be at peace.  But that appearance of the Lord requires a response: one doesn’t just experience the light and remain the same.  Christ our light is that refiner’s fire that purifies the lives of his chosen ones so that they might go out and shed light on our dark world.

And I don’t mean for this to just be an academic or poetic discussion.  The light of Christ is not a mere metaphor.  Being the light for the world isn’t just a “yeah, maybe I should do that some day” kind of thing.  Every baptized one, according to her or his station in life, is called to actively shed light on the world.  So let’s take a few moments to pray with this.

  • Call to mind a darkness that you have noticed, either in your life, in your community, or in the world: a darkness that affects you or those around you.
  • Take a moment to talk with Jesus about that darkness and let him know your concern.
  • Listen for Jesus as he acknowledges the darkness and accepts your concern.  
  • Ask him for the grace to shed some light, small or big, on that darkness.  Listen for him to tell you what he wants you to do.
  • If you don’t hear that call right away, bring it to your prayer this week.  Ask Jesus for grace to be the light.
Categories
Baptism Christmas Homilies

The Baptism of Our Lord

Today’s readings

I think we have to be a little bit careful about how we read and hear today’s readings.  We’re still in the Christmas season – at the end of it, actually – and, more precisely, we’re at the octave day of the Epiphany of the Lord, which we celebrated last week, in which we started to see Jesus revealing himself, manifesting himself, to the world.  Today’s readings for the Baptism of our Lord are Epiphany readings, too, because they show us even more about who Jesus is and why he came.  This feast is another Epiphany, another manifestation of Jesus in the flesh.

So I say that we have to be careful about how we hear these readings because I think they can lead us to define Jesus by what he does.  And that’s a start, but it’s just inadequate.  Let me explain what I mean.  In our first reading, the prophet Isaiah tells us about the Suffering Servant, and he says that that suffering servant is one who would “open the eyes of the blind … bring out prisoners from confinement …. and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.”  So it’s easy to see Jesus as the suffering servant who would bring about justice.  This in itself is pretty huge, but again, if we define Jesus as a justice-bringer, then he’s just a glorified judge or legislator.  But Jesus is the true Suffering Servant: the one who would come and serve the people while himself suffering the effects of the peoples’ sins, dying the death of a criminal up there on that Cross.  Jesus did in fact came to suffer and die for us, to pay the price for our many sins.  So far from being a judge or legislator, he also stands in place of the condemned – that would be us – and pays the price we deserve for our own lack of justice.

In our second reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Saint Luke tells us that Jesus “… went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.”  Going about doing good and healing those who are suffering is a great thing.  But if we see Jesus merely in this way, then he’s nothing more than a glorified social worker or physician – there’s nothing special about that.  But during this year of grace, we will see Jesus as the divine physician who heals us from the inside out and makes us fit for heaven.  That is the real healing he intends.  He won’t be just a food service worker, but instead the one who spreads the lavish feast that becomes food for the journey to heaven, where we are called to the heavenly banquet.

And we know this is hard because we get confused about our own identities all the time.  We can easily define ourselves or especially others by what we or they do.  “He’s a computer programmer … she’s an attorney … he’s a retail worker.”  Or we may even go so far as to define ourselves or others by superficial factors like nationality or sexual identity.  We may even select the pronouns we want people to use when they refer to us.  None of this is adequate; it all falls short of saying who we really are.  In fact, it clouds who we were created to be, and it flies in the face of the way our Creator God sees us.

So we’re in a quandary.  If we don’t know who we are, it will be pretty hard for us to see who Jesus is.  If we define ourselves by what we do, then we’re definitely going to look to Jesus to fill a role for us, perhaps a different role depending on where life has us at the moment.  But it’s all inadequate, and more than a little confusing.

That is, until we hear the words of God the Father in today’s Gospel.  With Jesus coming up out of the river Jordan, the Father boldly proclaims: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”  So Jesus isn’t what he does: he is what he was begotten: the Son of God, who is in relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit from before time began and until eternity.  Because of this, his interaction with us is life-changing.  Maybe he will heal us of this or that current ailment, but whether he does or whether he doesn’t, he will surely heal us from the inside out, and if we let him, he will lead us to heaven.  Maybe he will help us with a family issue that has us up half the night every day, but whether he does or whether he doesn’t, he will certainly give us a strength we never expected that will help us through it.  All we have to do is stop seeing Jesus for what he does, stop expecting him to fill a role, and instead enter into relationship with him as the Son of God who in his very person is everything that pleases his heavenly Father.

When we do that – when we enter into relationship with Christ – he will give us identity too.  And not just the paltry identity of what we do or our nationality or whatever, but the real identity that God created us with – our identity as sons and daughters of God.  No matter how we define ourselves, or worse, how others may seek to define us, no one can take away our identity as beloved children of God.  It is our task to live that identity with authenticity, which can be hard to do.  But thank God he gives us himself and gives us the Church to help us on the way to him.  

Central to our identity as children of God is our own baptism.  In baptism, we are united with Christ who was baptized too, who sanctified the waters that baptized us, who identified himself with us at his own baptism.  We ought to take baptism more seriously than many people do.  We ought to select godparents who live their identity as children of God so that our children might have role models.  We ought to seek to live our baptism by revering Christ before all else, by living the Gospel, by leading others to Christ in our words and example, by constantly seeking the Sacraments of the Church, and by looking forward every day to that great day when Christ will lead us to eternal life.  We sons and daughters of God live for that day when he tells us that with us, too, he is well-pleased.

Categories
Christmas Homilies

Friday after Epiphany

Today’s readings

Today, as we continue to celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord, we see another Epiphany, another manifestation of our Lord.  Each of these manifestations tells us a little more about who Jesus is and what he came to do in our world.  Today we see Jesus manifested as healer.

“Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.”  What a wonderful profession of faith!  Here is a man, full of leprosy, who has been in pain and ostracized for perhaps a good portion of his life.  He perhaps has heard about Jesus and was eager to see if he would do what no one has been able to do for him.  No one would even touch a leper, for fear of contracting the disease.  So he has been forced to live with it for all this time.

But Jesus isn’t going to be limited by anything, so he does it: he touches the man and says, “I do will it.”  Healing is the will of our Father, and Jesus came to do the Father’s work.  Responding to the man’s faith, Jesus is able to do in him what no one else could do, or even would do.

But a lot of people have come and gone who would have done the same.  Why is it that everyone is not healed?  Certainly you know of people who have suffered, perhaps you have even suffered yourself, praying and praying all to no avail.  

That’s a hard question, and it’s one that often gets cited by those who reject a life of faith.  But we know in our heart of hearts that there’s all kinds of healing.  And what God intends for us may be far different, perhaps far more important to our salvation, than the healing of a disease.  

In any case, whether the disease goes away or not, the person of faith is always given what God intends for her or him.  And that person never walks through suffering alone, because we know that our Lord suffered greatly on that Cross.  So, joining our sufferings to Christ’s, we have him to help us with our own cross, whatever it may be.  Whether God intends our disease to go away or not, he always wills our salvation, which in the end is the essence of what he came to do. 

Today Christ is manifested as healer.  Healer of our bodies, perhaps.  But healer of our souls to make them fit for heaven, for sure.