The Most Holy Name of Jesus 

Today’s readings 

Not everyone has St. John the Baptist around to point out the Messiah to them. Lots of us, I think, at one point or another, would have loved to have been in the sandals of those apostles when Jesus was passing by. As much as we believe that Christ is present in every person, place and time, I’m sure lots of us would love to have St. John the Baptist point out when we’re missing Christ’s presence in some person or situation. It’s harder when you don’t have the Forerunner showing you the way.

But not everyone even recognized Christ – or at least who he was – in that time and place either. St. John tells us in our first reading that people don’t recognize that we are children of God because they didn’t recognize God in Christ in the first place. So if we miss Jesus in some situation or person, well, our mistake is not unique to us.
During the Christmas season, we are celebrating the Incarnation: the presence of God among us. Of course, this isn’t just about the presence of God among us two thousand years ago, but his real presence among us in every person, in every place and blessing, and especially in the Eucharist. During this time, we might gaze on the manger and long to have been there gazing into the face of Christ. We can gaze into the face of Christ today by taking time for Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament or time to reach out to someone in need. During this time, we might imagine ourselves next to the Manger on that night long ago, and long to have been there, holding the Christ Child in our arms. In a few minutes, we can come to the Altar and receive our Jesus and hold him in our hands in the Eucharist, receiving him body and blood, soul and divinity. Jesus is just as incarnate, just as Emmanuel, God-with-us, now as he was back then.
We will be strengthened by the Word and the Eucharist today to go forward and see Christ all around us. Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!

Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Holy Mother of God

Today’s readings

And Mary kept all these things,
reflecting on them in her heart.

Luke notes all throughout Jesus’ young life that Mary kept the events of Jesus’ life and reflected on them in her heart.  At the visit of the shepherds, and again after finding Jesus in the temple, Mary kept those memories for later reflection.  Maybe she understood them, or perhaps had to work them out later, but keeping them in her heart, she was able to ponder the Word.  It’s kind of like she was keeping a scrapbook of memories in her heart, and I found myself wishing during these Christmas days, that I could take a look at that scrapbook.  She had a first-hand view of how Jesus grew in wisdom and grace, and as Luke tells the story, her perspective of God’s work in the life of her family had to be incredible.

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.  Whether she understood them at the time or not,  she didn’t just live through the moment and move on.  She went back to those events 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.  We have to put ourselves in the presence of the Story, 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, maybe it could be to follow Mary’s example.  Maybe we could set aside some time on a regular basis – even if just once a week – 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 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.

Saint John, Apostle and Evangelist

Today’s readings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Nativity of the Lord: Children’s Vigil Mass

Today’s readings
#christmasnd

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Blessed Virgin Mary, Holy Mother of God

Today’s readings

Today, on the octave day of Christmas, which we still celebrate as Christmas Day, we are blessed to remember the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Holy Mother of God. We do this because we all know that Mary’s faith made possible our own lives of faith and even more wonderfully made possible the salvation of the whole world and everyone ever to live in it. She was the one, chosen by God, to see the Gospel come to life before her very eyes. She intimately beheld the Word, she held our God in her faithful and loving hands, treasuring each moment in her heart.

So Mary’s faith is a model for us, an ideal for which we disciples must strive to follow. God’s call will often take us into unknown territory, as it did for our Blessed Mother, but in faith we are called to say “yes” to his plan for us anyway. God’s call will often call for sacrifice and even sorrow in the short term, as it did for our Blessed Mother, but we are still asked to give all that we have. Mary did that without a second thought or a moment’s regret. How willing are we? Can we take a leap of faith, make a fiat, and cooperate with God’s work in our lives and in the world? We have no way of knowing where that might lead us; just like Mary, that might lead to heartache and sorrow; but just like Mary, it may lead to redemption beyond belief, beyond anything we can imagine.

Today the Church proclaims courageously that Mary is the Mother of God. And let me tell you, this was a doctrine that came at great price. People fought over whether a human woman could ever be the mother of God. How would that even be possible? But the alternative, really, would be to insinuate that Jesus was not God. We know that Jesus had two natures: human and divine. Neither nature was subordinate to the other there was no separation or division or elevation of one nature at the expense of the other; they were both wrapped up intimately with one another, incapable of being divided. So, because we clearly know that Mary was his mother, we say that Mary is the Mother of God. And so, as theologians teach us, Mary is the Mother of God the Word according to his human nature. She didn’t give birth to his divine nature; that was begotten by God. She is not the mother of the First or Third Persons of God; she is the mother of the Second Person, God the Word. Sister Sarah made us memorize all this in seminary, and every once in a while, when I’m feeling particularly theologically courageous, I reflect on this doctrine and marvel at its beauty.

So, Mary is the Mother of God, but Mary is also the Mother of the Church, leading its members to her son Jesus and to faith in God. She is mother of priests, caring for us in a special way and interceding for the faithful work of our calling. She is the mother of mothers, interceding for them and showing them how to nurture faith in their children. She is the mother of the faithful, showing us how to cooperate fully with God’s plan. She is mother of Scripture scholars and those who just love the Scriptures, having seen the Word unfold before her and treasuring it in her heart. She is the mother of disciples, having been the first of the disciples and the most dedicated of them all. And in this Holy Year of Mercy, I would like to point out that she is also the Mother of Mercy, who gave birth to our Savior and birth to our eternity. She is the Mother of God, and our mother, and we cannot sing our Christmas carols without singing her praises too. We honor her faith and example today, and we ask for her intercession for our lives, for our families, for our Church and for our world.

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

The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph

Today’s readings

One of the great snapshots of Christmas for me has always been the manger scene. These beautiful figurines give us a glimpse as to what God is doing at the Incarnation of Christ – an amazing moment in time! The centerpiece of the manger, of course, is the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. The birth of Jesus couldn’t have come at a more inconvenient time or in more difficult circumstances. But it was precisely this timing that changed everything: for the world, and for the Holy Family.

But I am aware that the idyllic holiness, peace and love the crèche depicts is often quite foreign to the experience of many families, including many families in this assembly. I know there are families where communication is anything but good. There are families who may never have known the kind of love that is shared between Jesus, Mary and Joseph. There are families who struggle with abuse: physical, sexual, or emotional.

Even in the “best” of families, there is often hardship. I know there are families who struggle to keep up with all the activities that are expected of them. There are families who can’t find time to have a meal together, let alone take a trip together. Families often struggle to make ends meet. There are families who struggle with the changing needs of children as they grow older. Families may be separated by great distance, or may have suffered the sickness or death of one of the members. Other families may find themselves changing roles as a parent, the one who provided for his or her children, grows old and becomes ill and then becomes the one in need of care.

Families can be and are the source of our greatest joys and our deepest anguish. Sometimes all in the same day. The truth is, and perhaps you find yourself thinking this as you sit there and listen to these readings today, none of our families is perfect. Few of us would rush to describe our families as well-functioning, let alone holy. And so we can sit there and look at the manger and find its serenity meaningless in the hectic anxiety of our day-to-day family lives.

But maybe we need to look a little deeper or listen a little harder today. “Holy” and “perfect” are not the same thing. We don’t need to be perfect to be a family. That was true of Jesus, Mary and Joseph as well. Would a perfect family have lost their child on the way home from a trip? I don’t think so, but that’s exactly what happened, isn’t it? Mary says to Jesus when they find him that she and Joseph had been looking for him with “great anxiety.” Those of you who are parents can well imagine the anxiety and can totally identify with what Mary and Joseph had to have been feeling.

Jesus’ response shows the struggle that so often happens in families when the children are trying to grow up faster than the parents would like to see. He is becoming aware of his mission and feels ready to take it on. They still see him as a child, a child for whom they feel great responsibility, not to mention great love and concern. This story is the last time we see Jesus until he begins his ministry at the age of about thirty. It has been theorized that the reason for this is that he was grounded until he was thirty.

I don’t know if that’s true or not, but the point is that even in the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, there were struggles. Nothing was perfect in that family, not even from the beginning. Right at the beginning, there was a hint of scandal about the pregnancy; they had to flee for their safety; they suffered from poverty and violent threats. Like many modern families they suffered under political and military oppression, had to settle far from their original home and had to start a new life in a foreign place. Two thousand years may separate the modern family from the “Holy Family,” but there is much to link us, much that we share.

So, what we are supposed to see in the Holy Family is something perhaps different from perfection. Perhaps it is faithfulness. Faithfulness to God and faithfulness to one another: indeed, it is this faithfulness that leads them to the holiness we celebrate today. Look at the way the situation in the Gospel reading today was resolved among them. Even though they were panicked and anxious about the disappearance of their son; even though they did not understand what was going on with him, yet they appreciated his uniqueness, and Mary kept all of these memories in her heart, kept them to be sorted out and understood much later. And even though Jesus was ready to grow into adulthood and ready to begin his mission, yet he understood the concerns of his parents and continued to be obedient to them as he continued to grow in wisdom and grace. They were faithful to one another.

Our first reading today from Sirach addresses these same concerns. The family members are instructed to care for one another, to honor one another, to love and respect one another all their days. Even as parents age and the roles become reversed, still we are to respect them for all they have been for us. We are called to be faithful to one another.

I continue to be aware that even as I pull that theme of faithfulness out of today’s Scriptures, that can still seem insurmountable to many of you. Why should you be faithful when the hurts inflicted by other members of your family still linger? That’s a hard one to address, but the call to faithfulness is still there for all of us. And we’re not told to be faithful just when everyone else is faithful. Sometimes we are called to make an almost unilateral decision to love and respect the others in our families, and let God worry about the equity of it all. I know that’s easier to say than to do, but please know that this Church family supports you with prayer and love as you do that.

Every single one of us is called to be holy, brothers and sisters. And every single one of our families is called to be holy. That doesn’t mean that we will be perfect. Some days we’ll be pretty far from it. But it does mean that we will be faithful in love and respect. It means that we will unite ourselves to God in prayer and worship. It means we will love when loving is hard to do. Mary loved Jesus all the way to the Cross and watched him die. What we see in the model of the Holy Family for us is not perfection, but faithfulness and holiness.

That holiness will make demands of us. It did for Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Our church still has the Nativity scene on display; we are still celebrating Christmas Day. But today’s story of Jesus in the temple reminds us that our faith in the Incarnation does not stop at the crib. The Gospel already has hints that Jesus’ disciples will be asked to make a break with the past and accept a new life of sacrifice. Just as Jesus is beginning to show signs of moving beyond the safety of a small family and entering a larger world and responding to its needs, so too must we move out of the confines of the safe and serene and enter and respond to the areas of need that the world presents to us. It will take holiness for us to be able to do that.

Holiness demands that we seek it; it doesn’t just descend from above. If we want holy families, and we certainly should, we will have to make decisions and even sacrifices to pursue it. We will have to make an honest priority of worship; attending Mass every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation as a minimum without fail. We will have to surround our families in prayer, praying at meals, teaching and reviewing prayers, praying together at night, reciting the rosary together, reading the Scriptures together. Holy families are not going to be perfect in these things, but they will not fail to pursue that holiness every single day. It takes a daily decision to do that; but that is the vocation of the family in the world.

Jesus, emerging from childhood to adulthood, reminds us that in his name, we must be ready to live faithful and holy lives, regardless of whether others are doing the same, and no matter what the personal cost. Because the cost of rejecting holiness in our lives is just too great, and the loss of an earthly family is nothing compared to losing our place in the family of God.

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

Readings of Christmas: Mass during the Night | Mass During the Day

I was thinking over the last few days about some of my Christmases past. I was trying to see if I could remember the gifts I had been given as a child. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t remember them specifically, but of course I did remember the happiness of the times. The joy of being with my family and the love that we shared certainly marked my memory of those Christmases. Over time, some Christmases have been wonderful, and some marked by sadness, especially after Dad died. That is how Christmas comes and goes throughout our lives, of course.

But the real revelation that I had while reflecting on those past Christmases is that we definitely sell Christmas short. Sure, we settle sometimes for the commercial, retail version of Christmas. If you love the people in your life, then you’ll gift them lavishly. Then we’ll all sit around the Christmas lights, eat a big feast, and sing some Christmas carols. And there’s nothing wrong with any of those things, of course, but that’s not the totality of Christmas.

The totality of Christmas is, quite frankly, overwhelming. Christmas is the beginning of the Incarnation, in which our God – God who is higher than the heavens and more glorious than anything we can think of – this God takes on our flesh, broken and flawed as it can sometimes be, and becomes one of us. In fact, 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.

That’s pretty awesome, but even that is not the totality of what Christmas is. Because here’s the kicker: are you ready? He did all that for you. Saint Augustine points this out in one of his sermons. He writes: “I tell you again: for your sake, God became man.

“You would have suffered eternal death, had he not been born in time. Never would you have been freed from sinful flesh, had he not taken on himself the likeness of sinful flesh. You would have suffered everlasting unhappiness, had it not been for this mercy. You would never have returned to life, had he not shared your death. You would have been lost if he had not hastened to your aid. You would have perished, had he not come.”

And if you think about it, we need this kind of mercy right now, maybe more than ever. The constant threat of terror overseas, and even here in our country. The nightly shootings on the streets of Chicago and many other cities. The degradation of real authority sparked by misconduct of politicians, police officers, teachers, and even priests.

Amid all of this mess, Pope Francis has called for a Year of Mercy. He, too, acknowledges the mess in the document that instituted this holy year. He writes: “How many uncertain and painful situations there are in the world today! How many are the wounds borne by the flesh of those who have no voice because their cry is muffled and drowned out by the indifference of the rich! During this Jubilee, the Church will be called even more to heal these wounds, to assuage them with the oil of consolation, to bind them with mercy and cure them with solidarity and vigilant care. Let us not fall into humiliating indifference or a monotonous routine that prevents us from discovering what is new! Let us ward off destructive cynicism! Let us open our eyes and see the misery of the world, the wounds of our brothers and sisters who are denied their dignity, and let us recognize that we are compelled to heed their cry for help! May we reach out to them and support them so they can feel the warmth of our presence, our friendship, and our fraternity! May their cry become our own, and together may we break down the barriers of indifference that too often reign supreme and mask our hypocrisy and egoism!”

What we have to see on this most holy (night / day) is that our God knew the flaws of human flesh, but he loved it so much that he came into it anyway so that it might be redeemed. He was well aware of our brokenness, but he came into it anyway that he might bind it up and make it whole. Becoming one of us, he was in a powerful position to pour out his great mercy, taking his creation one step further by making it fit for heaven. And, as Saint Augustine points out, he did that for you.

That is Christmas.  It’s the best and really only reason for us to celebrate so joyfully every December the 25th.  God’s mercy 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 mercy in the world.  That is who we really are, despite the world’s attempts to define us as something less.  The great gift of God’s mercy shines glorious light into every dark corner of our world and of our lives and calls us broken ones to redemption and healing and joy.

It’s crucial for us to live that mercy and not accept what others want to make us.  If you’re joining us for the first time tonight, or if you’re visiting family, or if you came here looking for something more for Christmas, then we welcome you and we hope that you experience Christ’s presence among us.  We hope that you find in your time with us and with the Lord (tonight / today) a desire to go deeper in life and find the meaning of it all.  Please know that we would be glad to help you in that journey, and come to one of us on the parish staff, to point you in the right direction.  If you’re an active member of our parish family, then I hope the message that you receive (tonight / today) and your encounter with Christ in this moment leads you to a desire to share Christ’s presence with others.

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

The Nativity of the Lord: Vigil Mass

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 since Israel hadn’t been a great nation in a long time, he wasn’t respected for being a great king himself. Instead, people respected him for his carpentry work and for the fact that he was faithful and just.

He 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 Galilee where they were living, to Nazareth, which was where Joseph was from. The way was long and dangerous and, along 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. 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. Mary and Joseph were amazed at all that was happening, and the wonderful visits they were receiving.

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 shelter 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.

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. 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.

The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord

Today’s readings

Sadly, today is the last day of the Christmas Season. The rest of society may have tossed out the Christmas trees, 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 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 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. 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 had no sins. 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 sinful 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 created us good, and even though we acquired sinfulness along the way, our humanity was good enough to 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 worth celebrating for many days, and that’s why our Christmas season extends beyond the point where the stores haul on 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 thousands of opportunities to do that in our lives. Every day there is an opportunity 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 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. 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 INSPIRED – 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.