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Homilies Ordinary Time

The Twenty-fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

I wonder if you find this Gospel parable a little aggravating.  I have heard it many times now, and I certainly have bristled with aggravation on occasion when I’ve heard it.  And, as I often say, it’s good when the Gospel gets us a little riled up, because that means God is doing something in us that invites us to salvation.

Certainly the people hearing it in Jesus’ day would have been aggravated when they heard this parable too.  They knew the economics of day laboring better than we do (although day laborers are by no means extinct in the twenty-first century).  The very thought that those who labored hard all day, in the sun, would get the same as those who worked but an hour was unthinkable.  I dare say we find it that way too.

So it’s important for us to notice, first of all, that this is not intended to be a parable about justice.  Jesus tells us right away: “The kingdom of God is like a landowner…”  So the parable is not about justice, but instead it is an illustration of the workings of the Kingdom of God.  In one sense, that’s comforting, because Jesus is not telling us that we should run our businesses with lavish disregard for economic wisdom.  I would be hard pressed to be convinced to even run the parish that way.

But now let’s think about the fact that the parable is about the Kingdom of God.  Jesus was delivering a message to the religious establishment: they didn’t have the monopoly on the kingdom.  They thought they had earned God’s reward, and Jesus tells them it doesn’t work that way.  It’s not about what you’ve done or how long you’ve been doing it, it’s about God’s mercy and love that is poured out with lavish generosity.  They would have found that pretty irritating.  I think we know that in our heads, but when it comes to how this parable plays out, it reveals that we may not have accepted it in our hearts.

Do you mean to tell me that those of us who have worked hard and long for the mission and spent our days and nights at church might inherit just as much as someone who ignores the Gospel and converts on his or her death bed?  Well, yes.  That very well could be.  Many years ago now, I heard about the deathbed conversion of actor John Wayne.  I remember thinking at the time, “Gee, that’s convenient.”  Here he may well have led a life of excess and who knows what all debauchery and only on his deathbed was he willing to form a relationship with God.  Here those of us disciples have been working hard at it all this time, and yet some can get it just at the last minute?  That makes me bristle with thoughts of unfairness.  But, as the prophet Isaiah tells us today, our thoughts are not God’s thoughts, and our ways are not God’s ways.

And who am I to judge John Wayne, or really anyone?  It’s important to note that we cannot pass judgment on anyone.  I don’t know the details about John Wayne’s life and certainly not about his relationship with the Lord.  Who knows if a conversion wasn’t something he had been looking forward to for a long time and he didn’t know how to make it happen.  Maybe he had, in fact, been kept from hearing the Gospel in his formative years and so didn’t have the basis for a life of faith that many of us do.  The important thing is that his desire was granted, in the waning moments of his life, and God is generous.  That’s all we need to know.

Let’s face it, none of us wants God to be too strict an accountant.  No matter how hard we may try to be good disciples, we often fall short in big ways and small ways.  God gives us second chances all the time.  And we are blessed that we worship a generous, or we’d all of us be in a world of hurt, without exception.  

If anything, even us cradle Catholics should be grateful for this message, because if we are honest, our tiniest sins are a grave offense to Almighty God, who is goodness itself, and who gives us everything we need in this life and in the next.  We who have gravely offended God by our sins need those second chances too, and we have them.

Another good way to think about this parable on this Catechetical Sunday, is that the time to foster a relationship with Jesus isn’t limited to the beginning of the day, or the beginning of our life.  We are called to form a life-long relationship of learning, and growing in relationship, with the God who loves us beyond anything we can imagine.  Every hour of the day, every stage of our life, is an opportunity to let Jesus come and get us, and put us to work in the field of the faith.

The last line of the Gospel might sound unfair, but ultimately, I think, it is hopeful: “The first will be last and the last will be first.”  Let that sink in for a minute: whether you’re first or last, you still have the possibility of life eternal.  It doesn’t matter when you get there, or where you were in line, or if someone cut in ahead of you.  There is always enough grace and mercy to go around.  There are always dwellings for us in the kingdom of heaven.  None of us will be left without the love of God, if only we approach it, if only we accept it, if only we don’t get caught up in thinking about who gets in ahead of us.  News doesn’t get any better than that.

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Homilies Ordinary Time

The Twenty-third Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

At the core of salvation and the message of the Gospel, Jesus came to forgive sinners and to make things right so that all might go to live in the eternal kingdom.  He came to give new life to sinners and to show them the way to the kingdom.  It’s in that spirit that I think we should dig into the interesting instructions Jesus gives in today’s Gospel reading.

Those of us who have been in, or are in, seminary can tell you that the community of a seminary is somewhat of a cross between a fishbowl and a pressure cooker.  It’s a community unlike most others, because in seminary everyone pretty much knows everyone, and whatever happens, mostly everyone hears about it.  And so when something doesn’t go right, or worse, when someone is wronged, it becomes, well, a whole thing.  It was in that milieux that I first learned the whole concept of fraternal correction; that is, bringing your brother’s faults to him and working through that together.

That’s the kind of thing that’s happening in today’s Gospel.  By the time Matthew’s Gospel was composed, the early Church community was already separate from the Jewish community.  They weren’t subject, then, to the daily expectations of the Jewish community.  And much like my seminary experience, they were in a bit of a fishbowl, because they were a recognizable community surrounded by non-believers.  So Matthew’s Gospel has Jesus teaching the community how they are to be a community.  This part deals with how to diffuse conflicts and right wrongs, and it begins with that idea of fraternal correction.

Step one has the wronged party going to his or her brother or sister and discussing the matter privately.  This respects the privacy of both parties, and respects, and expects, their desire to live in concord with the other and not be simply a troublemaker.  This, I think, is different from how most of us were brought up.  I’m Irish and Italian.  So either we never speak about the problem, force it into repression, and harbor ongoing resentment, or we have a massive blowup and everyone gets emotional shrapnel.  Or sometimes all of the above.  Now, I have a great family, and I’ll say that most of that is a stereotype and isn’t functionally true, but it doesn’t mean I’ve never seen it.  And we could all tell the same story, if we’re honest.  So this idea of actually talking to the party who wronged us and working toward a solution is one that we need to take to heart.

Step two, if the person doesn’t repent, is to get a couple of other people together to talk to her or him.  This, actually, well-reflects the last line of today’s Gospel: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”  When two or three come together, Jesus is there, waiting to make things right, wanting to affect forgiveness, yearning to bring salvation.  That’s why he came.  So that microcosm of the community has the power of Christ to bring resolution to the situation.

Step three, if it gets that far, is to tell the Church.  This is the one that, in my experience as a pastor, we abuse all the time.  Way too often someone gets mad about something, and they go right to the pastor, or the bishop, or whatever.  They’ve skipped steps one and two, the steps that are more satisfying, and, in my experience, more likely to work well.  By the time it gets to the top, however it works out, chances are, no one’s going to be happy with the outcome.  But that is step three, and it’s there if it’s needed.  That reflects the power Jesus gives to the Church in the very next verse, the power to bind and loose: “whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven…”

Step four is the most heartbreaking of all.  If the person doesn’t listen to the Church, then treat her or him as an outcast, “as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.”  Gentiles and tax collectors were the collective term for the pariahs of society at that time.  But here’s the catch: Jesus welcomed Gentiles and tax collectors, so what does he really mean?  I think you know: if the person won’t listen to the Church, then I guess the idea is to welcome the person in and let the community of the Church and the presence of Christ soften their hearts and change their attitudes.  How’s that for a challenge for the week ahead?

Here’s the idea.  None of us is an island; we are not intended to live on our own without interaction with other people.  But in community, there will be the occasional problem with someone else.  How we handle that has to reflect who we are and with whom we are identified, namely our Lord, Jesus Christ.  That same Lord who, again, came to forgive sinners and make things right so that all might find salvation.  All.  All of us find salvation.  Even the person who just cut you off in traffic; even the person that drives you nuts.  All of us.  And so, in our dealing with one another when we have discord, our goal has to be not just the absence of conflict, but instead the salvation of both of us, because that’s what’s ultimately at stake.

Now, another challenge if you’re up for it.  This method of solving conflicts doesn’t apply just to individual conflict, or individual sins and sinners.  It doesn’t just apply in the fishbowl of a seminary or church community.  It has to apply also to societal ills and social sins.  It has ramifications about how we address racial injustice.  It has meaning for dealing with the government official or political candidate whose stance or actions are offensive.  It convicts us when we have, as a society, sinned against the poor and the marginalized.  The salvation of all is of ultimate importance.

“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

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Homilies Ordinary Time

Thursday of the Twelfth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Some people say all you need to do is make a one-time decision to accept Jesus as your personal Savior and you’re saved. If salvation were something magical that came about as the result of just saying a simple prayer, once and for all, then why wouldn’t everyone do that? The fact is, salvation is hard work. It was purchased at an incredible price by Jesus on the cross. And for us to make it relevant in our lives, we have work to do too. Not the kind of work that earns salvation, because salvation is not earned, but the kind of work that appropriates it into our lives.

People who are saved behave in a specific way. They are people who take the Gospel seriously and live it every day. They are people of integrity that stand up for what’s right in every situation, no matter what it personally costs. They are people of justice who will not tolerate the sexist or racist joke, let alone tolerate a lack of concern for the poor and the oppressed. They are people of deep prayer, whose lives are wrapped up in the Eucharist and the sacraments, people who confront their own sinfulness by examination of conscience and sacramental Penance.  They are people who sacrifice their own personal comfort for others, like wearing a mask when they go out in public so that others might remain well.  They are people who live lightly in this world, not getting caught up in its excess and distraction, knowing they are citizens of a heaven where such things have no permanence. Saved people live in a way that is often hard, but always joyful.

Not everyone who claims Jesus as a personal Savior, not everyone who cries out “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven. That’s what Jesus tells us today. We have to build our spiritual houses on the solid rock of Jesus Christ, living as he lived, following his commandments, and clinging to him in prayer and sacrament as if our very life depended on it. Because it does. It does.

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Christmas Homilies

The Sixth a Day in the Octave of Christmas

Today’s readings

What did you get for Christmas?  Was it everything you’d hoped for?  Or are you at that stage of life where gifts are nice, but you really don’t need anything special?  A lot of my family has come to that point, because we’re at that point where the gifts aren’t so important as it is to be together at Christmas and enjoy one another.

Today’s first reading is exhorting us to something similar.  While the rest of the world waits in line for hours to get whatever the coveted gift of the year may be, we have the consolation of knowing that nothing like that is ultimately important, or will ever make us ultimately happy.  The real gift that we can receive today, and every day, is the gift of Jesus, the Word made flesh, our Savior come to be one with us as Emmanuel.

Saint John tells us quite clearly: “Do not love the world or the things of the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”  Because what we have is so much better than anything the world can give.  Anna the prophetess in the Gospel reading recognized the Gift.  She had been waiting for it, praying for it, every day of her life.  Heaven forbid that we should miss it! 

The real gift this Christmas, and really every day, is the gift of eternal life.  And we have that gift because Jesus came to earth and chose to be one with us in our human nature.  That’s why the angels sang that night, and why we sing his praise every day of our lives.

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Advent Blessed Virgin Mary Homilies

The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Today’s readings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Homilies Lent

Thursday of the First Week of Lent

Today’s readings

If we take one thought out of Lent, it should be this: we need a Savior.

Even before Jesus’ time, Esther knew this. Esther’s adoptive father Mordecai was a deeply religious man. His devotion incurred the wrath of Haman the Agagite, who was a court official of King Ahasuerus of Persia. Mordecai refused to pay homage to Haman in the way prescribed by law, because he felt that it was idolatry. Because of this, Haman developed a deep hatred for Mordecai, and by extension, all of the Israelite people. He convinced King Ahasuerus to decree that all Israelites be put to death, and they cast lots to determine the date for this despicable event.

Meanwhile, Esther, Mordecai’s adopted daughter, is chosen to fill a spot in the King’s harem, replacing Queen Vashti. Esther never had revealed her own Israelite heritage to the King. Mordecai came to Esther to inform her of the decree that Haman had proposed, and asked her to intercede on behalf of her own people to the King. She was terrified to do this because court rules forbade her to come to the king without an invitation. She asked Mordecai to have all of her people fast and pray, and she did the same. The prayer that she offered is beautifully rendered in today’s first reading.

Esther knew that there was no one that could help her, and that it was totally on her shoulders to intercede for her people. Doing this was a risk to her own life, and the only one that she could rely on was God himself. Her prayer was heard, her people were spared, and Haman himself was hung from the same noose that had been prepared for Mordecai and all his fellow Israelites.

God hears our own persistent prayers. We must constantly pray, and trust all of our needs to the one who knows them before we do. We must ask, seek and knock of the one who made us and cares for us deeply. But most of all, we must always be aware that like Esther, we all need a Savior.

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Christmas Homilies

The Nativity of the Lord: Mass During the Night

Today’s readings

Often when we get to Christmas time, we think about our Christmases past: who we were with, where we were, how we celebrated.  Sometimes we might remember the gifts we receive, sometimes not.  For me, what I remember most is 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.  You could probably tell similar stories.

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, not even close.  

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.  We need it as a people, and we need it individually. 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. Add to all that our own sinful tendencies, addictions, and personal failures.

Amid all of this mess, there is mercy: personal, intentional, glorious mercy.  What we have to see on this most holy night 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 entered 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.  Not just you as a group, but you, and you, and you, and you, and so on.  What you need to hear me saying is that if you were the only person in history who ever needed mercy, he would have done 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 so very much 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 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, 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, when Christ becomes incarnate 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!

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Advent Homilies

Tuesday of the Second Week of Advent

Today’s readings

In this morning’s readings, our God is doing everything possible to get our attention. Salvation is God’s number one priority and he won’t rest until all have come to it. And so he sends Isaiah to “cry out” so many truths that we need to absorb: flesh is fading, but the word of the Lord is forever; the glory of the Lord will be revealed; our guilt is expiated. And this is all good news if we would receive it, but humanity is prone to tuning God out, especially if times are good.

And so he literally jumps up and down to get our attention: Isaiah runs up to the top of a high mountain crying out, “Here is your God!” And failing all of that, God becomes the good shepherd, who notices us lost sheep and sets out to bring us back, even though it would seem – to us – to be wiser not to do so.

God wants us all to come to salvation. He wants us all to open our hearts and receive him. He comes among us, as the Psalmist says, “to rule the world with justice, and the peoples with his constancy.” God urgently seeks to bind up all the broken and lost ones and bring everyone to the kingdom. That’s Advent. Blessed are we when we hear God crying out to us and respond.

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Blessed Virgin Mary Homilies

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Vigil Mass)

Today’s readings

The tradition of the Assumption of Mary dates back to the very earliest days of the Church, all the way back to the days of the apostles.  The Council of Chalcedon in 451 tells us that, after Mary’s death, the apostles opened the tomb, finding it empty, and concluded that she had been taken bodily into heaven.  The tradition was spoken about by the various fathers of the Church, and in the eighth century, St. John Damascene wrote, “Although the body was duly buried, it did not remain in the state of death, neither was it dissolved by decay… You were transferred to your heavenly home, O Lady, Queen and Mother of God in truth.”   The current celebration of Mary’s Assumption has taken place since 1950, when Pope Pius XII proclaimed the dogma of the Assumption of Mary in his encyclical, Munificentissimus Deus, saying: “The Immaculate Mother of God, the ever-virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heaven.”

And so we have gathered here this evening to celebrate the life of Mary, Mother of God, the first of the disciples of Jesus her son.  What is important for us to see in this feast is that it proclaims with all the joy the Church can muster that what happened to Mary can and will happen for us who believe.  We too have the promise of eternal life in heaven, where death and sin and pain will no longer have power over us. Because Christ caught his Blessed Mother back up into his life in heaven, we know that we too can be caught up with his life in heaven.  On that great day, the sting of death will be completely obliterated, as St. Paul tells us today.

In the Gospel reading, Jesus seems to cast his mother to the side.  But what is important for us to see in this short little passage is that he is rather extending the blessing to all those who believe.  Saying, “Rather, blessed are those
who hear the word of God and observe it” includes his own mother since, obviously, she heard the Word of God – the voice of her own Son – and observed it to the point of accepting a life of hardship as she gave her Son to the world.  In fact, she leads us into blessing by being the first and best example of living the Word of God.

Mary’s life wasn’t always easy, but Mary’s life was redeemed.  That is good news for us who have difficult lives or find it hard to live our faith.  There are those among us too who have unplanned pregnancies.  There are those among us whose children go in directions that put them in danger.  There are those among us who have to watch a child die.  But because Mary suffered these sorrows too, and yet was exalted, we can hope for the day when that which she was given and which we have been promised will surely be ours.

Mary’s life was a prophecy for us.  Like Mary, we are called to a specific vocation to do God’s work in the world.  We are called to make sacrifices so that God’s work can be accomplished in us and through us.  We can be joyful because God is at work in us.  We are called to humility that lets God’s love for others shine through our lives.  We are called to lives of faith that translate into action on behalf of others, a faith that leads God’s people to salvation.  And one day, we hope to share in the glory that Mary has already received in the kingdom of God.

And so as we gather for this holy feast day, we should be encouraged to strengthen our devotion to Mary, the holy Mother of God, whose life was meant to foreshadow the life of the Church.  This feast celebrates the fourth glorious mystery of the Rosary, a devotion that I would encourage us all to pray each day.  Having recourse to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a privilege for all Christians.  She is the one who can intercede for us in good times and in bad, who can be our model in living the life of faith, who can stand by us as we strive to give our own fiat, saying yes, to God’s call, who, having crushed the serpent’s head, can help deliver us from every evil. Praise God for the grace of such a powerful and glorious intercessor!

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

Categories
Christmas Homilies

Saturday after the Christmas Octave

Today’s readings

The readings in these Christmas days find us unpacking the gift we have been given.  Now that we realize Christ incarnate among us, what does it mean?  Why did he come?  What has changed?  Today’s first reading from Saint John’s first letter gets right at it: Jesus came through water and Blood and brought the Holy Spirit.  And so we have water which washes away our sins through holy Baptism; the Blood of Christ which releases us from the grip of sin and death, and the Holy Spirit which sanctifies our lives so that we can become one with God.  All of this made possible by the glorious incarnation of Christ, through his holy birth, which we have the grace of celebrating in these days.

Saint John the Baptist echoes that in the Gospel reading.  Jesus is the mightier one that will come after him, baptizing not just with water, but with the Holy Spirit.  The Baptism Jesus brings will not simply aid in the repentance of sins, as John’s baptism did, but will more importantly claim us for divinity and catch us up into God’s own life.  And the testimony to this most incredible gift comes not just in the voice of someone telling us something important, or even the words of a man on the pages of a book, but from the mouth of God himself: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

And so in these Christmas days, as we continue to unwrap and appreciate the greatest gift we will ever get, we find ourselves reflecting on our own holy Baptism, remembering our sins washed away in the Blood of Christ, open to the Spirit who longs to fill us with his grace.