Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The great blessing - #holymotherofgod homily

Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God                                                January 1, 2015
Numbers 6:22-27                    Gal 4:4-7                     Luke 2:16-21

Merry Christmas everybody!  Today we celebrate the 8th day of Christmas.  And that means that we are entering into the new year.  Traditionally, we ring in the new year by celebrating a title given to Mary – as the holy Mother of God. 

When we celebrate Mary’s role, remember that it is always and inseparably connected with God’s plan for us through Christ. Through her title, “Mother of God,” the Church reminds us that Jesus is fully human and also fully divine.  That is to say, Jesus has two natures and yet is one person.  Jesus is both human and divine.  But there are not two Jesus’.  He is one person.  The significance of this is absolutely amazing. 

God has become one of us.  Jesus, the Word made flesh, is our brother.  Therefore we call Jesus "Emmanuel, God with us."  Jesus our brother is perfect, without sin.  Therefore we call Jesus the “new Adam.”  Jesus has become the perfect sacrifice for us.  Therefore we call Jesus the "Lamb of God."  Through Jesus, who is fully human and fully divine, we are given the gift of eternal life.  This is why we have been singing Christmas glorias lately.  These amazing gifts from God are truly glorious.

Because God has become one of us, we can call Jesus our brother, and we become part of the divine family through our baptism.  When we are baptized we become beloved sons and daughters of God and brothers and sisters of Jesus.  Therefore since Mary is the mother of Jesus, she is also our own mother.  We are incorporated into the blessings that she has been given.  She is the mother of the church and our mother.  As she reigns with Christ in heaven, so we also have a divine and royal inheritance to reign with Christ.  All of the heavenly treasures Jesus spoke of are shared with us. 

So it is that we celebrate the true identity of Jesus today – fully human and fully divine, two natures and one person.  God made flesh - our brother.  Because of this divine mystery of Jesus  we also celebrate the identity of Mary – the holy mother of God.  Hopefully we are catching the amazing implication of this, for it also defines our identity in Christ. 

In celebrating Mary and Jesus we are also celebrating some amazing blessings that God gives to us.  And what can our response be to those blessings?  Easy.  Receive the blessing and then live the blessing.  Of course, a good question is – how do we live the blessing?  Answering that question is a great way to start this new year year.

The reading from the book of Numbers shares with us the blessing God gave to the Israelites.  These words are amazing.  Listen to them again.  “The Lord bless and keep you.  The Lord let his face shine upon you and be gracious to you.  The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace.”  This blessing is spoken in prayer.  The blessing imparts the reality of the Lord’s presence, graciousness, kindness, and peace.  So think about this.  Who wants to walk more and more in the presence, grace, kindness, and peace of the Lord? 

How about this for a great start to 2015?  Strengthen the practice of household prayer.  During family prayer invoke this blessing from from the Book of Numbers.  God really wants to give us this blessing.  God asks us to ask him for it.  Let 2015 be the year where we as a parish family walk more securely in this blessing from the Lord.  For this is an important part of what it means to be a member of God’s family, with Jesus as our brother, Mary as our mother, and God the heavenly Father as our Father.

And there is more!  The gospel reading tells the story of the shepherds visiting Joseph and Mary to see the newborn messiah that was announced to them by angels.  The shepherds were obedient to the invitation from the angels, and they got the blessing of seeing Jesus.

At the end of the reading there is a little line of significance.  It says:  When eight days were completed for his circumcision, he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.  Here, we see evidence of the obedience of Joseph and Mary to the divine directions given to them – both through the law which they knew by virtue of being raised in the faith, as well as through revelation which they received personally.

Through the example of their obedience we get to ask ourselves a question.  In what way do we need to grow in obedience to God’s holy Word?  In what way do we need to grow in obedience to what God has shown each of us personally? Here is one good suggestion.  Call a household meeting at the beginning of this new year.  And in that household meeting make three commitments together.

1.  Re-commit to prayer.  Talk about practical ways of praying together as a household.  Make commitments and support one another in prayer.  Prayer brings us closer to God and to one another.  And we walk more securely in the blessings of God.  Re-commit to prayer in 2015.

2.  Re-commit to learning.  Talk with each other about a plan to grow in knowledge and understanding of the faith.  I speak especially to our youth and adults here.  Continued growth in knowledge of the faith teaches us how to walk in the blessing.  Our lighthouse Catholic media is one good way.  Our parish study groups are excellent.  Whatever is decided, re-commit to learning in 2015.

3.  Re-commit to the sacramental life.  Talk with each other about how to walk more securely in the sacramental life.  The sacramental life always opens up the gifts of the Spirit – knowledge, understanding, wisdom, council, courage, piety, and wonder and awe.  We all need more of this.  So re-commit to the sacramental life in 2015.

My dear brothers and sisters in Jesus.  Let us together prepare our spiritual plan for 2015 so that we can live in the blessing of God.  And on this most special day of Christmas, let us ask for the prayers of Mary, our mother in Christ.

Mary, mother of God, pray for us.
Mary, queen of heaven, pray for us.
Mary, mother of the Church, pray for us.

Mary, queen of peace, pray for us.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The world needs the Holy Family - #holyfamilyhomily

Christmas – Holy Family                                                  December 28, 2014
Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14                  Colossians 3:12-21                   Luke 2:22-40

This Sunday is the 4th day of Christmas – and it is not the feast of four calling birds, three turtle doves or a partridge in a pear tree - like the old song the 12 days of Christmas.  The celebration of Christmas day is such a big celebration in the Church that we have it for 8 days – what we call the “octave of Christmas.”  On the Sunday within the octave of Christmas we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family. And the Christmas season keeps going all the way until the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord - this year celebrated on Sunday, January 11.

Today we have Joseph, Mary, and Jesus - the Holy Family – as an image for our contemplation.  Lots of times our experience of the Holy Family is in nativity scenes or holy cards or statues.  They always look so beautiful and peaceful.  Their stories, taken from the gospel of Luke, are the focus of prayer in the joyful mysteries of the rosary.

 The scriptures show us that the joyful mysteries reflect their trust in God in the midst of difficult circumstances.  Consider the 1st mystery – the annunciation.  Mary’s "yes" to God’s plan meant that she had to trust God by agreeing to a divine origin of her pregnancy before her marriage.  This was a huge risk that nearly ended with Joseph’s intention to divorce her until an angel intervened.  Mary and Joseph trusted God.  

Consider the 3rd mystery – the nativity.  Mary and Joseph had to travel to Bethlehem at the very end of her pregnancy.  Then the time came for her to give birth but there was nowhere for them to go except a stable.  Mary and Joseph trusted God.

Consider the 4th mystery – our gospel today.  Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple to present him to the Lord, according to the law of Moses.  Remember the words of the prophet Simeon to Mary – “this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted – and you yourself a sword will pierce – so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”  He recognized Jesus as the promised messiah and then he prophesied the sorrows of Mary.  So why are these mysteries joyful?  Because Mary and Joseph trusted God, and God used all of this for the greatest blessing – our redemption.

How did the Holy Family do it?  How did they trust in God considering all of their circumstances?  For that matter, how can we do it?  How can our families be holy families?  After all, the odds are against us, if you look at national statistics.  Just getting a family started and then trying to keep it together can be a daunting task. 

The scriptures give us some good practical examples of how to be a holy family.

From both the book of Sirach and from the letter to the Colossians the key word is respect.  Respect for parents.  Respect between husbands and wives.  The truth is that respect can carry us a long way toward the exercise of greater virtues in our lives.  St. Thomas Aquinas said that grace builds on nature.  So when we exercise natural virtue, it provides more room in our hearts for the supernatural virtues.  Respect is a natural virtue.  Piety and wonder and awe are supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Good old fashioned manners are a marvelous way to practice the virtue of respect.  From “please” and “thank you” to the finer points of acting like ladies and gentlemen, the virtue of respect can be the glue that holds together a family, just as it is the glue that can hold together a society. 
All of us know that there has been a rise in uncivil public behavior through this past generation.  Course language, course gestures, course humor, and an increasing lack of respect has affected our society to the point that uncivil behavior has been accepted as quite normal.  Consider the events in our own country in 2014.  We have seen a rise in lawlessness that should deeply concern us.

Shall we do something that will have a positive effect on family life and on society?  Let’s do something counter cultural and cultivate formal manners and civil discourse within our own community.  They give us practical means of respect.  Not sure what to work on?  Have a family meeting and make a list of civil behaviors to cultivate in the family.  Behaviors that exemplify respect in the way we talk and clothe ourselves and act towards one another.  Then, help each other in positive ways to work on respectful and respectable behavior.  All of us can work on this in the coming year.

Of course, God wants us to go deeper than just mere good manners.  After all, even good manners can become cold and demanding expectations.  That’s not appealing either.

Listen to the words of St. Paul.  He said this:  “Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another… and over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection.  And let the peace of Christ control your hearts.”  Wow.  We all want to live in a family and a community that acts that way.  Ghandi, the leader of India’s independence in the last century once said this – “be the change you want.” 

Husbands, love and cherish your wives in the way that she would like to be loved and cherished.  Wives, love and respect your husbands in the way that he would like to be loved and respected.  Not sure what that is?  Easy.  Ask each other.  Give each other concrete examples.  Decide together what to work on as a family for next year and then make a plan to do it.  Parents, the best gift you will ever give your children is to show them how to love and respect another person.  You show them and they will give it back to you.  The same is true with priests and parishes.  We are all in this together.

Pray together as a family.  In order to have the supernatural virtues of love and joy and peace we need to give God room to work in our families.  Pray together every day.  The rosary and scripture reading are two very good tools for family prayer.  The Church gives us lots of options here.  But pray together.  This will lead us to trust in God no matter what the circumstances, just like Joseph, Mary, and Jesus.

 We need holy families.  The world desperately needs holy families that are filled with heartfelt compassion, humility, patience, love, and peace.  God’s plan for your family and for mine is that we grow as God's holy family - the communion of saints.  This is how we all become a persistent sign of hope in an increasingly darkened world - just like Joseph, Mary, and Jesus, the Holy Family, are an eternal sign of hope for us all.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The light shines in the darkness - Christmas homily 2014

The Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ    December 25, 2014

Just a few days ago, in the northern hemisphere, we observed the winter solstice.  It is the longest night and the shortest day.  In some ways it is symbolic of the events of this past year, as if the world is entering into a long night.  We remember the rise of the Islamic State and the unprecedented violence against Christians there.  We remember the civil war in Ukraine and the tensions between Russia and the western nations.  We remember the civil unrest in Ferguson, in New York City, and other places in our nation.  

We remember the outbreak of Ebola in several West African nations.  We remember the rise of Boku Haram across North Africa and the violent attacks on people in that region.   We remember the radical Moslem attack on the school children in Pakistan.  These and so many other events have shaken us all.  We can add to this global litany of woes the many personal stories of suffering from this past year.  It seems like a long night of trouble has come upon the world – a kind of a spiritual winter solstice.  

While these things aren’t necessarily new – humankind has suffered violence, persecutions, wars, famines, plagues, and other disasters since the beginning of time – it does seem that right now all is reaching a particular intensity.  It is as if darkness is coming upon the earth.  This is important for us to recognize and name.  In so many ways, this spiritual winter solstice is the result of sin.  It isn’t new, but is a particular sign of our times.

In this time of gathering darkness it is right and good that we come to church to pray.  We proclaim together that our God, who sees all, and who knows the full measure that the darkness of sin can bring, has had great mercy on us.  Isaiah the prophet foretold it, “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.”  St. Paul proclaimed it, as we read from his letter to Titus, “beloved, when the kindness and generous love of God our savior appeared, not because of any righteous deed we had done but because of his mercy,”  The light of God’s mercy is shining on us.  We say boldly with the prophetrs,  “For a child is born to us, a son given us; They name him wonder-counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.”

Now, more than ever, it is important for us to remember the love and mercy of God, who comes to save us.

Remember the story of how the angel Gabriel came to Mary?  We read this in the gospel of Luke. 
The angel announced God’s great plan to enter the human race.  This is the mystery of the incarnation, God made flesh.  Mary conceived by the Holy Spirit.  But God saw fit that this occurred before her marriage to Joseph.  This ensured that we would all know that Jesus has a divine and human origin.  And this was a huge risk for Mary.  To say yes to God’s plan was to face the possibility of danger and disgrace.  But Mary trusted in God.  She said “yes” to God’s will.  And so it was that Jesus, Emmanuel came to be with her.  God became so very small, entering into the womb of the virgin. God identified with the smallest of human beings, the unborn child.  God became a sign of the life and dignity of even the smallest and most helpless of human beings.  God loves us, and has mercy on us. Jesus is the light shining in the darkness.

Remember the story of how Joseph, the fiancĂ© of Mary, learned of all this?  We read this in the gospel of Matthew.  Joseph’s first reaction was a plan to divorce Mary quietly so as not to expose her to shame.  Imagine the emotional turmoil they were both in!  It was through the intervention of an angel – visiting Joseph in a dream – that he changed his mind and took Mary into his home.  Joseph trusted God.  And so Emmanuel, Jesus, God with us, came to be with the holy family.  And so it is that God identifies with our families, warts and all.  God comes to heal our families, to reconcile us, and to unite us with our heavenly family.  God loves us, and has mercy on us.  Jesus is the light shining in the darkness.

Remember the story of how Joseph and Mary journeyed to Bethlehem.  This is where we go back to the gospel of Luke.  Mary was in her 9th month of pregnancy when they had to journey to Bethlehem.  Imagine – Mary in her 9th month riding on a donkey!  And then as they arrived in Bethlehem she went into labor. There was no room in the Inn for them. They found themselves basically homeless and had to take shelter in a stable. But Joseph and Mary trusted God.  Because of that trust Jesus, our Emmanuel, was born to us.  God himself identified with the poor and with the homeless.  And so God became a sign of the life and dignity of each and every human person, no matter our situation.  God lifts up the lowly.  God loves us and has mercy on us.  Jesus is the light shining in the darkness.

It is in these stories of the birth of Jesus that God’s love for us shines so brightly.  Jesus was born in a town called Bethlehem.  The name of the town means, “house of bread.”  Tonight we celebrate Jesus as the bread that came down from heaven.  Jesus was laid in a manger - a feeding trough.  Jesus said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.  And whoever eats this bread will have eternal life.”

At this Mass we proclaim Jesus as the Word made flesh.  And so we have proclaimed the Word of God at this Mass.  At this Mass we proclaim Jesus as the bread of life.  And so we receive Jesus in the most holy Eucharist.  May Jesus bring us all into a saving and sacramental relationship with Him and with His Church.  Jesus overcomes the spiritual darkness of this world.  As the gospel of John says, “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Christmas lights up a spiritual path of hope for us all during times of darkness.  May we all hold firmly to a saving faith in Jesus, who is forever the light of the world.  May the light of Jesus shine through us as a beacon of hope to the world.  The darkness shall not overcome. This is the great hope of Mary and Joseph.  This is the joy of the shepherds.  This is the salvation of the human race.  This is why the angels sang with joy on the night of our Savior’s birth.  And this is why we sing too. 
Gloria in excelsis Deo.  Gloria in excelsis Deo

A most blessed and joyful Christmas to all.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Revelation of the Mystery

Fourth Sunday in Advent                                                December 21, 2014
2 Samuel 7:1-5,8-11,16       Psalm 89        Romans 16:25-27     Luke 1:26-38

The revelation of the mystery

It’s the 4th Sunday of Advent already.  Our Advent preparation for the celebration of Jesus’ birth is nearly complete – and it seems that the days have flown by.  We are almost there.  Next Wednesday our Christmas eve liturgies begin and once again we celebrate the birth of Jesus.

The Old Testament readings – our first reading from the book of Samuel, and then Psalm 89, as well as St. Paul in his letter to the Romans, point to Jesus as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.  St. Paul stated it this way “according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret for long ages but now manifested through the prophetic writings...” 

For those of you who love studying the Bible, it really is amazing to begin to see the extent to which Jesus and the Church are a marvelous fulfillment of what was promised by God through the prophets.  All of this revelation reaches its fullness in the person of Jesus.  And Jesus brings it all to fulfillment within His Church.  For the one who was born in time 2000 years ago still fulfills the promise today.  This was the mystery that was kept secret for long ages, which we can now see.

And the one who we proclaim as Lord and whose birth we celebrate in just a few short days will indeed come again.  This is another mystery of his coming into the world.  And his second coming draws ever closer.  Will we see it?  Will we be spiritually awake for his coming?

Our Advent of waiting for Christmas – just a few days left to complete – reminds us that we continue in an Advent of more cosmic proportions – waiting in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior Jesus Christ at the end of this present age. 

We can say with greater certainty now that we are living in a time of the New Advent.  There is a new waiting for the coming of the Savior, just as there was an Old Advent prior to his birth.  Mary, the mother of the first Advent, is the one who shows us the way during our time of the New Advent.  The story of the Annunciation gives us a pattern to follow in the tumultuous days that lie ahead of us.

1.  Prayer.  When the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and greeted her with those amazing lines “Hail, full of grace!  The Lord is with you” her first reaction was to ponder.  In other words, she prayerfully considered things.  This is contemplation.  In other places in the gospel we hear about how Mary pondered these things in her heart.  Our world is full of noise and distraction – so much so that it is any wonder if any of us has the awareness to recognize the action of God in our time.  But contemplation – prayerful consideration of the events in our lives and the events in the world, helps us to unveil the mystery.  Setting aside that time of prayerful quiet and reflection gives space in our lives for the Lord to reveal his presence to us.  Mary is the model of contemplative prayer, even as a teenage girl.  And so let all of us, young and old, make time and space in our days for contemplative prayer. 

2.  Obedience.  The Obedience of Mary to the word of God is marvelous.  It is easy to imagine her listening so carefully to the word of the angel, considering the implications of what was being asked of her.  We can be sure that she was not ignorant of the risks of saying yes to a pregnancy that did not involve her fiancĂ© Joseph.  She knew right away the possible risks.  But her careful listening to the Word of God, and her absolute trust in the God who loved her, made it possible for Mary to say “yes” to what God asked of her.  In the same way, our careful listening to the Word of God, and our practice of trust, leads us to give a deeper “yes” to God’s call to us.  Mary is the model of obedience.  And so let us all, young and old, arrange our lives so that each moment becomes a “yes” to God’s will for us. 

3.  Service.  After the angel departed, Mary left immediately to go to her cousin Elizabeth.  In saying “yes” to God’s will for her, she had the power to take the next right step.  And what a marvelous next right step this was for Mary – going to her cousin Elizabeth, rejoicing with her in what God was doing with them, and helping one another.  So it is with us.  When we prayerfully consider what God is doing in our midst, we can more easily say yes to the will of God for us.  And saying yes leads us to take the next right step – to offer ourselves in loving service.

Prayer, obedience, and service - all of this comes from a heart full of love.  This is the simple way that Mary shows us.  This is the way of Mary – who leads us as a loving mother to the greatest unfolding of the mystery – the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ. 
His revelation in time 2000 years ago.
His revelation of salvation for us today.
His revelation when he comes again in glory.