Friday, September 30, 2016

Catholic Services Appeal 2016

The Catholic Services Appeal is your annual invitation to support the ministries and services of the Archdiocese of Louisville. The Appeal plays an integral role in funding over 100 different programs and services of the Archdiocese. Whether it is providing pastoral care to those in the hospital, supplying clothing and food to those in need, reaching out to youth and young adults, educating future priests and supporting retired priests, or providing services to parishes and schools, the Catholic Services Appeal supports ministry at every level of our Archdiocese.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Feast of the Baptism of the Lord - homily 2016

Christmas – Baptism of the Lord     Homily:  Fr. Bill Bowling        January 10, 2016
Isaiah 42:1-4,6-7      Psalm 29        Acts 10:34-38                        Luke 3:15-16,21-22

Today, for the last time this liturgical year, we celebrate Christmas.  Today, we get to say once more – merry Christmas.  During these days of Christmas we have been thinking about the gift of mercy God has shown us in Jesus.   At his nativity we remembered that Jesus is manifested as the promised “Emmanuel” -- God with us.  God’s mercy has been shown to us.  At his epiphany we remembered that Jesus is manifested as the savior of the nations.  All peoples, symbolized by the Magi, have been included in God’s plan of salvation as co-heirs to the blessings promised to Israel.  God’s abundant mercy has been shown to us. 

Today, in this feast of the Baptism of the Lord, Jesus is manifested as the Beloved Son of God.  In this we are shown in ever more detail the gift of mercy to us through Jesus.

First of all, we see more clearly today what Jesus does for us in his role as messiah.  Luke chapter 3 is the opening act of the public ministry.  The very first thing that Jesus does is to go to the Jordan river.

The Jordan has been the scene of several of God’s amazing works of mercy.  Remember the first one.  Moses had been leading the people of Israel in their exodus from slavery in Egypt into the freedom of the Promised Land.  They had been wandering in the desert for 40 years.  God was raising up a new generation of the faithful to enter into the Promised Land and inhabit it.  Moses saw the Promised Land, but died before entering in.  The new leader was Joshua.  He was the anointed one of God – the one whose name means “God saves.”  He led the people to the river.  He held his staff over the river.  God parted the waters for the people, and they passed through to enter the Promised Land 

Let’s remember another spectacular act of God’s mercy.  Elisha the prophet was calling Israel to repentance, because they had wandered from the faith.  Namaan the leper, was from a different country.  He heard about Elisha, and with faith in the God of Israel he asked for healing.  So Elisha told Naaman to bathe in the Jordan river 7 times, and then he would be clean.  At first Namaan did not want to do this, but then he consented to wash himself in the Jordan and did so 7 times.  And after the 7th time his skin was clean and pure again.  He was healed of his sickness.

God’s mercy for us was shown dramatically when he made a way out of slavery and a way for healing.  Exodus and healing.  These themes connect with what John the Baptist was preaching.  He was the forerunner of the messiah, preparing the way. 
·      Preparing the way for Jesus to lead the people out of the slavery of sin and into the heavenly promised land. 
·      Preparing the way for Jesus to heal Israel and through Israel all of the nations. 
·      Preparing the hearts of the people to go with Jesus by calling them all to repentance. 

When Jesus went down to the river Jordan – when Jesus went down into the waters of baptism – something amazing happened for all of the people – and for all of us today.

Jesus made all of the waters of baptism a place of exodus for us. 
Through the waters of baptism we have a way out. 
A way out of sin.   A way out of violence.   A way out of injustice. A way out of alienation.
A way out of everything that separates us from one another and that separates us from God.  Jesus leads us in the way of purity, peace, justice, and unity toward our heavenly homeland.  This is the new exodus that Jesus began when he went down to the river Jordan.

Jesus made all of the waters of baptism a place of healing for us.  The old curse of original sin was broken there.  The voice of God was heard saying to Jesus “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.  What God the Father was saying to Jesus the Son becomes a blessing over all of the baptized.  What God the Father saw in Jesus the Son at that moment, he sees in each of us.  Belovedness. 

This baptismal grace shows us that God is doing a new work of mercy in the world.  God’s mercy is so very much needed.  Today, instead of slavery in Egypt, people are enslaved by a global culture of death, addictions, attacks on the family, persecutions against people of faith, and the rise of terror and fear.  The world is infected with that terrible leprosy of the spirit of anti-Christ manifested by those who want to impose the new world order. 

But while multinational anti-Christ forces scheme and manipulate, something new is happening.  Today is the year of favor from the Lord.  This is the extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy.  The Lord is revealing his mercy in powerful ways..  Now is the time to remember our belovedness in God and live as his saints.  Now is the time to be messengers of mercy.  This is the time for a new exodus out of the slavery of sin.  This is the place for a new healing from the leprosy of the culture of death.  And we, the church, are to be the instruments of God’s mercy and healing.

On this feast of the Baptism of the Lord, let us pray for a new baptism in the Holy Spirit, that we may be infused with grace and courage for the mission set before us.  Hear once again, the words of the prophet Isaiah, spoken to us in a fresh way as a sign for this Year of Mercy.  Listen!
“I, the Lord, have called you for the victory of justice,
I have grasped you by the hand;
I formed you, and set you
as a covenant of the people, a light for the nations,
 to open the eyes of the blind, to bring prisoners from confinement,
 and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.”

Dear people, you are baptized Children of the Most High God.  The year of mercy is upon us and this is the generation chosen and elected from all eternity for this.  Let’s do this!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

A Season of Mercy - Advent and Christmas homilies

Advent-3                     homily:  Fr. Bill Bowling                    December 13, 2015
Zep 3:14-18                Is 12                Phil 4:4-7                    Lk 3:10-18

The third Sunday of Advent is called Gaudete Sunday.  Gaudete is latin for “rejoice.”  It means Jesus is coming!  Even the church colors reflect the shift – the color rose is used to accent the sanctuary of the church.

The readings are full of the language of rejoicing.  The first reading starts with the words “shout for joy.”  The second reading gives the instruction “rejoice in the Lord always.  Again I say, rejoice!”

Our community is full of rejoicing.  Last Tuesday Pope Francis formally opened the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy.  It is an amazing opportunity for all of us to pass through the Door of Mercy, who is Jesus Christ himself.  It is no accident that we began this Jubilee year with the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.  She who is the mother of mercy, points the way for us to encounter her Son, who is the endless fount of mercy for us all.  And it is no accident that the year of Mercy ends on the Solemnity of Christ the King.  All of this declares both the beginning of Christ’s victory and the culmination of his victory in the end.  It pleases God to be victorious over sin and death through us, his Church, the body of Christ, His Son.  This is a great cause of rejoicing for us all.

Today the Lord calls us to intentionally take on that attitude of rejoicing – whether we initially feel like it or not.  It can’t come at a better time.  With little light during the day and long hours of darkness, some of us might be tending toward depression. In the larger world, there are events going on around us that cause great anxiety.  Society is getting crazier all the time.  World leaders speak of current global conflicts as the beginning of World War III. Terror attacks both domestically and globally have us wondering about our future.

However, the bible instructs us clearly.  Have no anxiety at all.  Rejoice in the Lord always.  How do we do that? 

The Year of Mercy is a doorway of hope for us all.  Let Pope Francis’ invitation to the world to enter into Divine Mercy become a mission for each of us.  Let this become a sole objective for us.  God’s mercy can change the world.  God’s mercy can stop wars.  God’s mercy can diminish or eliminate chastisements.  And of course, the world’s response to God’s mercy is everything. 

Do works of Mercy.  The World needs mercy right now.  Let’s strive to make mercy practical for others. 

Remember the corporal works of mercy?
Feed the hungry.
Give drink to the thirsty
Clothe the naked
Shelter the homeless
Visit the sick
Visit the imprisoned
Bury the dead.
Remember the spiritual works of mercy?
Counsel the doubtful
Instruct the ignorant
Admonish sinners
Comfort the afflicted
Forgive offenses
Bear wrongs patiently
Pray for the living and the dead.

Also, this weekend we begin a special outreach to those who have drifted away from the practice of the faith.  Make use of those postcards we have in the pews.  They will be a great way to practice a work of mercy for somebody else.

Receive the Gift of Mercy.  Go to confession.  Remain in a state of grace.  In the gospel John the Baptist instructed his listeners on the virtue of repentance.  We need that same virtue today.  We get that virtue in the sacrament of penance.  That great sacrament where the burden of sin gets lifted off of us and we receive the grace of renewal.  Turn away from sin to believe more deeply in Jesus.  The Church asks us to go to confession at least once per year.  Just like the church asks us to go to communion at least once per year.  And, of course, confession, like communion, is encouraged with more frequency.  A good number of people haven’t gone to confession in many years.  Some are deceived into thinking they have no sin.  The truth is, we are all sinners in need of mercy.  For some, it has been so long they have forgotten how to do the sacrament.  If so, never fear.  The ritual is easy and our priests are gentle.  Go to confession.  Turn away from sin.  And receive the gift of joy that comes from the sacrament.  And lucky us, there is a communal celebration next Tuesday at 6:00 p.m. at St. Augustine.

Pray.  In the 2nd reading Paul tells the reader to have no anxiety at all but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.  Our church is moving forward with renewal through Divine Mercy.  This renewal begins with each of us renewing our commitment to ongoing prayer.  As Catholics we have many ways to pray.  Pray the rosary as a family at home.  Read Sacred Scripture.  Come to the church to pray before the blessed Sacrament.  During this year of Mercy, make a commitment to pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.  There are so many ways.  But let us all renew our commitment to prayerful communion with our Lord.

Good people – “Rejoice in the Lord always.  Again I say rejoice.”  Rejoice with sharing the mercy of Jesus.  Be joyful with receiving the mercy of Jesus in the sacrament of penance.  Be at peace through a renewed commitment of prayer to God.

Dear people, Jesus is coming soon. “So have no anxiety at all.  May the peace of God that surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

Advent-4                    Homily:  Fr. Bill Bowling                                December 20, 2015
Mi 5:1-4                     Ps 80              Heb 10:5-10              Lk 1:39-45

The 4th Sunday of Advent means that Christmas is almost here.  Last week we rejoiced with the beginning of the Year of Mercy and the opening of the Holy Doors for this year.  And this week we are on the threshold of the great celebration of the birth of Jesus.  Each of these candles on the Advent wreath have been sign-posts of the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ into our world in his first coming.  They are signs of hope for us that Christ is has come, that he is here with us, and that he is coming again in glory.

Throughout our lifetimes, we can also consider the coming of Jesus to us in our own times.  Our own stories of salvation are, when we reflect on them, full of signs of hope.  Each of us has our own sacramental story.  The sign-posts of baptism, confirmation, and eucharist show us God’s covenantal love for us.  And the sign-posts of those moments of grace and blessing from God show us love in a practical way.  All of those signs are there – for those who have eyes to see them.

These sign-posts are the invitation of God to us to participate in the greater story of His plan of salvation for the whole world.  It is an awesome thing to be chosen.  It is a blessing to say “yes” in return.

This weekend, we have the example of Mary and Elizabeth to guide us.

Consider Mary.  When she said “yes” to God’s plan, she took a huge risk.  She conceived by the Holy Spirit, but she was betrothed to Joseph.  She risked rejection by Joseph.  And if Joseph rejected her, then so would her family and community.  She risked the possibility of malicious gossip about her for those who would not or could not see the work of God.  It was a dangerous time for her.

When we consider the state of the world today, it is also an increasing risk for people to say “yes” to God’s plan.  In many places throughout the world, it is a risk to follow Jesus – and for many this is a life threatening risk.  In the secular west the risks are more subtle.  For many people, the risk of living faith publicly is to risk being made fun of, to risk the loss of opportunity. 

And yet, recently in Time Magazine, Mary of Nazareth was named the most powerful woman in the world.  Certainly, her original and ongoing “yes” to God has made her the most influential woman of all time.

So let’s take a closer look at Mary’s example.  In the gospel of Luke we get three distinct steps that we can take in following the way of discipleship in the school of Mary.  And this way of discipleship leads us to Christmas – and to the heart of her son Jesus.

So here is Mary’s way.

Step 1.  Acknowledge God.  When the Angel Gabriel came to Mary and shared with her God’s plan for her and for the salvation of the world, Mary’s final answer was a clear “yes.”  She said it so eloquently.  “Let it be done to me according to your word.”  May Mary’s words become our words too.  Each day, let’s you and I very deliberately give ourselves over to God’s will.  Let’s do that with confidence that God’s plans for us always include his love and mercy for us, and his desire to bless us with every spiritual blessing in the heavens.  That alone ought to give us a burning desire to take step one.  Acknowledge God.

Step 2.  Take the next right step.  This is the story of today’s gospel.  After Mary said “yes” to God, she set out and traveled to the hill country in haste.  Her “yes” to God resulted in action.  It reminds me of the command we get at the end of the Mass when the priest says, “go forth, proclaiming the gospel with your lives.”  We sing a hymn of praise to God and then we go.  We go nourished by our sacramental encounter with Jesus to get into the world and make a difference for somebody else.  In Mary’s case, she immediately went to her cousin Elizabeth to assist her in the final months of her pregnancy.  Her journey was one of love and humble service.  Mary’s action can inspire each and every single one of us to also take some next right steps.  During this year of Mercy may we all be inspired to go forth from this place taking the next right steps.  Oftentimes those next right steps are very practical, just like Mary’s help to Elizabeth was very practical.  Remember the Works of Mercy.  Let’s review them.

The corporal works of mercy
Feed the hungry.
Give drink to the thirsty
Clothe the naked
Shelter the homeless
Visit the sick
Visit the imprisoned
Bury the dead.

The spiritual works of mercy
Counsel the doubtful
Instruct the ignorant
Admonish sinners
Comfort the afflicted
Forgive offenses
Bear wrongs patiently
Pray for the living and the dead.

Mary’s journey of love and humble service can inspire us to follow her example and take the next right step.

Step 3.  Be a persistent sign of hope.  Hope is the sign of Mary’s life.  In every way she directs our attention to Jesus who is forever the hope of the world.  Everything that Mary did was filled with grace from God.  And God, who is love, always filled her heart.  More than anything else, love always gives us hope.  Events in the world today leave so many people with an impending sense of doom.  Therefore we must be a people of hope.  After all, Christmas is coming, the persistent sign of hope for all of us that Jesus has come to us, that Jesus is with us today, and that Jesus is coming again in glory.  Let us hold to these truths firmly.  And in holding to these truths firmly, may the words of blessing spoken by Elizabeth over Mary also be spoken over this generation when she said,
“blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

Christmas                 homily:  Fr. Bill Bowling               Dec 25, 2015
Vigil:  Isaiah 62:1-5               Ps 89              Acts 13:16-17,22-25                        Mt 1:1-25
Night:  Isaiah 9:1-6               Ps 96              Titus 2:11-14                        Luke 2:1-14
Dawn:  Isaiah 62:11-12       Ps 97              Titus 3:4-7                 Luke 2:15-20
Day:  Isaiah 52:7-10             Ps 98              Heb 1:1-6                   John 1:1-18

Merry Christmas everybody.  Here we are this evening (morning) celebrating the great feast of the birth of Jesus.  For those of you who were praying for a white Christmas, sorry about your luck.  For those who were hoping to be in Florida for Christmas, well --  Florida weather is visiting Kentucky – so count your blessings.

This unusual weather marks an unusual year.   This year had great blessings for many.  It also had many evil events creating anxiety in people’s hearts.  Radical Islam continues its reign of terror in North Africa and the Middle East.  A huge wave of refugees escaping this violence is rushing into Europe.  Russia has entered the fray with active military intervention.  China exhibits nationalistic adventurism in the South China Sea.  Pope Francis and other world leaders referred to these conflicts as the beginning of World War III.  On the domestic front we had significant social unrest in various places, plus an ongoing rash of mass murders.  The current state of politics has us all scratching our heads. All of this has us wondering about what will come next. 

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 they have a particular intensity right now.   It is important for us to recognize and name this gathering darkness in the world.  It is a particular sign of our times.

Therefore 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 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 prophets,  “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.   Pope Francis acted in a prophetic way by proclaiming a Year of Mercy for the whole world.  Jesus himself calls all of us to pass through His door of mercy.   For those who have drifted far away from the Lord, now is the time for you to return.  For those who feel unworthy because of what has been happening in their lives, Jesus says to you that his mercy is endless and his love is inexhaustible.  His love and mercy are greater than the worst of our sins.  His love and mercy will in fact conquer the current wave of darkness that is washing across our world.   God loves us, and has mercy on us. Jesus is the light shining in the darkness.

Remember the story of the Annunciation? We read this in the gospel of Luke.  The angel Gabriel announced to Mary 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.  By God’s providence this occurred before her marriage to Joseph to ensure that we would all understand that Jesus was born of a virgin, in fulfillment of prophecy.  This was a huge risk for Mary. But Mary trusted in God.  When she said “yes” to God’s plan, Jesus was conceived.  Our 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 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 said “yes” to God’s plan and took Mary into his home.  Joseph trusted God.  And so Emmanuel, Jesus, God with us, came to be with the holy family.  Our 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 in 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!  As they arrived in Bethlehem she went into labor. There was no room in the Inn for them. They had to take shelter in a stable. Joseph and Mary said “yes” to God’s plan.  And so Jesus, our Emmanuel, was born to us.  He identifies with the poor and the homeless.   He is a sign of the life and dignity of each and every human person, no matter the situation.  God lifts up the lowly.  God loves us and has mercy on us.  Jesus is the light shining in the darkness.

These stories reveal the love and mercy of God for us.  At this Mass we proclaim Jesus as the Word made flesh.  And so we have proclaimed the Word of God at this Mass.  May God’s word now take flesh in us.  At this Mass we celebrate Jesus as the bread that came down from heaven.  Jesus was born in a town called Bethlehem.  The name of the town means, “house of bread.” 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.”  In a few minutes Jesus will offer himself to us in the most Holy Eucharist.  May the body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus now take flesh in us, His Church. 

May our own stories now reveal the love and mercy of Jesus to the world. As the gospel of John says, “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”  May the light of Jesus shine through us as a beacon of hope to the world.  This is the great hope of Mary and Joseph.  This is the joy of the shepherds.  This is nothing less than the salvation of the human race.  The angels sang with joy on the night of our Savior’s birth.  With great faith, hope and love, we sing today.
Gloria in excelsis Deo.  Gloria in excelsis Deo.

Christmas – Holy Family                                                                December 27, 2015
Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14                  Colossians 3:12-21                 Luke 2:22-40

This Sunday is the 3rd day of Christmas – and it is not the feast of 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.

Christmas – Epiphany          homily:  Fr. Bill Bowling                                January 3, 2016
Isaiah 60:1-6             Psalm 72                    Eph 3:2-3,5-6                        Matt 2:1-12

This Sunday is the 10th day of Christmas.  Today we celebrate the Epiphany.  Now, in Catholic calendars past, when it was easier to get people to come to Holy Days of Obligation, we had the Epiphany on the 12th Day – January 6.  But in this age of the Church the solemnity of the Epiphany is transferred to Sunday so that more of the faithful can be present for the Mass.  So here we are.  Christmas isn’t over – there is still much joy unfolding.  So – Merry Christmas everybody.  We will keep celebrating Christmas all the way until the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which will be celebrated next week Sunday January 10.  On that day the Christmas season ends and Ordinary Time begins. 

And yet, there is a little more to come.  There is a tradition in the church that keeps a bit of Christmas going all the way until February 2, the feast of the Presentation of the Lord.  On that feast we remember when Joseph and Mary brought Jesus to the temple for his presentation, and Old Simeon recognized the Messiah and prophesied over Jesus and Mary.  That celebration is also called “candlemas” when people bring candles to be blessed and used in the home.  So don’t be surprised if you see a few poinsettias lingering in the church, and perhaps the images of Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus in a place of honor until Feb 2.  We need more Christmas joy in the world, so let’s keep the fullness of the Christmas season and the Christmas traditions in our churches and in our homes.

Christmas joy is all about the manifestation of Jesus as the Messiah.  That is what the word Epiphany means – manifestation – unveiling.  All through the Christmas season, we get to see how Jesus was manifested.  We hear the story about who had the eyes of faith to see his manifestation, and who was blind to his manifestation.

Let’s consider the story today.  On the feast of the Epiphany we hear the story of the magi from the east arriving in Jerusalem. 

First, let’s consider who in the story had the eyes of faith to behold the Messiah – the magi.  The magi are generally understood to be Persian astrologers.  And how, you might ask, would Persian astrologers be interested in the promised Messiah?  Remember when Judah was conquered by Babylon and were brought into captivity there for 70 years?  This was the time of Daniel the prophet.  Daniel had many prophecies about the coming Messiah.  We could assume that the magi had access to Hebrew scriptures.  So perhaps they kept the traditions that Daniel handed on to them. When they recognized the signs of his birth written into the celestial dance in the heavens, they undertook the long journey from Persia to Jerusalem to find him.

The Magi had eyes of faith.  The magi desired to see the Messiah.  They studied.  They looked for the signs.  Because of their faith and their desire, it pleased God to unveil the mystery to them.  They followed the star.  And the star led them to Jesus.

Now, let’s consider who was blind to the birth of Jesus -- Herod and the religious leaders in the temple.  When Herod received the magi and heard their story, notice the reaction.  He was “greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.”  Both the political leadership and the spiritual leadership reacted to the news of the Messiah not with joy but by “being troubled.”  When Herod questioned the chief priests and the scribes about the prophecies concerning the Messiah, they easily remembered the prophecies about where he was to be born.   These were the people who more than anyone else should have been able to see the signs and recognize the time of the Messiah.  But they did not.  They did not have the eyes of faith.  They did not desire this.  Instead they were troubled by this.  Their pride and their sin blinded them. And in the end, pride and selfish ambition led them to have murder in their hearts.  Herod attempted to kill Jesus by sending his soldiers to Bethlehem to kill all the baby boys.  Years later, the chief priests did in fact kill Jesus by sending him to the cross. 

Epiphany, manifestation, unveiling.  Today we gather for Mass so that we, like the magi, can have the eyes of faith and the desire to see Jesus.  For he is truly being revealed in our day and our time.  This is the generation and this is the time for a new epiphany.  The Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy will reveal the mercy of Jesus in extraordinary ways. 

In Hebrews 11:6 it is written, “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for anyone who approaches God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”
During this year of Mercy, let’s put that scripture to the test. Jesus is asking you and me to step out in faith.  Jesus is asking us to seek him through prayer and through searching.  And Jesus is asking each of us to become instruments of mercy for someone else.  They will not know the mercy of Jesus unless his church is also merciful.  That begins with you and with me.  How can we get started?  Let’s review the works of mercy.

The corporal works of mercy
Feed the hungry.
Give drink to the thirsty
Clothe the naked
Shelter the homeless
Visit the sick
Visit the imprisoned
Bury the dead.

The spiritual works of mercy
Counsel the doubtful
Instruct the ignorant
Admonish sinners
Comfort the afflicted
Forgive offenses
Bear wrongs patiently
Pray for the living and the dead

Let’s do this church!  May the vision and the courage of the magi inspire us during these days of Christmas.  May the words of the prophet Isaiah come to life in us.  For it is written,
See, darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds cover the peoples; but upon you the Lord shines, and over you appears his glory.  Nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance.

We are stewards of his grace, his mercy, and his light.  This is the new epiphany of Jesus, who comes in glory with salvation for his people.