Monthly Archives: December 2017

Homily for December 25, 2017

 

HOMILY — DECEMBER 25

 

Got all your Christmas shopping done?  I kind of gave up on it long ago.  I just can’t keep up with what’s currently the rage with the young folks in the family.  The way it goes these days, anything that was in demand when you wrapped the gift is sure to be obsolete by the time the gift is unwrapped.  Oh, and then, people ask ME, “Father, what could you use?”  And my standard response is, “Go look in my office, it’s already in there somewhere!”  I used to give my family members gift certificates, but several of the stores and restaurants had gone out of business by the time we opened the cards on Christmas day.  WURZBURG’S is CLOSED??  Lanning’s is gone?  Who knew?

Now, you might be ready to tell me, look, Father, knock it off.  Christmas is not just about gift-giving.  You should be preaching about the true meaning of Christmas.  Okay, you’re right.  I’ll let you in on the true meaning of Christmas.  It’s all . . . about  . . .  GIFT-GIVING!  Hey, don’t blame me!  God started it!

Granted, all the furied and frenzied shopping and other activities of the Advent and Christmas season sometimes get our minds off just what we’re doing.  But we are imitating the activity of God himself.  He gave the world the most unexpected, amazing, undeserved gift of all:  his own Son, on his own initiative, without anyone thinking that God would actually go that far for a remarkably ungrateful human race.  Not only were we the cause of our own wretchedness, but we spurned God’s advances of love by — well, we don’t have to go into the whole rest of the story just now.  It IS Christmas, after all.  It’s time to celebrate the Gift.  There will be plenty of time during the remaining 48 weeks of the Church year to ponder what we did when that Gift was in our midst, and how God continues to pursue us with his love, never letting our sin be the last word unless we are completely unrepentant.

So don’t be shy about all the activity of gift-giving.  We do it in imitation of God.  Think of that when you are giving gifts, or writing thank-you notes, or sending belated cards, and PRAY FOR the people whom you are blessing with your kindness, and who have blessed you with theirs.  That will be the greatest kindness, the greatest blessing of all.  And take note of some of the letters we’ve received as a parish.  They’re up on the bulletin boards.  We strive to be generous as a parish with the funds you provide us in our Christian Service collections.  We used to have poor boxes at the church exits, but those didn’t get used very well.  Now we pool the money collected through the Clothing Center, the money sent to us for charity by friends around the community, and the funds provided by our parishioners in the second collection on the first weekend of each month.  Through these and other sources, we are able to send substantial gifts each year to Catholic Charities, to Mel Trotter, to the Oasis of Hope, to Habitat for Humanity, to Pine Rest, and to many other agencies who do the hands-on work for us in many diverse corners of our local community.

This is not bragging.  We are able to be generous with God’s people because of the great generosity you exercise through your parish.  And we do it with practically no overhead.  The government could (and probably SHOULD) take lessons from the Church about how to administer funds for people’s needs.  We’ve never spent $400 for a hammer!  And after you check out the letters on the bulletin boards, you can tell any naysayers among your relatives or friends or co-workers, who might complain about the Church being rich and picking people’s pockets, that we don’t do it to aggrandize ourselves.  We do it to serve and witness to Christ our Savior in the poor, the homeless, the afflicted, and all those with whom the Son of God shares a human nature — he who became poor and homeless and afflicted for US, so we could live forever in his eternal Kingdom.  What a Savior!  What a Gift!  Let’s keep on giving.  Pay it, no, pay HIM forward.  A blessed Christmas to you!

Homily for December 24, 2017

HOMILY – DECEMBER 24

King David had a great idea, sitting in his royal palace.  He knew he was the king of God’s people, yet God was still dwelling in the Ark of the Covenant, in a tent.  The people of God had begun to build up the city of Jerusalem, yet a suitable house of worship, a temple, was missing from among the city’s structures.  Nathan, David’s house prophet, said yes, building a temple sounded like a good idea to him, too.  But that night Nathan had a dream.  Basically, God said, “Go tell David, ‘You take care of the people.  I’LL take care of the temple.’”  David got the message.  His son, Solomon, would build the temple.  David’s job was to build up the people.

All this happened a thousand years before Christ.  Yet when it came time for God to send his Anointed One, his m.o., his method of operation, was very similar:  God, who had promised to be Emmanuel, “God-with-us,” in the midst of his people, would arrange a unique dwelling place for a deity.  Mary, the virgin of Nazareth, has been prepared for her task and full of grace by her own Immaculate Conception.  She receives word from God that his Word is to become flesh in her.  She will bear God’s own Son in her chaste womb, becoming an image of the Temple.  In her litany, one of the titles we give her is “Ark of the Covenant,” because she shelters God-made-flesh within her own flesh.

But God isn’t done with his plan yet.  Mary is not only an image of the Ark, and then of the Temple of the Old Covenant.  She becomes an image of what the Church shall be.  Christ, the Lamb of God, comes to earth to select a Bride and bring her home to the Father’s eternal Wedding Banquet in the Kingdom of Heaven.  But this Bride is like no other.  In Christ, the words of the prophet Isaiah in Chapter 62, verse 5, are fulfilled as God tells his people, “As a young man marries a virgin, so your Builder will marry YOU.”  So already 700 years before Christ, Isaiah was foretelling God’s action in choosing his PEOPLE to be his Bride.  It would take centuries of preparation, but when Christ arrives, the wedding announcement is made.  He offers his Body on the Cross for the salvation and eternal life of his Bride.  All who accept his invitation to follow him are called to the eternal Wedding Banquet of the Lamb.

Here on earth, while we are waiting for our call to the heavenly Wedding Feast, we are nourished with a taste of that Body and Blood of our innocent Passover Lamb, offered and poured out for us on the Cross.  Our Holy Communion forms and shapes us into God’s People, the Bride of the Lamb.  So, like Mary, although not in exactly the same physical way, we are all called to be a dwelling place for the Lord of glory.  In the Book of Revelation, St. John says in Chapter 21, verse 3, “Behold, God pitches his tent with the human race, his dwelling is with the human race.”  God chooses to live in and amongst us, his Church, his people.  We give our name to the building in which we worship, but WE are the dwelling place of God.  “And I saw no temple in the heavenly city,” St. John goes on in verse 22, “for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty, and the Lamb” (21:22).  Our intimate union with God will be complete and eternal in the Kingdom of Heaven.  Here in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, it lasts for a few moments of earthly time, but Christ comes to live in us and depends on us to bear him outside the walls of the church into the midst of the whole world — that is, into the midst of EVERYBODY ELSE.

And so we can continue to proclaim that this Incarnation miracle continues.  The poor politicians who fuss and caution us incorrectly that we can have freedom of worship IN HERE but not freedom of religion OUT THERE just don’t get it.  We don’t go out to bludgeon the rest of the world into belief, nor to beat them into submission.  It’s got to be a free act of acceptance.  But we have to try every day to live our faith in such a way that more and more will WANT to make that free act of acceptance, to declare as Mary did, “Behold, I am the handmaid, the servant of the Lord.  Let it be done to me according to his Word!”  And the Incarnation goes on.  And on.  And on.  Blessed be God!!

Homily for December 17, 2017

HOMILY – DECEMBER 17

On this Gaudete Sunday, Isaiah the prophet tells us that he rejoices heartily in the Lord, and in God is the joy of his soul.  Our patron St. Paul the Apostle bids us “Rejoice always.”  St. John the Baptist has a stern message, but that’s because there is a palpable sense of urgency in the air.  The long-awaited Anointed One is coming at last.  As Christians, we must be in a constant state of alert and anticipation, for the Lord will always have tasks of witness for us to perform, and we don’t want to miss the promptings of his Spirit.

With all that in mind, I want to share with you a few words of meditation from one of my very favorite authors, the English Catholic master of language and thought, Gilbert Keith Chesterton.  He concludes his wonderful book Orthodoxy with what could be considered an ode to joy, and to its Divine Source:

“It is said that Paganism is a religion of joy and Christianity of sorrow; it would be just as easy to prove that Paganism is pure sorrow and Christianity pure joy. . .  And the really interesting thing is this, that the pagan was (in the main) happier and happier as he approached the earth, but sadder and sadder as he approached the heavens. . .  To the pagan the small things are as sweet as the small brooks breaking out of the mountain; but the broad things are as bitter as the sea.  When the pagan looks at the very core of the cosmos he is struck cold. . .

“The mass of men have been forced to be gay about the little things, but sad about the big ones.  Nevertheless . . . it is not native to man to be so.  Man is more himself, man is more manlike, when joy is the fundamental thing in him, and grief the superficial.  Melancholy should be an innocent interlude, a tender and fugitive frame of mind; praise should be the permanent pulsation of the soul.  Pessimism is at best an emotional half-holiday; joy is the uproarious labour by which all things live. . .  Joy ought to be expansive; but for the agnostic, it must be contracted, it must cling to one corner of the world.  Grief ought to be a concentration; but for the agnostic its desolation is spread through an unthinkable eternity.  This is what I call being born upside down. . .  Christianity satisfies suddenly and perfectly man’s ancestral instinct for being the right way up; satisfies it supremely in this; that by its creed joy becomes something gigantic and sadness something special and small. . .  We are perhaps permitted tragedy as a sort of merciful comedy:  because the frantic energy of divine things would knock us down like a drunken farce.  We can take our own tears more lightly than we could take the tremendous levities of the angels.  So we sit perhaps in a starry chamber of silence, while the laughter of the heavens is too loud for us to hear.

“Joy, which was the small publicity of the pagan, is the gigantic secret of the Christian. . .  The tremendous figure which fills the Gospels towers in this respect, as in every other, above all the thinkers who ever thought themselves tall.  His pathos was natural, almost casual.  The Stoics, ancient and modern, were proud of concealing their tears.  He never concealed his tears; He showed them plainly on His open face at any daily sight, such as the far sight of His native city.  Yet he concealed something.  Solemn supermen and imperial diplomatists are proud of restraining their anger.  He never restrained His anger.  He flung furniture down the front steps of the Temple, and asked men how they expected to escape the damnation of Hell.  Yet he restrained something.  I say it with reverence; there was in that shattering personality a thread that must be called shyness.  There was something that He hid from all men when He went up a mountain to pray.  There was something that he covered constantly by abrupt silence or impetuous isolation.  There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was His mirth.”

Homily for December 10, 2017

HOMILY – DECEMBER 10

We all know that there are people who love to go around saying these are the end times, and predicting the imminent destruction of the universe.  In spite of the fact that Jesus himself said to pay no attention to them, PEOPLE DO.  Even people who claim to be Christians do.  The supermarket tabloids are always eager to run a headline saying the world is going to end on such-and-such a day.  Sells papers.  When some people spend their whole lives and a lot of other people’s money trying to figure out when it’s all going to happen, why does our Lord tell us not to listen to them?  Because it takes our focus off the REAL work of being Christian:  proclaiming the arrival of the Kingdom of God, not just on some date in the future, but RIGHT NOW!

Our patron St. Peter tells us in his Second Letter, the second reading today, “What sort of persons you ought to be, . . . waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God.”  When you start looking at the calendar, or listening to the prophets of doom, or watching the news and wondering “How long, O Lord?” let God gently answer you:  “As long as it takes.”  We’ve all had the experience of sitting and waiting in a doctor’s office.  Other people lope and lumber in, you’ve been sitting there since you were much younger, they are called in first, they come out and leave first, and you’re still waiting!  Well, I find that the older I get, the more time I spend waiting in doctors’ offices.  You know you’re reaching the golden years when the litany of the doctors and the litany of the prescriptions are longer than the litany of the saints.  But one thing I’ve discovered about waiting, whether it’s in the doctor’s office or in the airport:  You do it much better if you make it CONSTRUCTIVE!  And that’s what St. Peter is telling us:  “What sort of persons you ought to be!”

We ought to be those who never waste the precious time God gives us.  Waiting for a train to pass?  Keep a rosary handy in your car and pray a decade while the freight is rolling by.  Going to the doctor’s office?  Bring magazines with you to read there, and save time at home.  Don’t read the ones that are in the doctor’s office, people have been coughing and sneezing on them for a month!  Don’t just play video games at the airport or however you’re traveling.  Get some of that school reading list done, or improve your mind by enjoying a classic novel or biography.  When I was in canon law school, I spent my two hours on the bus and subway each day doing my homework.  We’ll find we won’t need to RELAX so much if we’ve accomplished things while we’re waiting for other things.

But this isn’t just a lesson in the constructive use of time.  It’s about proclaiming the Kingdom of God in union with Christ.  We know from the Gospels that Jesus had “down” time:  he slept, he enjoyed the innocent company of children, he retreated into the mountains or into the desert, he enjoyed pointing out the wonders of nature to his disciples and teaching them things about God by having them look more deeply at creation.  And yet even in these moments that we might call a “breather,” he was proclaiming the Kingdom of God.  We are to imitate that behavior of the Word made flesh, giving comfort to God’s people, speaking tenderly to Jerusalem, proclaiming that her service is at an end, her guilt is absolved.  We must never fear to cry out to the cities of Judah and of all the world, “Here is your God!  Like a shepherd he feeds his flock, and gathers the lambs in his arms.”  How people everywhere need to hear these words of divine consolation!  GOD REALLY LOVES THEM!  If we spend all our time and energy trying eagerly to get that message across in word and action, our waiting will never seem long at all.  We’ll be too busy about the Lord’s work to think about it.  And when the Lord comes, “Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival.”  And whether it’s sooner or later, we won’t even mind, because we’ll realize that that’s what life was supposed to be all about, anyway.

 

Homily for December 3, 2017

HOMILY – DECEMBER 3

Our first reading today makes us wonder:  Is it Advent, or is it LENT?  The prophet Isaiah, speaking on behalf of God’s people, gives voice to lots of admission of guilt — not just individual guilt, but our COMMON guilt.  “Why let US wander from your ways, why let US harden OUR hearts so WE fear you?”  Note:  WE, US, OUR — it’s not just my own personal sins of which I’m guilty.

We hear a lot these days about sins that seem bigger than any one of us, things like “institutional racism,” or more recently, “systemic sexism.”  What do we mean by such terms?  How do we resolve them?  Or first, how do we come to PARTICIPATE in them?  How do we AVOID them?  Well, such terms help to teach us that, for instance, you don’t have to shun or ridicule people of a different race or language or religion or ability to let them know they’re DIFFERENT — just don’t INCLUDE them.  Then, when something really ugly or violent happens, you can say, “I didn’t do anything!!”  And you’d be right!  But that’s the PROBLEM!  You.  Didn’t.  Do.  Anything.

Same thing with all the current buzz about sexual advances in the workplace, whether in the movie capital of the world or the nation’s Capitol in Washington.  And we don’t have to go that far.  How many workplaces have I heard of right close to home where the chit-chat is all about who the assistant manager is making a move on THIS week?  If that doesn’t sound like any place YOU’VE ever worked, thank God for the favor.  You must have really meant it when you prayed, “Lead us not into temptation”!

But truthfully, we don’t even have to go outside our own HOMES for examples of moral laxity.  What about simple neglect of piety?  Ask yourself:  how often do your kids or grandkids see you pray, OTHER THAN at Mass or at meals?  And if you take them to a restaurant, do you stop to pray?  Do you lead them in the sign of the cross?  Or do you not want to call attention to yourselves and your faith?  In other words, have they gotten the message from you that religion and faith are PRIVATE matters, not to be displayed or shared in public?  Believe me, that’s the message that the world around us wants to drill into them, and it’s GLAD to have your cooperation!  That’s why we heard many politicians so often in the last decade talking about freedom of WORSHIP rather than freedom of RELIGION:  keep it in church, don’t let it affect your life out here.

How often do your kids and grandkids see you reading Scripture or praying the rosary?  How often do you ask them to join you in doing that?  I’ve had many parents over the years, in parishes all over, ask why their sons and daughters have quit going to church.  “We raised them Catholic,” they’ll say.  But all too often I’ve heard parents say they don’t bother with church when they’re on vacation, or they laugh about not having been to confession in years, or they talk openly with friends about what methods of artificial contraception they’re using.  And the kids can’t help but pick up such attitudes as basically WINKING at anything the Church has to offer.  How can we blame the kids for not taking their faith seriously when we’ve provided a garden of spiritual cement for it to grow on?

See how easily we can create a climate of indifference when we don’t regard our baptism and our discipleship of Christ as the CENTRAL purpose and mission of our lives?  We can’t afford to be a teacher or an engineer or a clerk who HAPPENS to be Catholic.  We have to be CATHOLICS who happen to be lawyers and teachers and doctors and community leaders!  The world around us is so opposed to the message of Christ that unless we are Catholic FIRST, we stand in danger of losing our faith altogether, or at least of not passing it on effectively to the next generation as something of eternal relevance.

The world thinks that divine revelation is a lot of hocus-pocus.  It will demand PROOF for what we claim is truth.  So remember:  Your LIFE might be the only Scripture many people will ever read.  When Jesus tells us in the Gospel, “Watch!” he means WATCH!  BE ALERT! — for opportunities to witness to him, not just WATCH the world go by.  If you aren’t pro-active with your faith, the world will gladly steam-roll right over you.  And your deadliest sin will be that of omission.