Sunday, December 28, 2008

Holy Family Homily

In my 18 months here, I imagine that you’ve come to know or recognize my nerdiness. I don’t mean that I’m socially awkward, though I can be, but that I like to know how things work. I don’t just like to know your job, I want to know what or how you do it. I don’t just like to know what you made for dinner, I want to know how you made it. Receiving a gift is good but understanding that gift is better. This is why I love being Catholic because so many of our feasts are not simply about the gift but about understanding it.

On Christmas Eve and Day we celebrated the reception of a gift. We received the gift, for no thing is greater than God. In the midst of our busy cleaning, eating, returning and more; do we stop and think: what does this gift, the gift of God mean? The days after Christmas: the Feast of the Holy Family and the Feast of the Mother of God especially are meant to think about the gift. What does it mean that God chose a human being to save humanity? What does it mean that Jesus had a divine will and a human will united within one person? What does it mean that Jesus was raised in the quiet of a poor human family for 30 years?

Well, I’m just as tired as you from this beginning of our Christmas season, so while I cant fully answer these questions today, I do desire to aim our thoughts for the remaining 10 of the 12 days of Christmas.

God deliberately chose a family to rear, teach, and love the Son until He began His saving work at the age of thirty. God deliberately chose a frail human: body, mind and soul for His own in Jesus Christ, Emmanuel. This means there must be some higher good, some higher aim for us as human beings within human relationships. We know that our humanity is weak, we know that we are sinners and yet God chose that same humanity for Himself to show us what more we can desire from our human life.

One of the most important thing for newlyweds to do is to simply be with each other. From that simple appreciation they grow in wonder and awe that each would choose the other and truly become a beautiful couple. By coming to us in human flesh, God has wedded His divinity to our humanity. We must spend time in these twelve days of Christmas wondering what this great gift means.

Christian salvation isn’t simply a matter for the end of our life, for our deathbed, but is something that can season and change our whole life. This is why our enemy, Satan, opposes us- not simply in going to Christmas Mass but in even thinking about what Christmas means. Jesus was true God and true man from the first moment of His conception in the Virgin’s womb. In the life of Jesus from conception to death and the resurrection, God shows us what human life can be. Our own life will be richer, our own humanity more truly human, if we make the time this Christmas to read, to pray, and to wonder. Won’t you be a Catholic nerd with me?

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Christmas Midnight Mass

Which Christmas scene do our hearts desire? Do our hearts desire the soft, the quiet, the hidden scene of Bethlehem? Do our hearts desire the loud, the brash, the bold proclamation of the field? Where would God have us meet Him?

We often want God to make the bold proclamation. We want God to rent a sky-writer or, better yet, a blimp with a scrolling message on the side: “God exists!” What would we do if, one night we looked up and saw a new constellation that says: “I am here!” Wouldn’t the world be a buzz: the American News, CNN, Foxnews, Drudge, everyone would be talking about this profound and powerful message. Yet many of us would believe, not because we wanted to but because we would have no choice. The shining constellation of God’s existence would bring us to believe as our hearts are beaten into submission. This is not God’s way.

The wisdom of God is shown that Jesus comes in the soft, the quiet, and the hidden scene of Bethlehem. God does not come to overpower us but to woo us. The infant Jesus is not bold but the angels are to point Him out. The infant Jesus is small so that we might be truly free to love Him.

Much like a fairy tale where the prince dresses as the pauper to see who receives him with love, the Prince of Peace comes as a defenseless babe to allow us to love Him. Does Jesus deserve fanfare, majesty, and solemnity? Yes and it is good for us to honor Him so! But He comes to us in the quiet of night, in the quiet of a voiceless child to allow us to love Him.

The Prophet Isaiah says: “For every boot that tramped in battle, every cloak rolled in blood, will be burned as fuel for flames. For a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests.” The boots, the battle, the cloak and the blood are our own struggles with sin. Our battle against sin in ourselves, in others, and in the world will be ended. The baby can put an end to battle, to strife, to sin and to war because He lays claim by His very existence. A baby is greater than a speech or a story or a sign in the sky because a baby lives!

Those of us who meet this baby on His level, without pretense or pride, we who meet Jesus in humility and love receive His peace and joy. Whoever meets Jesus in the weakness of a baby receives His peace and joy to bring and to share with all others. So as we kneel at the manger this Christmas morning, as we kneel at the foot of the Crucifix this Mass, let us lay down our pride, our pretense and our battles. Let us ask the meek baby who is the Lord to relieve us of the burden of sin and strife so we may receive His peace and joy and so be His missionaries to the world.

Christmas Vigil

What is the true meaning of Christmas? Is it found in cookies? Is it found in trees? Is it found in gifts? What is the true meaning of Christmas?

The true meaning of Christmas is in cookies, for they remind us of the sweetness of our Lord. Most food is practical- meat and potatoes to keep us going each day, but a cookie is impractical, a superabundant gift of love! That is why we bake cookies at Christmas, we spend precious time and express ourselves to imitate that superabundant love of God in Jesus Christ.

The true meaning of Christmas is in trees, for they remind us of the life giving power of God. All around the evergreen tree, everything is dead or dormant: the noble oak and the beautiful rose are all silent, but the evergreen still grows in the dead of winter. God the Father works through the Spirit of Jesus to bring us life in the midst of death.

The true meaning of Christmas is found in gifts, for they remind us of the supreme gift of God in Jesus Christ. Gifts were given out of the beautiful desire to imitate God. We give gifts to our family and friends, not because they’ve earned it, but because we love them. God gives Himself to us in His Son, Jesus Christ, not because we’ve earned the gift but because He loves us.

The true meaning of Christmas can be found in many different ordinary things around us, we’ve only forgotten the reason that our ancestors began to bake, decorate, and give. The reason our ancestors began all of “this” that we now consider Christmas is one word.

Emmanuel.

The highest and truest meaning of Christmas, Emmanuel, a Hebrew word that means, “God is with us.”

Emmanuel, God is with us. What does it mean that “God is with us?” It is easy to believe that God is with us when everything goes our way. When we hit the lotto, when it is 70 and sunny, when we get straight A’s but what about the other days? What about the bankrupt, the corrupt, the sinful, the betraying and betrayed days? That is when we most need to know- God is with us.

The prophet Isaiah speaks the Word of God and says: “For Zion’s sake, I will not be silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet, until her vindication shines forth like the dawn and her victory like burning torch.” God says, I know you have been forsaken and desolate but I will make you delighted and espoused to Me, in fact as a young man marries a virgin, I will marry you and as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride, so shall your God rejoice in you.

Jesus is the sign that God delights in us just as our cookies signify our delight in others. Words fade away, parchment crumbles, but the gift of a life stands forever. Even people who do not believe that Jesus is Lord, know that He historically existed. He is God’s enduring gift to us. Let us enshrine, welcome, and delight in Him so that we may know the Father’s delight in us.

4th Sunday of Advent

Little green notepads, flashlights and tube socks. Throughout all my Christmas memories I consistently remember these three gifts: little green notepads, flashlights and tube socks. We always got my dad his yearly supply of little green notepads; they fit into his shirt pockets and he used them predictably. Speaking of my dad, he always got us flashlights: maglights, led powered, and even crank powered- but our stockings always had a new flashlight. As for the socks, well, whose Christmas doesn’t include socks? Some things are always the same. We know, more or less certainly, what we will receive on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning. We know the gifts, the dinner, the cookies, and we even know how much weight we will gain as well as how long it will take to loose it.

What have we received spiritually at Christmas? Have we received joy, conversion, love of God or some other spiritual consolation? Or has your spiritual experience of Christmas been little different than green notebooks, flashlights, and tube socks?

The Church gives us this Gospel passage on this final Sunday of Advent to whet our spiritual appetites for Christmas. This was the pivotal moment of God’s relationship with humanity. Through out the Old Testament, God revealed himself partially, gradually, as we all do in our own relationships. But like a long courtship, here is the definitive moment. Mary represents all of humanity as she stands before the angel Gabriel and hears God’s fullest proposal to all of us. And Mary said yes. For herself and for all of us Mary said yes.

Each year at Christmas should be an opportunity for us to stand with Mary and receive God’s proposal. Jesus desires to be our intimate friend, our ready help, and our fullest fulfillment. All the ways that Jesus has called us, corrected us, and revealed himself to us through out the year can come to a peak at this moment. Can we say yes?

Mary didn’t say yes by her own strength, by her own ability. She is called “full of grace,” and told that the “power of the Most High will overshadow you.” It was the Holy Spirit who gave her the strength and courage to respond to the Lord’s call. The Lord offers us that very same Spirit in the life of His Church. Can we say yes?

Mary’s yes didn’t stop there, it wasn’t a fairy tale where “they all lived happily ever after,” but this was real life. Mary had to endure many trials- loosing Jesus for three days in the Temple when he was twelve and then sharing the agony of His crucifixion and death. Through it all, Mary was sustained by the Spirit of fortitude and remained faithful to her yes. Can we say yes?

We have all said, “yes,” in our baptism, our confirmation, our confessions, and our Sunday Mass. We know that even if we are unfaithful to our “yes,” our Lord will never abandon us. His friendship is constant and His desire is for our holiness and happiness. In these final days before Christmas, let us ask for Mary’s help so that we may follow her Son and her Lord with her very same faithfulness.

[Any profundity comes from Pope Benedict's Angelus message at WYD 2008]

3rd Sunday of Advent

Gaudete in Dominum, gaudete in Dominum, omnes gentes, Alleluia! [sung]

Where does true joy come form? Sadly, true joy is too rare. Even more sadly true joy does not come from cookies, steaks, movies or sleep. I say sadly because I’ve spent many hours and many dollars seeking true joy in these things. Where does true joy come from? Gaudete in Dominum…

In our first reading, Isaiah says he rejoices in the Lord who clothes him in salvation. In our psalm response, we sing the Blessed Virgin Mary’s song “My soul rejoices in God my Savior.” In our second reading St. Paul speaks of the joy of persevering in the holy life. Where then do we find true joy? Gaudete in Dominum…

True joy will always and only come from the salvation of Jesus Christ. We are afflicted by sadness, stress and division because we are still enslaved by sin. Not only are we guilty of individual sins but we do like captives. The doubt and brokenness of sin keep us from experiencing the fullness of life. Jesus Christ is the true giver of joy: not MasterCard, Visa, or American Express. We try to imitate this joy by giving our own gifts but our best efforts fall short and like John the Baptist we are unworthy to even unfasten the sandals of Jesus who brings us true joy. Gaudete in Dominum…

So I’d like to help you find more joy this Advent by making a good confession. Our letter with confession and Mass times will be arriving at your homes this week. Until then let me remind you to pray and P.R.A.Y.

Prepare: find 5 or 10 minutes in the coming busy days to go over your life since your last confession. Write things down if you have to, even politicians use notes, why shouldn’t you?

Remember Mortal Sins: Each and every mortal sin must be confessed each year- and we remember that we should avoid receiving Holy Communion if we are in a state of Mortal Sin. If we are in doubt- bring it to confession.

Avoid generalities: Just like with your doctor, the more specific and simply you can state your sins, the better your confession. Don’t worry about context or reasons- if Father wants them, he’ll ask for them. Satan, our enemy, always wants to obscure things. Keep It Simple.

You’re not alone: the loneliest place in the world is the last 5 feet before the confessional. Remember, Father goes to confession just like you. Everyone else who is in line? They are going to confession as well. We all stand before God as sinners to receive mercy through Jesus Christ.

Once I was just a penitent and now I am a penitent and a confessor. I have always found joy, true joy in confession. I pray that you will to as you prepare for Christmas. I pray you will desire to come back to confession more frequently. I even hope you will leave the confessional, softly singing: Gaudete in Dominum…

Our Lady of Guadalupe Homily

[Translated into Spanish by a kindly friend and given in Spanish]

On this day it is a great joy to gather with you to honor our Lord and God, Jesus Christ, by remembering the appearance of His Mother. Whatever language we speak, whatever country we come from and whatever country we live in, Our Lady Guadalupe offers us a fine example of the life of Christ. When we look at the image from St. Juan Diego’s tilma, we can learn three ways to imitate Our Lady as we follow our Lord Jesus Christ.

The first lesson Our Lady teaches is purity. Her eyes are focused on Jesus Christ, her son and her Lord. When we think of purity we should think of our Lady- every decision, every choice that she made on earth came from contemplating Jesus Christ. When we make Jesus Christ the first consideration in every thought, deed, and desire, then we will be pure.

The second lesson Our Lady teaches us is to give birth to Jesus. You notice that she wears the belt of someone who is pregnant. This is the only appearance of Mary where she is pregnant with Jesus. We must be ready to give birth to Jesus by inviting others to the Catholic life. After Mary appeared to St. Juan Diego, it was a brief matter of years before the people of Mexico received the faith. We join Mary in telling everyone about Jesus and the Catholic life.

The final lesson Our Lady teaches us is piety. See how her hands are folded in prayer? Every thing that happened to her was moment for prayer- when the angel Gabriel appeared, when she greeted Elizabeth, when Jesus was born and beyond. We must follow Mary and take every moment as an opportunity to pray.

Immaculate Conception Homily

“In him we were also chosen,
destined in accord with the purpose of the One
who accomplishes all things according to the intention of his will,
so that we might exist for the praise of his glory,
we who first hoped in Christ.”

Today’s feast is about the Blessed Virgin Mary, but it is also about us. Tonight we honor the great work of God in Mary and renew our participation in His work in us.

Some people feel awkward about honoring Mary. Some people feel that honoring Mary takes away from Jesus Christ. When we understand what we celebrate—that at the beginning of her life, God protected Mary from sin—then we realize we do not simply honor Mary, we honor God. When we honor a painting, we give praise to the artist. God is the supreme author of the Immaculate Conception.

If we know our own sin, we know the need for this singular gift to Mary. We know that, like Adam and Eve, we are fearful of what God asks of us. Sin makes us afraid, grace allows us to say yes. If there were no grace, no Immaculate Conception, Mary would not have been free to say yes, to say “Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord!”

At the same time, there is grace for us. There is grace through Jesus Christ so that we too may say yes, we too may say “Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord!” God desires for us to be free from sin. God desires for us to not simply refrain from anger but to pray for those who harm us. God desires us to be fully alive, choosing him at all moments.

What God desires for us is not self-fulfillment but full participation in His own life. What the world calls “self-fulfillment” is a contradiction and is also too little for us. We have a loftier destination. We might say that conversion consists precisely in not considering ourselves as our own "creators" and thereby discovering the truth, for we are not the authors of ourselves. –Pope Benedict XVI

Let us ask Mary to help us, to pray for us as our Mother, our Patroness, and our example.