Solemnity of the B.V.M. Mother of God – 17

Solemnity of the B.V.M. Mother of God – 17

Nm 6:22-27, Gal 4:4-7; Lk 2:16-21

Someone once said, “I made 6 resolutions last year and I kept them all year long, they are in an envelope on the top of my file cabinet.”

Someone prayed the New Year Prayer, Dear Lord! So far, this year I’ve done well. I haven’t gossiped, I haven’t lost my temper, I haven’t been greedy, grumpy, nasty, selfish, or overindulgent.

I’m very thankful for that. But in a few minutes, Lord, I’m going to get out of bed, and from then on, I’m probably going to need a lot more help. Amen.

On the first day of the year, the liturgy resounds in the Church throughout the world with the ancient priestly blessing that we heard during today’s first reading:

“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace” (Num.6:24-26).

This blessing was entrusted by God, through Moses, to Aaron and his sons, that is, to the priests of the people of Israel. It is a triple blessing filled with light, radiating from the repetition of the name of God, the Lord, and from the image of his face.

In fact, in order to be blessed, we have to stand in God’s presence, take his Name upon us and remain in the cone of light that issues from his Face, in a space lit up by his gaze, diffusing grace and peace.

This was the very experience that the shepherds of Bethlehem had, who reappear in today’s Gospel. They had the experience of standing in God’s presence, they received his blessing not in the hall of a majestic palace, in the presence of a great sovereign, but in a stable, before a “babe lying in a manger” (Lk 2:16).

From this child, a new light issue forth, shining in the darkness of the night, as we can see in so many paintings depicting Christ’s Nativity. Henceforth, it is from him that blessing comes, from his name – Jesus, meaning “God saves” – and from his human face, in which God, the almighty Lord of heaven and earth, chose to become incarnate, concealing his glory under the veil of our flesh, so as to reveal fully to us his goodness (Tit 3:4).

The first to be swept up by this blessing was Mary the virgin, the spouse of Joseph, chosen by God from the first moment of her existence to be the mother of his incarnate Son. She is the “blessed among women” (Lk.1:42) – in the words of Saint Elizabeth’s greeting.

Her whole life was spent in the light of the Lord, within the radius of his name and of the face of God incarnate in Jesus, the “blessed fruit of her womb”. This is how Luke’s Gospel presents her to us: fully intent upon guarding and meditating in her heart upon everything concerning her son Jesus (Lk.2:19, 51).

The mystery of her divine motherhood that we celebrate today contains in superabundant measure the gift of grace that all human motherhood bears within it, so much so that the fruitfulness of the womb has always been associated with God’s blessing.

The Mother of God is the first of the blessed, and it is she who bears the blessing; she is the woman who received Jesus into herself and brought him forth for the whole human family. In the words of the liturgy: “without losing the glory of virginity, [she] brought forth into the world the eternal light, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Mary is the mother and model of the Church, who receives the divine Word in faith and offers herself to God as the “good soil” in which he can continue to accomplish his mystery of salvation.

The Church also participates in the mystery of divine motherhood, through preaching, which sows the seed of the Gospel throughout the world, and through the sacraments, which communicate grace and divine life to men.

The Church exercises her motherhood especially in the sacrament of Baptism, when she generates God’s children from water and the Holy Spirit, who cries out in each of them: “Abba, Father!” (Gal 4:6).

Like Mary, the Church is the mediator of God’s blessing for the world: she receives it in receiving Jesus and she transmits it in bearing Jesus. He is the mercy and the peace that the world, of itself, cannot give, and which it needs always, at least as much as bread.

Dear friends, peace, in the fullest and highest sense, is the sum and synthesis of all blessings. So, when two friends meet, they greet one another, wishing each other peace.

The Church too, on the first day of the year, invokes this supreme good in a special way; she does so, like the Virgin Mary, by revealing Jesus to all, for as Saint Paul says, “He is our peace” (Eph.2:14), and at the same time the “way” by which individuals and peoples can reach this goal to which we all aspire.

But the challenge is placed before us nonetheless. To meet that challenge, it seems to me that we should all give more space in our daily lives to prayer, worship, silence, and study. These are the tools that will help us to become more conscious of God.

More time to prayer, not just vocal prayer or memorized prayer, but prayer from the heart. Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, which is a long tradition in this parish, is a worthy and fruitful endeavor.

The Church will never cease to invite us to come and adore Him, present for us, in the mystery of the Most Blessed Sacrament. Reading the Bible, slowly, thoughtfully, with devotion can also help us immerse ourselves in the things of God.

Daily mass at least once during the week, in addition to Sunday Mass will bring enormous benefits to our spiritual lives. And more silence to counter the seemingly endless noise that fills our ears day by day.

This alone will help us find balance and spiritual equilibrium in our hectic, fast paced world in which we live.

May I humbly offer then these pathways to greater depths of spiritual awareness, and consciousness of God? They are the paths walked by Mary, Joseph, the simple shepherds, the wise men who were so observant and attuned to God that they did not miss the mystery unfolding in their midst.

Let us be like them in this new year, a year of grace, keeping these things and reflecting on them in our hearts. Because in doing so, the Lord will bless us and keep us; the Lord will let his face shine upon us and be gracious to us; the Lord will look upon us kindly and give us his peace. Amen.

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Christmas – 16

Christmas – 16

Merry Christmas! Don’t be afraid to say it… Merry Christmas!

The story is told about a priest who spent weeks preparing his Christmas homily. By Christmas eve he had it carefully written out. But the priest was nervous and – as was his custom – he took a shot of whiskey to calm his nerves.

Well, this Christmas homily was a big one, so he took a second shot, and a third. He went into his bedroom to get dressed and when he came back to his study, the priest could not find the text of his homily. He began searching in all the desk drawers and shelves, but it was nowhere in sight.

He searched for a half an hour. Nothing. It was getting close to time for the Christmas eve Mass. He knew he could not give the homily without the text in front of him. Finally, in desperation the priest lifted his eyes to heaven and prayed, “Lord, help me find my homily.

If you do, I will never drink another drop of whiskey.” When he looked down, there, right in front of him – as if by a miracle – he saw the homily. He lifted his eyes back up to heaven and said, “Never mind, Lord. I found it myself.”

Now, I won’t tell you if that priest was me, but I wanted to begin with a humorous story because it ties in with the theme of this Christmas homily. The English writer, G.K. Chesterton referred to Christmas as a “sacred jest.” A jest is a quick, playful joke.

A joke involves bringing opposites together in an unexpected way. The little story, which I told, contained the contradiction between the priest’s simple piety and his desire for another shot of whiskey. We laugh – or at least smile – because we recognize similar contradictory things inside ourselves.

Christmas brings together the greatest of all opposites: God, who surrenders his power to become a helpless infant. The One who lives in the freedom of eternity binds himself in time. God – a simple, unchangeable spirit – takes on corruptible human flesh.

This is greatest jest of all. Chesterton expressed it in a memorable rhyme: And on that sacred jest the whole of Christianity doth rest.

When Chesterton said that Christianity is based on a joke, he does not mean that it is a made-up story. No, it is a true story, based on real historical events, but the story involves the bringing together of opposites in a surprising, unexpected way.

In order to be a Christian, a person needs a sense of humor. You can define a sense of humor as the ability to see through things, to get the point.

My dear brothers and sisters, all of our ideals, all of our dreams of what we want to be, and of what our world can be… all of our visions and understandings of God, and of God’s ways with us, are focused now on a child… God’s Anointed One, God’s Christ.

For a child, is born unto us, a son is given us, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying powerless in a manger, there being no room for him elsewhere in our world for his birth.

It is a sacred moment into which we now enter, a precious moment, a holy hour observed all over the world in Midnight Masses.

Midnight Mass gathers so many different people in a lovely moment of peace and happiness – Blacks and Whites, Asians, Africans, Latinos and Anglos…. Catholics, both active and devout as well as marginal and estranged, Protestants, members of others great faiths, and even doubtful believers with hesitant faith.

It is a transcendent moment when we suspend business as usual, when we suspend suspicion and animosities, when we lay aside resentments and jealousies, push back our hurts and anger. The Christmas story we have just heard once again presents us with tremendous vistas.

They offer the possibility of transforming yet again our beaten-up world and our humanity as we’re now living it; they offer us the invitation to take hold of God’s power and allow Him to re-shape our lives, our present condition, and our souls.

It is the prerogative of God to do such things. Isaiah’s cry once again reaches deep into our souls proclaiming: The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined.

For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor you have broken…. For a child, has been born for us, a son given us; authority rests on his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah’s cry is a fitting introduction to the Gospel account just read, the Christmas story, the infancy narrative of Jesus Christ.

In the darkness of our clutter and pollution, in our wasted energy and wasted lives, in the ruins of Jerusalem in which Isaiah cries out, in our deceptions both personal and in high public office, and in our aggressions – individual, racial and national, we hear it proclaimed once again that the grace of God has appeared.

And it offers salvation for us all, calling us to righteousness, giving us reasonable expectation and hope that human life can be changed, redeemed and transformed. The amazing account we have just heard is the good news of amazing grace made human flesh.

In our darkness, how do we and interpret life? How do we interpret our own lives and the lives of our families? What light do we offer our sons and daughters in which to see and judge?

Tonight, we can turn to offer them a gift that can never be bought in any shopping mall… tonight in Christ’s Mass, Christmas Midnight Mass, we can offer them a gift that can only come from God, the reality and the truth that the life of God has become and still becomes human life.

You are celebrating this Mass with very real people who have discovered that there is more goodness in our world than evil… that there is more good in their selves than they once thought before.

You are among people who attend Mass each and every weekend, not out of obligation and fear of hell, but out of love. You are among people who are recovering their lives from addictions, who have undergone major conversions, and who have come to know Jesus in very personal, intimate and loving ways.

Tremendous power, infinite faith, hope, love, goodness, wisdom and vision are all here…. for each one of you, and for me along with you.

This is the moment when ordinary humanity is given the power to become extra-ordinary…the moment when ordinary bread and common wine become infinitely extra-ordinary… and when all that seems fairy-tale like in the telling becomes very real and very human in the living.

The eternal Word, that Word that is God, became quite human so that we might more easily see and understand… and more divinely live.

It is Christ’s Mass, Christmas Midnight Mass, a precious moment that can become a forever of moments for you and for me, all because of a God who does not reject and despise your humanity and mine…. because He has fallen in love with us.

May that gift and that Good News be forever yours and your children’s, forever yours and mine and our friends’, forever a part of the blessed and wonderful life we share here in our Sacred Heart family of faith.

May God bless you all. Merry Christmas.

 

4th Sunday of Advent Year A – 16

4th Sunday of Advent Year A – 16

Is.7:10-14/ Rom.1:1-7/ Matt.1:18-24

Next Sunday we will hear that beautiful Christmas carol “What child is this?” In fact, we are already hearing it at Nursing homes, shopping malls and supermarkets, along with the ringing of cash registers.

But just to make sure that we are talking about the same carol, the first few lines goes like this: “What child is this, who laid to rest on Mary’s lap is sleeping? When angels greet with anthems sweet, while shepherds watch are keeping.”

That’s a beautiful Christmas carol and it captures the essence of the reason of the season – “This, this is Christ the King…”

Yes, everything is made so clearly to us now, so much so that we may take it for granted and may not feel the depth of the mystery of the birth of Christ.

But if Joseph, whom we heard in the gospel, had known about that Christmas carol during his time, he might have changed the title from “What Child is this” to “Whose Child is this”.

Joseph had his dreams and his hopes about his future. Mary was betrothed to him and he would have dreamed of a happy family and children of his own.

And then, this had to happen. He came to know that Mary was pregnant and obviously his first question was “Whose child is this?” It was certainly not his child; not his, but whose? To say that Joseph felt disappointment and cheated might be an under-statement.

And to his reaction was an obvious reaction. He decided to call off the marriage. But being a man of honor, he decided to do it quietly and informally. He was hurt, but he was man enough to contain it. He didn’t want anybody else to be hurt.

In that sense, he still cared about Mary and he wanted to spare her the publicity, which would be a devastating publicity against the unwed and pregnant Mary. Yet, that did not answer the question “whose child is this?” Who is the father?

And then as if all the questions in his mind were not enough for him, he gets a dream about an angel telling him what to do next. Joseph is one of the central characters in the whole Christmas story and yet he is the only one who had nothing recorded of what he said or what he thought.

But it certainly cannot be said that Joseph was a simpleton and simply did what he was told. Joseph had to lay aside his broken dreams and his disappointments and to make that decision to accept the pregnant Mary and to take her home as his wife.

Therein lies the greatness of Joseph. He took the responsibility to care for Mary and her child. Even though the angel told him in the dream that the child was conceived by the Holy Spirit, would that really answer the question “Whose child is this?”

Would he be able to comprehend that truth? Would we be able to comprehend that truth? Who can believe that virginity and motherhood would go together? Because a virgin mother had no precedent whether in the religious realm, or in the secular realm.

So how to believe? And neither can we expect Joseph to believe so easily. And if we were in Joseph’s shoes, what would we do? Are we going to follow dreams and mystery, or do what Joseph originally intended – just spare the publicity and settle it quietly.

There is this story of a wise and holy man who lived at the outskirts of a village. Everyone revered him for being upright and holy. Then a beautiful girl in the village got pregnant. Her angry parents demanded to know who was responsible.

At first, she was reluctant to reveal, but under pressure, the anxious and embarrassed girl pointed to that wise and holy man. The parents and the village elders went to confront the holy man and accused him of being a cheater and a fake.

To their accusations, his reply was simply: Is that so? When the child was born, the parents took the child to that holy man and demanded that he take responsibility for the child, since he was the father.

His reply was: Is that so? But he took the child in, and for many months, he took good care of the child. But the girl who could no longer take it, finally confessed that the real father was a young man of the village whom she wanted to protect.

The parents and the village elders immediately went to that holy man, they apologized profusely to him and proclaimed his innocence and their respect for him; his only reply was: Is that so?

A reply like “Is that so?” can mean anything from being stoic to enigmatic. Or it may mean we don’t know and we also don’t care. But for Joseph, he did not know clearly whose child it is that Mary was carrying.

But in the end, he took responsibility for Mary and her child and with that the Christmas Story turned from mystery to reality. Life had many twists and turns. We may not ask questions like “Whose child is this?”

But our questions would be “Whose job is this?” or “Whose mistake is this?” or “Whose fault is this?” Joseph also had his questions, but in the end, he took upon himself the responsibility of caring for Mary and Jesus, and Christmas became a reality.

In life, when people don’t do their job, or when a mistake is made and people start blaming each other, it is the poor, the vulnerable and the helpless who will have to suffer the consequences. But like Joseph, when we take the responsibility upon ourselves, then we can make Christmas a reality.

And we will truly know what Child it is that we are celebrating at Christmas. Christianity goes beyond doctrines, moral norms, and teachings. It goes beyond how we behave.

While all of those things are important, we need to recognize that Christianity essentially involves vision… seeing things as God sees them… seeing things in God’s Light… recognizing reality and truth. Pontius Pilate during the trial of Jesus asked the central question.

Truth is not something we establish, it comes from outside of us; it’s something we attain, something we come to recognize. The world thinks otherwise. “Truth?” Pilate asked, “What is truth?” Then, having disposed of truth, he had Jesus crucified.

Christmas is filled with the theme of light and darkness. We recall the Star of Bethlehem and the Magi, the Wise Men, those seers and seekers who came to honor the Source of Wisdom and Light. Christmas is celebrated at that time of the year when darkness fills most of the day.

Our Americanized commercial Christmas fills our modern-day darkness with glitzy lights and glitter that all but blind us to the birth of Jesus, the Light of the World, the Light for the world that comes down to us from God in heaven.

Being a Christian involves viewing reality in a light that is different from all other sources of vision and knowledge. Christianity is all about seeing things and seeing people as Jesus sees them.

For the Kingdom of Heaven is not some pie-in-the-sky fantasyland that is divorced from our lives and the reality in which we live. It is, as Jesus said, here among us. With the right insights, we are not very far from it. Come and see. And may the peace and joy of Christmas be with you. Amen.

3rd Sunday of Advent Year A – 16

3rd Sunday of Advent Year A – 16

Is.35:1-6, 10; Jas.5:7-10; Mt.11:2-11

Barbara Bartocci, a religious author and motivational speaker was searching for the perfect birthday card for her husband a few years ago. She came across a promising one. On the outside, it read: “Sweet heart, you are the answer to my prayers.”

Then she turned to the inside, which was inscribed like this: “You are not what I prayed for exactly, but apparently, you are the answer.”

The common theme running through today’s readings is one of joy and encouragement. The readings stress the need for patience in those awaiting the rebirth of Jesus in their hearts and lives.

They give us messages of hope—for people almost three millennia ago, for people at the beginning of the first millennium and for people today.

“Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God.” Today is Rejoicing Sunday. Today the candle on the wreath is pink, not purple as on the other Sundays of Advent; to express the joy felt at the nearness of the Lord. Some people seem to be happy by nature; others mournful by nature.

Three things about happiness: First, happiness is right now. We convince ourselves that life will be better when we get married, have a baby, then another. Then we are frustrated that the kids are not old enough and we will be more content when they are.

After that we are frustrated that we have teenagers to deal with. We will certainly be happy when they are out of that stage. We tell ourselves that our life will be complete when our spouse gets his or her act together. The truth is there is no better time to be happy than right now.

Second, ‘If you are happy, let your face know’. Maybe we could begin to be more joyful by taking a peek in the mirror and asking ourselves: does my face look like the face of someone who has heard the good news of the Gospel, namely that I am loved unconditionally by God?

Third, joy will come to us if we set about actively trying to create it for others. If I go about my life demanding that others carry me rather than seeking to carry them; feeding off others rather than feeding them; demanding that others meet my needs rather than trying to meet theirs, joy will never find me no matter how hard I party or try to crank up good cheer

Could John the Baptist have doubted? Why did John the Baptist send from his prison cell that urgent question to Jesus: “Are you He that is to come?” Hadn’t John recognized our Lord as the Messiah several months previously, at the Jordan, when he proclaimed Him publicly as the Lamb of God?

Did John, faced with almost certain death under Herod, have doubts or second thoughts about Jesus? Some say no, John only asked the question for the sake of his followers, who needed confirmation of their faith from Christ himself.

Instead of criticizing Jesus or breaking away from him, John approached Jesus through his disciples. The disciples asked Jesus whether he was the one to come or if they should look for another. John may have had his doubts, but he was open to hearing Jesus say that he was, indeed, the one! John must have recognized the scriptural allusions behind Jesus’ answer.

Isaiah 29:18 speaks of the deaf hearing and the blind seeing.  Isaiah 35:6 speaks of the lame leaping like a deer. Isaiah 26:19 speaks of the dead becoming alive. Isaiah 61:1 speaks of good news for the oppressed, the brokenhearted, captives and prisoners.

These were signs of the Messiah’s coming. Jesus could have rebuked John for his doubts, but instead offered him a blessing. Jesus had not lived up to John’s expectations, but John did not allow that to be a stumbling block.

Long ago, a rabbi was said to have knocked at heaven’s door and confronted the Messiah: “Why are you taking so long? Don’t you know humankind is waiting for you”? “It is not Me they are expecting,” answered the Messiah.

“Some are waiting for wealth and riches; others for power to lord over others or for a kingdom of their own fantasies. No, they are waiting for the realization of their own foolish dreams, not the dream of the Messiah for them.”

The rabbi came back to earth, gathered his disciples and forbade them to despair: “Let us begin to dream God’s dream for us – our true waiting begins!”

From a theological perspective, this entire episode helps us to understand how the experience of a faith crisis can play a role in our spiritual and emotional development. If John the Baptist, even after having had a direct encounter with Jesus the Messiah, could question, doubt and revise his faith, then so can we.

If disillusionment is a necessary precondition for a more resilient faith, then we, too, must be open to its possibilities. In moments of doubt, despair and disillusionment, we are, indeed, in good company.

Occasional doubts – even horrifying doubts – are one thing, but doubts that persist in the face of every Biblical remedy demand careful attention.

Let us remember the truth that all our Christian dogmas are based on our trust and faith in the divinity of Jesus who taught them, and on his divine authority by which he authorized the Church to teach what he taught.

It is up to us to learn our faith in depth, so that God will be able to dispel our doubts. In today’s readings, the recurring word is JOY. What is joy? How can we reclaim Joy?

Simple explanation is in the word itself. J for Jesus: God First. O for others: others come second. Y for you: you come last. What are you going to do this week to bring joy into your life? Choose one seed to plant – gentleness or forgiveness – and tend it patiently in prayer and practice. Amen.