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Be sure to check out in each blog post the links to the audio recordings of my homilies. They are at the beginning of each post! Also, look to the right for links to Audio from other good resources!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas homily


Today we celebrate one of the most central truths of the Christian faith: Jesus Christ was born - God became a little child in order to be with us.  Emmanuel we call Him: "God-with-us".  It really is true, God is with us.  He comes right into our world, not as a warrior-king with all the worldly authority and power we can imagine, but just the opposite: as a vulnerable and poor child, without even a home of His own.
It's interesting that there is no room at the inn for them.  I think that speaks to our parish in a special way as we continue with our plans, thanks to your generosity, to build a larger church: we want to make sure there is enough room for Jesus to be present to His people.  We are the Body of Christ, and the Lord desires to have a home here with us so that we can truly worship together and not broken up into so many separate small groups (like at the three 5:00 Christmas Eve Masses celebrated simultaneously).  There is a beauty to seeing Jesus at work in each other, and thanks to God for the way He is at work in our midst, drawing our parish into a stronger and more united family of faith, and never abandoning us.
Emmanuel comes right into our messy lives.  God is with us even when we aren't prepared for Him.  He doesn't wait for us to be "ready" for Him because He knows we'll never be completely ready for Him - Advent would last forever!   Instead, He comes into our mess in order to help us out along the way.  And I've seen that so concretely in the sacrament of Confession: God meeting us where we are, loving us where we are, and walking alongside us as we journey to become the best-version-of-ourselves, one step at a time toward holiness and happiness - which are really the same thing.

GS 22 - The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. For Adam, the first man, was a figure of Him Who was to come,(20) namely Christ the Lord. Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear. It is not surprising, then, that in Him all the aforementioned truths find their root and attain their crown.
He Who is "the image of the invisible God" (Col. 1:15),(21) is Himself the perfect man. To the sons of Adam He restores the divine likeness which had been disfigured from the first sin onward. Since human nature as He assumed it was not annulled,(22) by that very fact it has been raised up to a divine dignity in our respect too. For by His incarnation the Son of God has united Himself in some fashion with every man. He worked with human hands, He thought with a human mind, acted by human choice(23) and loved with a human heart. Born of the Virgin Mary, He has truly been made one of us, like us in all things except sin.(24)

"God became like us so that we could become like him" - Saint Athanasius
We look to Jesus to reveal to us what we are called to be.  He reveals to us the way we were made to be.
So, with Mary and Joseph, with the shepherds and the angels, we look at the Christ child in order to learn from Him.  What virtues do we see in Our Lord Jesus? We see profound Humility - God makes Himself into a creature because He loves us that much. We see littleness and gentleness. Even we see weakness (according to worldly standards), for somehow through our weakness God's power is made even stronger and more clear.  Let us look at Jesus and contemplate what we are meant to be: asking what is the best-version-of-myself that this child reveals to me?

Lastly, this Lord Jesus reveals to us the importance of the Eucharist as well.  For us Catholics, Emmanuel or God-with-us takes on a very special meaning in the Eucharist.  Thanks to the unbelievable humility of God, and to His amazing love which desires to be so close to us, even as a bridegroom rejoicing with His bride, we are able to receive this greatest of all gifts: Holy Communion, wherein the Lord Jesus becomes God-within-us!  Bethlehem literally means "house of bread" and that is what every Catholic church becomes: the heavenly house of divine bread, where in the Tabernacle we find our Lord Jesus, Emmanuel, present to us and showering us with His love.  May we always let the Lord Jesus feed us with His life-changing presence in our personal prayer, in Sunday Mass, and in the sacrament of Confession.  Lord Jesus, we love you; thank you for coming into our mess; please transform our hearts.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Jesus Question

Next week, Bishop Rhoades is going to give us a CD titled, "The Jesus Question".
How we answer the question “Who is Jesus?” makes all the difference.
The Church today asks us to reflect on this question, and it is especially the words of the Archangel that Gabriel help us to understand who Jesus is: he is the new King of David's line, the Messiah who will restore Israel to what it is meant to be: God's righteous children who are destined for holiness and eternal life.
The first word Gabriel says, 'Hail' in the Greek language actually means 'Rejoice.' Gabriel's news about Jesus is actually something to rejoice about. A couple weeks ago I reminded us that if we don't envision that we need a savior, then Jesus' coming won't be a big deal. But if we do realize that we are sinners who are in quite a bit of a mess and really in need of Almighty God's help, today we rejoice with Mary, because that help comes once and for all in Jesus. Gabriel's first word points backwards as well; and in fact, if you take the Latin word for 'hail' which is “Ave” (as in Ave Maria) then you get Eva, the name of the first woman of all time, who along with Adam fall into the trap of sin that every one of us knows too well. Finally, after generations upon generations of waiting and expectation of that first promise God made about our redemption that the serpent's head would be crushed, Mary the New Eve and her Son, the New Adam, are here to untie the knot of sin that the human race is found tied up within. Just think, Adam and Eve, and you and me, we human beings commit a sin against God, an infinite fault against an infinitely huge and infinitely loving Creator – what could we, finite beings as we are, do to make up for that? How you do fill up the Grand Canyon when all you have is a bucket? This is God's genius today: The Lord, the infinite One who made the Grand Canyon and the ocean that can fill it, enters our finite humanity so that finite human nature can make up the infinite debt. That's what a Savior is: someone who unties the knot that binds up as prisoner. This is exactly what we all long for more than anything, ever.

But before all that could happen, we needed Mary. God chooses not to force His plan on humanity, but rather wants us to freely choose it: He invites the sinless one, Mary, to be the Mother of Jesus and the Mother of all of us. Will she say yes? All of creation, Mary, waits for your reply. Angels are holding their breath as they watch your eyes burn at Gabriel's invitation. Moses, David, Abraham, and all the patriarchs had longed with all their hearts to see this moment come. Please be bold! Don't let your perfect humility hold you back when the Lord also gave you the courage and the greatness to say “amen” to His Holy Will! Please, Mary, we need you! “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your word.” With this reply, The world sighs with relief and delight, and Mary gives Gabriel, and the whole human race, something to rejoice about for all eternity. We have our savior. We have our hope. That is who Jesus is, and that makes all the difference. Thank you, Mary!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Me-Monster and The Reed of God

Gaudete Sunday is all about joy.  There are many obstacles to the joy of the Christmas season.  Some of them we can control, others we cannot.  If a loved one has died or we are experiencing some other type of loss or failure, we may not be feeling the joy of the radio stations and marketplaces resonating with our own hearts.  However, other things can get in the way, too, and they don't have to.  The biggest one, and the one today's readings call us to focus on, is ourselves.  If we are full of ourselves, we will not have joy.  True joy - not the sweet but empty "cotton-candy" joy - is the fruit of hope, of peace, of an encounter with someone greater than ourselves.

A comedian once talked about the big scary beast of pride that we see so often in our world.  "Beware of the me-monster" he would say.  It's a good wake-up call.
Humility is the antidote to this, and we see it well in John the Baptist.  Humility is grounded on truth.  Literally it means "earthiness," someone who is lowly and in touch with reality.  That is why John can say "No" to all those questions, but still respond clearly to who he thinks he is: a fulfillment of the Old Testament prophesy to prepare the Lord's coming.  He knows it and isn't ashamed, but there's no me-monster involved.  That's humility.  That's the road to joy.
John the Baptist has emptied himself.
If we empty ourselves and give it over to the Lord, letting Him sit on the throne of our hearts to have authority to shape our entire person as He wishes, then we will find the secret to Joy.  Not only that, but the Lord will do great things through us.
Carol Houselander wrote a great book on this truth called the Reed of God.  She spoke of how a reed has to be taken and emptied out, shaped as God wants it, in order to be transformed into a beautiful wind instrument.  If the reed is full of itself, it cannot make music.  Mary was exactly that as well: like John the Baptist, she was free of herself so that God could shape her and make something more beautiful than she ever imagined.  And through that, she was filled with great joy.

So if we want to share the joy of this season, we need to foster our hope that God will do great things through us, which starts with humility.  Let us empty ourselves and become God's reed so that he can make some beautiful music with our lives.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Real Jesus is more than warm & fuzzy

Let's try to be shocked again by the Gospel.  So often we get too comfortable with this good news.  But Jesus' coming is more than just a warm & fuzzy experience.  It is a revolution and we want to be on His side of the battle.  It has shocked people since the beginning of time.  We need to allow it to do the same to us.

Advent looks in two directions at the same time.  It starts at the end, looking at Jesus' coming at the end of time.  It ends with His first coming, his birth in Bethlehem.
Today St. Peter reminds us again of that second coming as a like a thief.  I think another good example for us is a car accident or a physical injury, like when I fell over my bike as a kid and tore open my chin and needed 13 stitches.  These things are never easy or comfortable or a welcome surprise.  We are never prepared.  Like that, we are never prepared for God crashing into our lives: which is exactly why the characters of the Old Testament are afraid when they see an angel or hear God's voice.

Another reason is because God comes to turn our world upside down, which really turns out to be right-side-up.  Mark also gets at this: Jesus' first coming is a revolution of the current state of things.  Mark is most likely writing St. Peter's testimony from the city of Rome itself, the belly of the beast so to speak, since Rome controlled almost everything touching the Mediterranean at that time.  And Mark begins this way: the Gospel (euangelion, Good News) of Jesus Christ, Son of God.  For Romans, Gospel meant a proclamation of military victory.  So Mark says Jesus, who is also Christ (messiah), has won a great military victory by his cross and resurrection.  Then he calls Jesus the Son of God, which might make us yawn, but for Romans who worshiped the emperor as a son of a god, a descendant of divine lineage, it would have certainly caught their attention.  They would have said, "wait, are you saying this Jesus is the real Caesar, the real king of the universe as we know it?"  Yes, says Mark, now listen to how he won that victory.  And then he starts the story that more and more, shocks his audience.

John the Baptist made people of his time quite uncomfortable.  He shocked them.  But sometimes it's a good thing when we are made uncomfortable.  For example, here's what my mom did to me when I was a baby.  She gets a ring at the doorbell and there's a man asking her "is this your child? I found him out in the middle of the road."  Now we're not talking some neighborhood road, we are talking a road of constant, but light, traffic.  Well my mom was terrified, embarrassed, and grateful and angry all at the same time.  So  guess what she did?  She spanked me to kingdom come saying "don't ever do that again!"  Now, was that comfortable for me?  Obviously not, otherwise I wouldn't have blocked it from my memory.  But was it good for me?  Yah I think so, since maybe the next driver wouldn't have been so alert and cautious.  So, discomfort can be good when we are in danger.  And that's what the Baptizer is doing for us: telling us we are spiritually in danger, demanding we repent and seek forgiveness for our sins.
So we have to be honest about our own sinfulness.  If we don't acknowledge we need a savior, Jesus' coming isn't that big of a deal is it?  Nope.
So, I hope this kind of shocks you: you are spiritually in danger without Jesus.  You don't know when the thief is coming to take back to Himself everything that you think is yours.  And the Baptist says this: repent and seek forgiveness.  To do this, I give one piece of advice: make a good Confession during Advent.  Either come a week from Tuesday or come to one of the times Fr. Bill and I will be available.  Don't get comfortable with the warm & fuzzy Jesus.  He's much more than that.  He's a Savior.  This Advent, let Him save you and heal you once again.