You’d think that it would be easy to preach on Christmas. After all, the Church does a lot of things very well, but we don’t do anything better than we do Christmas. On this day we do all the things that people expect from the Church. We have bells, and incense, and lots of candles. We have special music and larger crowds than on any other day of the year. If a stranger would walk in here today he or she would know that something pretty special is going on. The homily should be a piece of cake.
But one thing you have to realize is that we really have three different groups of people here today. One, we have our “regulars”. You’re the people who come to Saint John’s week after week. You know me. Hopefully you know where I stand on things. You’re the ones that are easy to talk to.
Second, we have family and friends who normally attend mass at another church but you come here on Christmas because of your family tradition, because you consider this a special, holy place. For you my task is to make you glad you came and maybe to convince you to come back more often. That’s a little bit more of a challenge.
Then there’s the third group, the 600 pound gorilla that no one wants to talk about. You’re the ones who only come to mass once or twice a year. Hopefully I can give you a message that makes you want to kick your Catholicism up a notch; to become more active in your faith.
So, what should I talk about? I thought about it and prayed about it, then the Holy Spirit said to me, “Hey dummy, why not ask someone who’s coming what they want to hear.” That’s what I did. The answer I got was eye opening. She said, “Talk to us about our lives. Tell us what all this means to us.”
You know, when you live in “church world” like I do, it’s very easy to get caught up in theology. It’s also tempting to show off what I know about the technical parts of the faith. But on this day, when we celebrate the birth of our Savior, you don’t want to hear that stuff. After all, God didn’t send us a scholar, or a theologian, or a liturgist, He sent us His Son. He sent Jesus to be born as an ordinary human infant in the poorest of circumstances. When He began His public ministry, Jesus’ message was simplicity itself. “Love God. Love your neighbor. Do what I tell you and you will be saved.” He left the details up to us. He didn’t tell us to follow Him one day a year. He calls us to share the joy of Christmas every single day.
At Christmas time we’re bombarded with requests for help. It seems like the phone at home never stops ringing. The local paper reminds us every day of the “100 neediest cases.” There are bell ringers everywhere. That’s because charitable organizations know that we’re more generous this time of year. But Jesus doesn’t call us to love our neighbor every December. He calls us to love our neighbor every single day of the year.
It’s not easy. We live in a very secular world and frankly, that world is a mess. Here in Saint Louis, we’ve just had another officer-involved shooting and more protests, even on Christmas eve. In just a few short months, the tiny town of Ferguson has become a household word, not just locally, but around the world. Other words in the news, North Korea, Cuba, Afghanistan all remind us of how unstable our world really is. Yet here we are, in this church in South Saint Louis, joining with millions of Christians around the world, celebrating the birth on one little child, more than 2,000 years ago. That says a lot about us.
In the midst of the greed-fest that the secular world has attached to this day, we’re taking time to remember the one who can save us from our sins. If there is ever going to be peace on earth, it begins here. As the prayer of Saint Francis says, “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” Our challenge is to take the feelings we associate with Christmas and keep them going every day. That’s what Christmas means to each of us. That’s how it should affect our lives.
There has been a Catholic church on this corner of 11th and Lafayette for 160 years. Generations of people have sat where you’re sitting, coming together to worship and to praise God, not just on Christmas, but throughout the year. In it’s heyday, this church was the largest parish in the Archdiocese. But times have changed. Our lives are full of distractions and temptations. Many former parishioners have moved away. Today just one in three Catholics attend mass regularly. If you only attend Saint John’s on Christmas, and maybe Easter, you may think that the chapel is full like this every week. Sadly, if you come back in a few weeks, you’ll find that there are maybe 30 to 40 people at a mass.
In this troubled world, it’s almost impossible to continue this “feeling of Christmas” without attending mass regularly. One of Christ’s greatest gifts to us is the gift of His Body and Blood. Many of us take great care of our bodies, some better than others. We visit the doctor. We take vitamins. We exercise. We try to watch what we eat. Most of us get annual flu shots. That’s just common sense.
But how well do we care for our spiritual selves? The Eucharist is our spiritual vitamin. By ingesting the very Body and Blood of Jesus, we recharge our souls giving us the strength to resist temptation. You might say it’s a spiritual flu shot. Another way to strengthen our spiritual selves is through prayer. Catholics are known to be praying people. We learned the main Catholic prayers, the Our Father, the Hail Mary, and others when we were children. Here at Saint John’s we have a special devotion to the Infant of Prague. We pray to Him after every mass, as we will today. I’m convinced that these prayers to the Infant whose birth we celebrate today have sustained this community through many trials and tribulations.
Blessed Father Cyril heard the Infant say that “if you pray to me, I’ll take care of you.” There are cards in the pews containing Father Cyril’s prayer. Normally we ask you to leave them, but today I’m inviting you to take one home with you and get into the habit of saying the prayer daily. I promise you won’t be disappointed in the results.
To close, I’d like to go back to the original question, “How does the birth of Christ impact our daily lives?” God loves us so much that He sent His only Son to save us from ourselves. The Son left us with very simple instructions. “Love God. Love your neighbor.” How you demonstrate that love is up to you. It sounds simple, but in practice it can be very difficult. Face it, some of us aren’t very loveable. It’s easy to love those who love us. The hard part, the real challenge is to love those who don’t love us or maybe even hate us. That’s what Jesus did. If we love Him, can we do any less; not just today, but every day of the year?