5th Sunday of Lent

In the New American Bible, which is the Bible from which we get our Lectionary, today’s Gospel, Chapter 8 verses 1-11 is called “A woman caught in adultery.”  Jesus is teaching in the synagogue and our good friends, the scribes and the Pharisees show up dragging a woman who they have caught committing adultery. This incident raises a very real question.  Where is the man? They say she was caught “in the very act of adultery” but somehow they couldn’t find the man who was also participating; who was just as guilty. Obviously this is a test.

 

We’ve heard the story many times.  The punishment for adultery is stoning and Jesus says, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”  What we don’t often hear is that no sooner had he said it than a rock came flying in from behind Jesus and hit the woman in the chest.  Thunk! Jesus turned around and looked and said, “Aw, Mom.”

 

Now, you may not like that joke.  Maybe you think humor has no place in religion.    But every time I look in the mirror and see myself looking back wearing s Roman collar, I know that God has a sense of humor.  It’s hard to imagine that someone who hung out with twelve other guys, and could turn water into wine, didn’t enjoy a good joke.

 

I spent seven years at Saint John Neopmuk Church in Soulard.  If I’d told that joke in a homily the Archbishop would have gotten letters (to go along with all the other letters he got about me.)  But the Czech culture is very serious. When they sing the Gloria in Czech, you’d swear you were at a funeral. But that’s just the way they are.  It took me a while to figure it out.

 

I think we’ve all heard this Gospel enough times that I can’t really add much to it, so I’m going to talk about what you just sang, the Responsorial Psalm.  We don’t preach on the Responsorial Psalm very often, but I think today, as we get ready to wrap up Lent, it might be a good time.

 

The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.

When the Lord brought back the captives of Zion, we were like men dreaming.  Then our mouth was filled with laughter and our tongue with rejoicing.

 

I think Father will agree with me that it’s not always easy to get Catholics to rejoice.  We don’t usually seem to be filled with joy. But, why the heck not? The Lord has done great things for us.  We’re alive and we’re living in the greatest country on earth.  You may or may not know that I just got back from a cruise to the Caribbean.  Every American should make a trip like that one time. When you see the poverty that exists just a few hundred miles from our shores you want to get down on your knees and thank God for what we have.  They may have beautiful weather but they don’t have much else. And they don’t show the tourists the really bad stuff.

 

The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.

This is the front page from today’s (yesterday’s) paper. ( I held up the front page of the Saint Louis Post Dispatch, which is copyrighted.  If you want to see it, you can look it up.) It’s a picture of Ozzie Smith waving to the crowd on opening day at Busch Stadium.  The headline reads:  “It’s a Holy Day of Obligation.”  Obviously, the headline writer hasn’t been inside a Catholic Church for a while.  It doesn’t look like this picture, either in the size or in the enthusiasm of the crowd on a Holy Day, or even on Sunday.;

 

Then they said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.”  The Lord has done great things for us; we are glad indeed.

 

Those that sow in tears shall reap rejoicing.

 

Although they go forth weeping, carrying the seed to be sown, they shall come back rejoicing, carrying their sheaves.

 

[pause]

 

I want to close by looking back on the first reading from the book of Isiah.  Quoting God, Isiah says,
See I am doing something new.  Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?  In the desert I make a way, in the wasteland, rivers.  Wild beasts honor me, jackals and ostriches, for I put water in the desert and rivers in the wasteland for my chosen people to drink, the people whom I formed for myself that they might announce my praise.”

 

We weren’t created to be gloomy and sad.  We were created to announce God’s praise so others could see us and want what we have.  We sing “Glory to God in the highest” and “hallowed be thy name” and give Him praise. The Lord has done great things for us and we are filled with joy.

 

Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

Today we celebrate the solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God. Some of the special days in our calendar are called “feasts” and some are “solemnities”. What’s the difference? A solemnity is ranked much higher than a mere feast. According to Catholic Answers, “a solemnity is the highest ranking feast. These commemorate an event in the life of Jesus, Mary or the Apostles central to the Christian faith. The celebration of mass on a Solemnity includes proper readings, the singing of the Gloria and the recitation of the creed.”

 

There are a lot of rules regarding solemnities that you really don’t need to know, but the main thing you do need to know is that part about commemorating an event in the lives of Jesus, Mary, or the Apostles that’s central to our faith. So, why is this celebration, just one week after Christmas, central to the faith?

 

It’s the day that the shepherds came to Bethlehem to see the Baby Jesus. Notice that the shepherds “went in haste”. In 2016 we don’t have a lot of contact with shepherds. We don’t know much about them. But one thing we do know is that the don’t go anywhere “in haste”. They spend their days hanging out with sheep, not known to be speedy animals. Shepherd is a pretty low-key job. But here we have them hurrying to Bethlehem to see this little baby. Something important was going on here.

When they got there, they told Mary and Joseph what the angels had told them. Luke says, “All who heard their story were amazed!” What was so amazing? Well, the story itself was pretty outrageous. But the fact that the angels had delivered this message to these sheep herders, the absolute lowest rung on the social ladder was even more amazing. I’ll get back to that in a minute.

 

Then Luke tells us that “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” Mary was the central player in the greatest event in the history of the world. Everything that had happened to her in the last nine months had to be pretty overwhelming. She wasn’t an educated girl. She was a young girl from a small town whose life had been turned upside-down and I’m sure she spent many hours reflecting on what had happened.

 

She knew from the time that Gabriel had visited her that she was going to give birth to the Messiah. The angel had also visited Joseph and told him what was to come. On Christmas night Mary gave birth to the Son of God. She knew it. Joseph knew it. So what makes the visit of the shepherds an event “central to our Christian faith”? What makes it a “solemnity”? Why do we have to go to mass on New Years Eve (day)?

 

I think it goes back to the shepherds. Over the centuries, God has chosen the most surprising people to deliver His message. Look around at the statues of the saints in our chapel. There are a couple of kings, and Saint Michael, the Archangel. But for the most part they were ordinary people. Yet God chose them to be His messengers. The first in this long line of ordinary messengers were those shepherds.

 

Why didn’t the angels appear to somebody important; somebody with some influence; somebody who didn’t smell like a sheep? The most obvious answer is because the shepherds lived a quiet life. They were available to hear the message. They listened. Then, when they had received the message they went “in haste” to Bethlehem. It may have been the first time in their lives that they hurried anywhere.

 

If the shepherds were the first New Testament messengers, and if all these saints were messengers, then who are His messengers today? Take a look at the person sitting next to you. Better yet, take a look in the mirror. That’s where you’ll find His twenty-first century messengers. It’s you and me. We’re called to spread the Good News of the Gospel in this place and time. And, like the shepherds, we’d better hurry! There’s no time to waste!

 

If we’re not just as amazed by this story as the people who heard it first-hand from the shepherds, then we haven’t been paying attention. In the first reading the Lord told Moses to bless Aaron and his sons saying, “The lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!”

 

“Let His face shine upon you.” Nobody had ever seen God’s face. How could the Lord let his face shine upon them? That’s what this solemnity is all about. Now God has a face! It’s the face of a little baby lying in a manger. And the shepherds couldn’t wait to see it. This is what the world’s been waiting for for centuries. It’s an event that’s central to our faith.

 

The all-powerful God has chosen to show Himself to us in the form of a little baby. Halleluia!

 

On this day when we celebrate this awesome event, and on a day when we celebrate the changing of the secular calendar to a new year, we should keep in mind our neighbors who are suffering greatly from the recent rains and the catastrophic flooding. Please keep them in your prayers and, do what you can to help them. We will be taking up a second collection today and at both masses this weekend to help our neighbors. Please be generous, as you always are.

 

Feast of the Holy Family

 

Isn’t it remarkable that in just a few hours we’ve jumped from the Birth of Christ to His being twelve years old?   But the Church thinks it’s important that, in light of Jesus’ birth, we reflect on the importance of our families.

 

You know, Jesus didn’t have to be born into a human family. He could have just appeared as an adult. He could have ridden into town on a magnificent white horse surrounded by an army of angels. He was God. He could do that. In fact, that’s what many people expected. But that wasn’t His plan.

 

Jesus had to be born into a family. He had to experience what our lives are like. He also had to be an example to all of us of how we should behave. In the first reading, from the book of Sirach, the author tells us “God sets a father in honor over his children’ a mother’s authority he confirms over her sons.” He goes on to tell us that “whoever honors his father atones for his sins.”

 

That seems reasonable, and as a parent, I think it’s good advice. Sirach also tells us that a son should take care of his father when he gets old, even if his mind fails. I especially like that part.

 

We really don’t know all that much about Jesus’ growing up, but as a Holy Family, we have to believe that Jesus knew and followed Sirach’s teaching. I imagine it was a little touchy for Joseph to exercise authority over his Son who also happened to be God, but the Scriptures don’t give us any of the details about that, and it may be just as well.

 

Then we have today’s Gospel. Jesus is twelve. Anyone here who’s ever been a parent of a twelve-year-old knows they can be a little difficult to handle. They’re almost teen-agers but they’re still kids. They definitely think they know more than their parents, and in Jesus’ case that was probably true, while Mom and Dad still think of them as children.

 

So they take Jesus to Jerusalem for Passover. When it’s time to go home, Jesus decides to stay. It’s a whole day before Mary and Joseph realize that He’s missing. In a panic they rush back to Jerusalem trying to find Him. AND IT TAKES THREE DAYS! Can you imagine losing your child for a total of four days??? What a nightmare! Poor Mary and Joseph. Not only have they lost their only child, they’ve lost the SON OF GOD! For a devout Jewish couple, their fear must have been unbearable.

 

But, then they find Him and Mary says something that seems very mother-like. “Why have you done this to us?” Not, “Oh thank God, we found you”, but “Why have you done this to us?”

 

Jesus’ answer about being in His Father’s house must have been very painful to them, especially to Joseph. Jesus’ actions in the Gospel seem very contrary to what Sirach tells us in the first reading. Apparently, even for the Son-of-God, twelve was a difficult year. Every kid, whether it was 2,000 years ago, or today, has a tough transition to go through. Jesus, being who He was, still must have had a hard time growing up sometimes. This feast of the Holy Family shows us that every family has its issues.

 

Is there anyone here who hasn’t seen the movie “A Christmas Story”? It’s one of my all-time favorites and it runs on cable continuously Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Every year I watch it at least once, usually more than once. I love it because it reminds me so much of my own childhood, even though I never had a Daisy BB Gun. (My mother told me, “You’ll shoot your eye out”.) I also didn’t have a little brother. But the family dynamic, the atmosphere in northern Indiana, and all the rituals that surround Christmas are so similar to north Saint Louis in the fifties that I can’t help but relate.

 

There’s absolutely nothing religious about this movie. In fact, the producers seem to have gone out of their way to exclude religion. There’s never a Nativity Scene. Jesus’ name never comes up. It’s a strictly secular story that just happens to take place at Christmas time. But the Parker family fits Sirach’s model perfectly. The father is the head of the house. The mother has authority over Ralphie and Randy which is confirmed by “The Old Man”. The boys respect both their parents, even whey they’re trying to get away with something.

 

In the movie Ralphie is nine years old, not quite as old as Jesus in today’s Gospel, but nine-year-olds have their issues too. His reaction to the leg lamp is priceless, exactly what you would expect from someone his age.

 

There seems to be a similar message in this movie and in today’s readings. Every family, even the Holy Family, has its problems. Like they say, “kids will be kids” even if the kid is the Son of God. Parents aren’t perfect, even the Blessed Mother and Joseph. Things don’t always turn out the way we plan them. The humanity displayed by the Holy Family gives all of us hope.

 

Coming so soon after Christmas, this feast shows us that ecstasy can turn into disaster in the blink of an eye. One day we’re celebrating the birth of Christ, the next day He’s gone missing. Isn’t that what our lives are like sometimes? The Holy Family handled this catastrophe and went on with their lives, just like we have to. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph are role models just like all these saints that are depicted here in our chapel. We study their lives to learn how to live our own.

 

Now that all the chaos of the secular Christmas celebration is past, we have the Holy Christmas season to relax and reflect. The Christmas decorations will remain in church for a while to give us time to reflect of Jesus birth without the distractions that get in our way leading up to Christmas. Let’s let the Holy Family be our example and our guide. “Blessed are those who fear the Lord and walk in His ways.”

4th Sunday of Advent

In our first reading today, the Lord gives Nathan a fairly long message to deliver to David.  He makes David a series of promises ending with “your throne shall stand firm forever.”  Remember, this is the same David who had one of his men killed so he could have the man’s wife for himself.  David’s closet was full of skeletons.  But here’s God telling him that he’s going to be a mighty king and that his kingdom will last forever.

 

Even in David’s time, everybody knew that no kingdom could last forever.  It’s still true today.  But the Lord wasn’t talking about an earthly kingdom.

 

Fast forward to today’s Gospel, Luke’s famous telling of the Annunciation.  It’s a beautiful story and one we’ve all heard many times.  Right in the middle of the story the angel tells Mary “the Lord God will give him (meaning Mary’s unborn Son) the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

 

There it is again; “The promise of a never-ending kingdom”.  We know today that the angel is talking about a heavenly kingdom, not an earthly one.  Poor Mary doesn’t know what to think.  Her response is, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”

 

I want to stop here for just a minute.  When I was first in formation for the diaconate, about fifteen years ago, I went to a two-day workshop on the Gospel of Luke.  The speaker was Father Eugene La Verdier, an expert of Luke’s Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, which was also written by Luke.  He spent the entire first morning talking to us about this Gospel passage.

 

Obviously I can’t tell you everything he said, but the gist of it was this.  Everything about Mary was small.  She lived in a very small town, Nazareth which was part of a very small province called Galilee.  To the people of Jesus’ time, Nazareth was kind of a back-water place, definitely not the kind of place that would give birth to the Messiah.

 

Then there’s Mary herself.  She’s a young girl from a small town.  She’s still a virgin.  In Mary’s society women were definitely second class citizens.  But married women at least had the prestige of their husbands.  Unmarried women were the lowest rung on the social ladder.  Aside from the biology of the thing, the idea of a young, single woman, a nobody in the Jewish society of that time, giving birth to such a mighty king was unprecedented.  “How can this be since I’m no more important than a good donkey or camel?”

 

Remember that Mary was engaged to Joseph.  Surely she intended to have children.  The idea that one of them might become a king was far-fetched but not impossible.  Her response only makes sense if we look at it as a sign of humility. “How can someone as lowly as me give birth to a king?”

What I’m suggesting to you is this.  The Son of God was born of a woman; an unmarried woman from a small, insignificant place.  The idea that she would give birth to Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God was outrageous.   But Mary was chosen by God.  Jesus was the only person in history to have chosen His own mother.  He didn’t choose someone wealthy.  He didn’t choose someone powerful.  He didn’t choose a queen.  Any of those choices would have made it much easier for Him to perform His ministry.

 

He chose Mary.  He chose Mary to show you and me that with God anything is possible.  He chose her to give us encouragement.  If this lowly girl could be His mother, then you and I shouldn’t be afraid to tackle anything.  He chose her to show us how we should respond to God’s call just as he chose David to be a mighty king in spite of his past sins.

 

You and I may think we can never change the world. We’re just not important enough. Or maybe we think we’re too sinful. But the stories of David and Mary prove that we’re wrong. In just a few days we’ll celebrate the birth of our Savior. It’s not just a day revolving around gifts and food. It’s a day to remember that Jesus was born for us; to save us from our sins. It’s a day to ponder our part in salvation history. What can I do to repay such a remarkable gift? What does God have in mind for me. It’s a day for us, just like Mary, to say, “Let it be done to me according to your will.”

 

Time and again you have shown your generosity to others. Your response to our Christmas gift drive was outstanding. As you celebrate your own Christmas, take a moment to remember that some poor child is having a merrier Christmas because of your donated gifts.

 

After mass today (tomorrow) we’ll decorate the church for Christmas. We’ll have more poinsettias than ever before thanks to the generosity of our members who donated to our flower fund. Our Christmas visitors will be very impressed.

 

During the year you’ve helped with other collections for those less fortunate than we are. We may be a small community, but together we get things done. That’s what discipleship is all about. In the coming year, I hope that we can all work together to spread the Gospel to more people. There are plans in the works to build our attendance and to increase our revenue. Saint John Nepomuk Chapel has a special place in the hearts of people all over Saint Louis and throughout the nation and the world. We recently received a check from a lady from Florida, a non-Catholic lady by the way, who heard about our broken window and wanted to help.

 

There’s a Czech organization in Cleveland that sends us a check every year for Christmas. We regularly have visitors from other cities who attend mass here. You may not be aware that we often give tours to out-of-town groups visiting Saint Louis.

You and I are part of God’s plan. He has something He wants each of us to do. It’s up to us to respond, like Mary. In a few minutes we’ll all say together, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

 

 

Christmas 2013

This is the homily I gave on Christmas Eve at Saint John Nepomuk Chapel.  For those not familiar, Saint John’s is an historic church in South Saint Louis.  The church was founded by Bohemian immigrants in the 19th Century.

 

veselé Vánoce!  ‘null-ig hun-a dit’!  Merry Christmas!  That’s Czech because of who you are, Irish because of who I am, and American because of who we all are.  However you say it, I want to wish all of you the very Merriest Christmas ever.

 

What a thrill it is to stand up here in front of such a large crowd.  Imagine that once-upon-a-time the church was filled like this all the time.  But, while the crowds here may not be as big as they once were, we’re still here and that’s a mighty blessing from God.  Beginning next week, we’ll be celebrating our 160th anniversary of worshipping our God at the corner of Lafayette and 11th street.

 

Frankly there are a lot of people who would have bet that we’d never make it, but here we are.  Since 1854 we’ve survived the Civil War, two world wars, a tornado, urban flight, and two interstate highways.  Generations of Bohemian immigrants built this church and today a melting pot of ethnic heritages, including an Irish deacon, are keeping it going.

 

Obviously we have a lot of visitors here this evening and we thank you for being here.  I know it’s an annual tradition for many of you to come home to Saint John Nepomuk to celebrate this greatest of all nights.  Vitame Vas!  Welcome!  Please keep us in your prayers the other fifty-one weeks of the year.  Of course, you’re welcome to come back any time.  In fact, we have a lot of exciting things planned for 2014 and we hope you can join us again for some special celebrations.

 

Christmas is a time when we all look back.  We look back to that night 2,000 years ago when Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem to give birth to a very special child; a child the angel promised Joseph who would save His people from their sins.

 

Many of us look back and remember loved ones who have gone on to the next life.  We can’t help but think about our parents and grand parents who were with us in Christmases past but who aren’t physically with us today.  But we know, because of what that special Child promised us, that they’re with us in spirit and they live on in our memories.

 

As a relative newcomer to Saint John’s, I often think about the thousands of members of our church family who have gone before us.  Sometimes, when no one else is around, I like to come here and pray, and to think about all those people who built this chapel, not once, but twice.  I think about the sacrifices they made so that they, and we, would have this beautiful place to worship.

 

As Catholics we share in a two-fold mission.  We want to get to heaven.  That’s what Jesus wants for us.  He wants us to be with Him for eternity.  But our greatest mission isn’t just to get to heaven.  Our greatest mission is to take others with us.  We’re called to share our faith with others.  Our predecessors here at Saint John’s did that by making sure we’d have a beautiful place to worship.  Many of them gave everything they had.

 

When the cyclone destroyed their church in 1896, many of them quit their jobs so they could give their time to rebuilding.  And these weren’t wealthy people.  But they had their priorities, and their first priority was to rebuild God’s house.  Of course they did it for themselves, but they also did it for us.  Let’s never forget that!

 

If you’re visiting us this afternoon, I’ve placed index cards in each pew.  Please take a moment to put your name, address, and email address on one of them and place it in the collection basket.  We’ll put you on the mailing list to keep you up-to-date on our Jubilee events.  You can help us keep the memories of those great people alive.

 

In know, that’s a bit of a long infomercial, but let’s get down to business.  We’re here tonight to celebrate the miraculous birth of our Lord and Savior.  We all know the story.  God came to earth to live as a man and to die for our sins so that we could be saved.  Just think about that!  He’s God.  He created the universe.  He had all the power and all the glory yet he chose to become one of us.  What kind of God would do that?  The answer is a God who is all about love.  He created us, but He wasn’t one of us.  He knew that the best way to reach us was to walk among us.  He would come down from heaven to take us back with Him.

 

But why did He think it was necessary to come as a tiny baby?  Why did He have to humble Himself to be born in a stable, to live among us, then to die a horrible death at the hands of His enemies?  He could have come on a golden chariot with an army of angels.  He could have come in the glory that He deserved.  After all, that’s what the Jewish people expected.  That’s what they still expect.  And they’re right!  He will come in glory when He returns.  But, as they say, God works in mysterious ways.  In His wisdom He chose to be born of a woman just like you and me.

 

We have free will.  That’s part of the deal.  He wants us to love Him because we want to, not because we have to.  To paraphrase Father Thomas Merton, one of the great Catholic writers of the twentieth century, God never gives us the whole answer.  If He did, we’d have no choice but to believe him.  That would be the end of free will.  He just gives us part of the answer, leaving us to fill in the blanks.  We fill in those blanks with something called “faith”.  Faith is when we believe in something that can’t be proven.  For centuries philosophers have tried to “prove” the existence of God and failed.  A + B = C is a human concept.  It’s just math.  But A plus something that we have to accept on faith equals C is a divine concept.

 

 

Jesus was a miracle worker.  Tonight we celebrate the miracle of His birth.  He was born of a woman without the help of a human father.  He continued to work miracles up to and including His rising from the dead.  He still works miracles today.

 

And so, we come together today, in this beautiful church to celebrate His birth.  We listen to the music, we hear His words, and we thank Him for loving us enough to become one of us.  Salvation isn’t just for the rich and famous.  It’s for everyone, including you and me.

 

Ironically, the days leading up to Christmas can be the most hectic and frustrating days of the year.  We’re bombarded with commercials for stuff that we just have to have.  We have cards to send, parties to go to, and a long to-do list of things that just have to be done.  Hurry, hurry, hurry.  Now, at least for one day, that’s all behind us.  Silent night, holy night is more than just a song lyric.  It’s what it’s all about.

 

My friend, Father Bruce Forman, leads a group called the “Young Catholic Musicians”.  Each year they put on a Christmas concert of music and narration on the birth of Christ.  It includes my favorite lines about Christmas.  Because of the census, Bethlehem was filled with people.  Some of them were very important businessmen, politicians, and Jewish leaders.  With all those VIPs in town, why did God chose to announce the birth of His Son to shepherds, the lowliest members of society?  The answer is simple and profound.  “God speaks to those who sit quietly and listen.”

 

That’s my wish for you on this Christmas Eve.  I pray that you’ll take time out to just sit quietly and listen to God.

veselé Vánoce!  ‘null-ig hun-a dit’!  Merry Christmas!

 

 

4th Sunday of Advent

(This is my homily for the 4th Sunday of Advent)

Today  is the fourth Sunday of Advent.  All the candles on the Advent wreath have been lit.  Now, it’s time to take the wreath down and decorate the church for Christmas.  Father and I will hang up the purple vestments until the first week of March when Lent will begin.

 

For the past three weekends we’ve been hearing about John the Baptist and his ministry of preparing the way of the Lord.  Remember Jesus called John the greatest man ever born of a woman.  But He promised us that the least person in heaven would be greater even than John.  We have hope because that includes you and me.

 

But today the Gospel takes a different tone.  There’s no mention of John.  Today’s story is about Mary and Joseph.  It’s a critical story because it gives us some insight into what these two people had to do to fulfill their part in salvation history.

 

The angel of the Lord has visited Mary and told her that she would bear a son.  In Friday’s  Gospel reading from Luke the angel tells Mary, “He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his Kingdom there will be no end.”  As we all know, Mary told the angel, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.  May it be done to me according to your word.”

 

Now, Mary was engaged to Joseph.  When Joseph realized that Mary was pregnant his first impulse was to “divorce her quietly.”  Remember, things were much different in Mary and Joseph’s world than they are today.  In our world unmarried mothers are not scorned.  They’re not ashamed of their situation and some even brag about it.  Famous people, especially members of the Hollywood crowd go on talk shows and talk openly about their pregnancies.  They are proud of what they’ve done and don’t seem the least bit concerned about their sinfulness.  But for about the first 1,900 years of the Christian era, being an unwed mom wasn’t something to be celebrated.  It was the cause of great shame and embarrassment.

 

So, it’s not hard to understand how Joseph felt.  Mary had brought shame on herself and on him.  Guys, put yourself in his place.  What would you have done?  Matthew tells us that Joseph was a “righteous man”.  He was “unwilling to expose her to shame.”  I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I would have been as gracious as Joseph.

 

But the angel appears to him in a dream and explains what’s going on.  Mary has conceived through the Holy Spirit.  Her son will save His people from their sins.

 

The experts tell us that Mary was young, probably a teenager.  Joseph was older.  Imagine what his friends and family must have said.  “It serves your right, Joseph.  You decide to marry this young girl and she turns up pregnant.  What did you expect?”  Think about the gossip.  But, he ignored the taunts of his so-called friends and did what the angel told him to do.  I’m sure he spent a lot of time in prayer.

 

So here we have two ordinary people who’ve been asked to make huge sacrifices so that the prophet Isaiah’s words would be fulfilled:  “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means God is with us.”

 

Joseph, being a “righteous man” and a devout Jew, surely was familiar with Isaiah’s prophesy.  Surely he and Mary spent a lot of time talking about what was about to happen.  Maybe they both had planned on having a big family.  Maybe Joseph had big plans for his carpentry business.  If they were engaged, they must have spent a lot of time talking about what their lives would be like as a married couple.  But all that changed in an instant.  And today we thank God that they were willing to give all that up for the greater glory of God.  If either one of them had said no 2,000 years ago, our lives would be very different today.  By agreeing to God’s plan they set things in motion that would change the world forever.

 

You and I also play a part in God’s plan.  Even though we will probably never be recognized by the world, every time we say yes to God’s plan, we start a chain-of-events that changes the world.

 

Is there anyone here who’s never seen It’s a Wonderful Life?  It was on TV last night.  George Bailey was given a wonderful gift.  He gets to see what his world would have been like if he’d never been born.  Of course it’s fiction, but it’s definitely a story that should make us think.  What would our world be like if we’d never been born?  What little things have we done that have changed other people’s lives?  Chances are, like George, we have no idea.  God does great things through ordinary people and things.

 

If you’ve been following the news this week, you know about Phil Robertson.  He’s been attacked for stating his Christian beliefs.  And the whole thing has had some remarkable results.  There’s a Facebook page called “Bring Back Phil Robertson”.  In just two days it’s received more than a million “likes”.  Americans are standing up for their faith (and Phil’s) in amazing numbers.  God is working a miracle with something as simple as a duck call.  It’s a beautiful thing to happen just a week before Christmas.

 

My recent blog post on Phil-gate has had more hits than all my previous posts put together.

 

I could stand up here all day and talk about things that have happened in my life that can only be explained by God’s intervention.  He put the right person in the right place at the right time to give me something that I needed.  Maybe it was something they said.  Maybe it was something they did.  But, God’s hand was in it.  I know all of you could do the same.

 

So, as we prepare to celebrate the greatest event in the history of mankind, it’s good to reflect on today’s story.  Two ordinary people from a very small town said yes to God and changed everything.  That’s what Christmas is about.  That’s what our Catholic faith is all about.  Christmas is a time when we focus on a great miracle.  But miracles happen every day.  We may be the catalyst for a miracle and never even know it.  Thank you Mary and Joseph for saying “yes”.

 

 

Epiphany

Epiphany!  The dictionary defines it as a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience.  That’s definitely what we have today.  The Magi came from a far land to worship the newborn king, the Baby Jesus.  A star led them to Bethlehem and to the manger where Jesus lay.

Every year we put up the crib before Christmas.  Then we symbolically place the figure of the baby in the manger on Christmas Eve.  Today we complete the picture with the arrival of the figures of the three kings.  There’s one more week of the Christmas season which ends with the baptism of Jesus.  Next Sunday we’ll take it all down.

There’s a ton of symbolism in the way we celebrate the birth of Christ. We spend four weeks getting ready for Him to come.  Then we have the glorious celebration of His birth on December 25.  On the following Sunday we commemorate the Holy Family.

This one’s a little strange.  All of a sudden Jesus is twelve years old.  He’s separated from Mary and Joseph and they look for Him for three days.  When they finally found Him He said the words that must have broken Joseph’s heart, “Did you not know I must be in my Father’s house?”  The lesson we learn is that apparently Mary and Joseph still weren’t quite sure what to make of this

“Son of God”.  If they did, wouldn’t the temple have been the first place they looked?  Where else did they look for three days?  But I digress.

Getting back to our Liturgical calendar, on January 1 we celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God.  Jesus is a baby again. Sometimes this is called the feast of the circumcision, because that’s how the day’s Gospel ends.  But the emphasis here should be on Mary.  “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart”.  Imagine how overwhelmed this young girl must have been.

That brings us to today, the Epiphany; a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience.  Seeing a tiny newborn lying in a feeding trough for animals, about as simple and homely an experience as anyone is likely to have, the Magi suddenly, intuitively perceive the reality of what they’re seeing; the Son of God.

We know that the shepherds have seen the child but these men aren’t shepherds.  They’re not even Jews!  They’re powerful kings from a foreign land and they’ve been called by God, led by a star, to be witnesses to the birth of the Messiah.  The Gospel ends with them departing for their own country to deliver the good news of what they’ve seen.

Here’s the thing.  Jesus wasn’t sent just for the Jews.  Paul tells us in the second reading that “the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise of Jesus Christ through the Gospel.”  He may have been the Messiah that the Jewish people had been waiting for but He was our Messiah too.

You and I can have an epiphany just like the Magi did.  Jesus reveals Himself to us in many ways, usually in ways that we’ll miss if we’re not paying attention.  Someone says or does something that touches your heart.  You pick up a book and something in its pages seems to speak just to you.  Maybe you see a small child or a homeless person and you feel the need to do something.

The other day there was a dog on Telegraph Road.  He must have been hurt because he was running back and forth from one side of the street to the other.  There was a major traffic jam because everyone stopped not wanting to hurt it.  I thought at the time that there was still goodness in the world.  So many people were willing to be late for work rather than take a chance on hitting someone’s pet.

Your epiphany may come in church.  It may come at work.  It may come while you’re driving your car.  You never know.  We have to be paying attention.

Next Sunday we’ll take down the Christmas decorations and return to Ordinary Time.  But even in the taking down there’s symbolism.  The trees and the lights and the manger may be gone, but Jesus remains with us.  We just have to look a little harder to see Him.  Finding Him in the ordinary things of our daily lives is our Epiphany.

This ends my homily but I was listening to Cardinal Dolan’s homily for Sunday and he made an interesting point.  The Magi  were looking for an adult king.  Imagine how surprised they were to find an infant!  You can listen to the Cardinal’s homily here.

Abortion

OK, I have to do this.  I’ve been thinking about it for several days but today’s Gospel (Luke 1:39-45) made my decision for me.  The story is about Mary’s visit to Elizabeth.  The presence of Jesus in Mary’s womb makes John in Elizabeth’s womb “jump for joy”.  Two unborn infants:  one the Son of God and one the prophet who would go before the Lord to prepare His way.  We’ve heard this story countless times and it may never occur to us that this story could have ended differently.

ABORTION!

Think about it.  Mary was a young girl.  Although she was engaged to Joseph, clearly this wasn’t his child.  “Modern society” would council Mary to terminate the pregnancy.  She was too young to take on such responsibility.  Planned Parenthood would have the “solution” to her “problem”.

Then there’s Elizabeth.  She’s an old lady.  Surely delivering a baby at her advanced age would be very dangerous.  She might even die.  Even if abortion were illegal,  she would fall under the so-called “exception” for danger to the mother’s life.

I’m not saying that anyone is walking around today with God in their womb, or even a prophet.  But who else have we killed?  Maybe the person who would have found the cure for cancer.  Maybe the person who could broker peace in the Middle East.  Maybe the person who could save Twinkies.  We’ve killed millions of children in this country since Roe vs. Wade became law.  If just one percent of those children, and they were children regardless of what the abortion-rights folks call them, if just one percent had been men and women of great promise, imagine what a difference that would have made in the world.  Ten percent or twenty percent?  Who knows?

People ask what’s wrong with this country?  That’s easy.  We’re killing our potential.

What I’m about to say may offend you, but please hear me out.  The tragedy that took place in Newtown, CT is beyond belief.  I can’t begin to imagine how awful that must have been and will continue to be for the parents and loved ones of those who were senselessly murdered.  The outcry has been world-wide as it should be.  Even one child is too many to lose to violence.  But, in the week that’s passed since the Sandy Hook massacre, hundreds of babies have been killed by abortionists and no one bats an eye.  It may be a bit of a stretch, but what if one of the millions of children we’ve killed by abortion was meant to be the person who would have stepped in and prevented the killings at Sandy Hook?  Just a thought.

Where’s the outrage for those children?  Many of the same people who are demanding that the government do something about mass murders support the extermination of millions of kids and call it a “woman’s right”.  Sorry, it just doesn’t make sense to me.

Mother’s Day

6th Sunday of Easter

I believe that today’s Gospel is a Cliff Notes summary of everything we need to know to be faithful Christians.  All Jesus’ talks, all His miracles, all His parables, come down to what Jesus tells us today.

“As the Father loves me, so I also love you.”  Think about that.  We know, through the doctrine of the trinity, that God and Jesus are one and the same; Father and Son.  They share an intimate and infinite love.  Here’s Jesus telling us that His love for us is the same.  God the Father and God the Son love us as much as they love one another, and themselves.

But, and this is important, If we want to remain in His love, we must keep His commandments.  In other words, we can lose His love if we don’t do what He tells us.  Then, rather than give us a laundry list of things we have to do, He says, “THIS is my commandment:  love one another as I love you.  No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

That’s it!  All we have to do is love one another.  But you and I both know that some people are more lovable than others.  Sometimes loving one another can be a HUGE challenge.  But this love that Jesus asks us to have for each other means a very specific thing.  In spite of what the 70’s movie said, love DOES NOT mean never having to say you’re sorry.  According to Father Robert Barron, love means willing good for the other person as another person.  In other words, love doesn’t mean hoping that you win the lottery so you can share your winnings with me.  Love means hoping you win the lottery only because I want you to be happy.  Love also means that I’m not jealous of your good fortune.

Today being Mother’s Day, it’s natural to compare God’s love to a mother’s love.  The mother’s love is unconditional, just like God’s love.  But there’s one thing missing.  On a purely physical level, a baby knows that she has an attachment to her mom.  But a baby doesn’t have the intellectual capacity to understand what that means.  Dogs and cats relate to their mothers just like we do.  Love between a mother and her offspring is a natural thing.  The difference between us and the animals is that as that human baby grows physically and emotionally, she begins to appreciate what this special connection means.  But, it’s a slow process.  It has it’s ups and downs.  I have four grandchildren.  Three of them from one set of parents.  Those three are two, four, and five years old.  Love means something very different to each one.  As they grow and mature, their ability to love will grow and mature.  (Until they get to be teenagers, then they’ll likely to hate their parents, but that’s just a phase.  They usually grow out of it.)  Unfortunately, for many of us, we don’t really appreciate our mom’s love entirely until they’re gone.

I think we approach God’s love in the same way.  When we’re little we know that God loves us.  How?  Because grownups tell us so.  I went to Grandparents’ Day Friday at my five-year-old granddaughter’s school.  One of the songs they sang was

“I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart

Down in my heart to stay
And I’m so happy

So very happy

I’ve got the love of Jesus in my heart

Down in my heart”

Five, six, and seven-year-olds know they love Jesus and that He loves them in a very basic, simple way.  As we grow older, we understand more of what that means.  Unfortunately, we also make it more complicated.  Remember, Jesus calls us to have a child-like faith.

Let’s get back to moms for a minute.  Jesus said that no one has greater love than to lay down their lives for their friends.  We see that in Jesus as He died on the cross to save us from our sins.  But mothers lay down their lives for their children every day.  All of you moms can testify that once you gave birth, your life was never the same again.  Some changes were small.  Some were huge.  But nothing is ever the same. 

 

 

There’s a reason why men don’t have babies.  We couldn’t handle it.  A mother’s love lets her do the impossible on a daily basis.

Today as we celebrate our moms, and all those women in our lives who fill the role of mothers, it’s good to reflect on what Jesus tells us today.  A mother’s love is the closest we humans can come to perfect love.  Our mothers’ love teaches us how to love as Jesus loves.

We are our mothers’ flesh and blood the same way we’re Jesus’ flesh and blood.  We’re about to celebrate Jesus’ love for us by receiving His actual Body and Blood in the Eucharist.  In a real way we celebrate His love and our mothers’ love with every breath we take.  When He said “love one another as I have loved you” He was telling us all we need to know.  “Honor you father AND your mother” is one of the Ten Comandments.

Jesus spoke these words just before He gave up His life for us.  They were some of His last words before the crucifixion.  The Gospel ends with Him saying, “This I command you: love one another.”  It’s not a suggestion.  It’s not something that would be nice for us to do.  It’s His commandment.  “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy might be complete.”

This monologue is the sum total of everything that Jesus taught in His earthly ministry.  This is the message that He wants us to remember.  Never forget that the whole point of His becoming a man was to teach us this one thing.  And, as we celebrate a day dedicated to our mothers, if we want an example of what that love looks like, all we have to do is think about our mothers’ example.  Remember, Jesus’ last act before He gave up His life on the cross was to give us His Mother, the most perfect example of a mother’s love in all human history.

Happy Mothers’ Day!

40 Reasons Why It’s Cool to be Catholic #3 The Blessed Mother

“Hail Full of Grace, the Lord is with you.”

When the Lord spoke these words to Mary, her life was changed forever.  She was to become the Mother of our Lord, Jesus Christ.  When she went to visit her relative, Elizabeth, who was also with child, even in her old age, her words were prophetic as well.  When Mary entered Elizabeth’s home the child in her womb leapt for joy and Elizabeth said,

“Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb!”  

Of course, these two sentences from Luke’s Gospel are the beginning of the “Hail Mary”, the tribute to the Blessed Virgin that every Catholic learns early in life and continues to pray as long as they live.

We discussed earlier, in our post on saints, that we don’t worship Mary.  We venerate her.  How else should we treat Jesus’ mother?  Without her, there would have been no Messiah.  Obviously Mary could have said no.  In fact one reason we do venerate her is because she said yes.  “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”  Mary could have refused.  She could have told Gabriel to leave her alone.  She was young.  She was engaged to be married.  The last thing she needed was a surprise pregnancy.  Nazareth was a small town.  What were the neighbors going to think?  What was Joseph going to say?  But she had faith in God and she agreed to do His will.

Don’t forget, Mary was born without sin.  God had been preparing for this event for years.  If Mary had refused to go along, He couldn’t just go get another woman.  He would have had to start over.  But, of course, He knew that she would never refuse to do His will.

But why do we Catholics have such a strong devotion to Mary?  After all, other faith traditions believe the same Nativity story that we do.  They understand that Mary was Jesus’ mother, but they don’t seem to hold her in the high esteem that we do.  We pray for Mary to intercede for us with Jesus.   Every Catholic church has at least one statue of her.  Until recently, Mary was the most popular girl’s name in the United States.  There are thousands of Catholic Churches named after her, either as Saint Mary, or as one of her other appellations.  We Catholics love Mary.

Mary carried our Lord in her womb for nine months.  She raised Him from a baby and held Him in her arms after He was crucified.  She was assumed into heaven so her sinless body wouldn’t have to lie in the ground.  She was Jesus’ mother and I think we can all agree, if you love someone as much as we love Jesus, you have to love their mom.

Mary said “yes” to God and gave birth to His Son.  As He hung on the cross, Jesus gave her to his beloved Apostle John, and so gave her to us.  Mary was very cool.

Here’s a trivia question for you.  What is the only US city named after the blessed mother?