1st Sunday of Advent, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

This was the homily for my final mass at my old assignment.  I began my new assignment at Saint Bernadette, my former parsh, on Sunday.  Enjoy

This is my last mass at Saint John Nepomuk. For the last seven years I’ve been blessed to be your director. I told Deacon Joe that this is the best deacon job in the Archdiocese. There have been a few rough patches, but for the most part I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time here. It wasn’t planned this way, but I think it’s entirely appropriate, and a sign of the Holy Spirit at work, that I’m leaving on the last day of the Liturgical year and Deacon Joe is taking over on the first day of the Liturgical year.

 

Tomorrow is the first Sunday of Advent. That makes today the last day of the Church year, New Years Eve. It’s an end and a beginning, so HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

happy new year

One thing you can’t escape during Advent is the song, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. You may love it. You may hate it. But you can’t avoid it during this season. I imagine we’ve all heard it hundreds of times. And I’ll bet most of us have never really paid attention to the words. Take your missalettes and turn to page 278. Take a look at the chorus. “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”

 

The time before Jesus coming was dark; very dark. The Israeli people were being held captive in a foreign land. The word “rejoice” might not have been on their lips. They were waiting for a redeemer. The word “redeem” comes from the Latin redemere, which means to buy back. Jesus would buy back the people from their captivity and release them from the darkness of sin.

 

Look at the first verse of the song. “O come, O come, Emmanuel. And ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lowly exile here, Until the Son of God appear.” They were waiting for Jesus (even though they didn’t know who Jesus was yet) to ransom them from their exile. They were mourning in lowly exile waiting for the Son of God. When Jesus did come, many of the Jewish people rejected Him and eventually He would be tortured and crucified by the very people He came to save.

 

“O come, thou Wisdom from on high, and order all things far and nigh: To us the path of knowledge show, And teach us in her ways to go.” As we make our way through these four weeks if prayer and reflection, Lord, give us wisdom. Show us the path of knowledge and teach us to go in wisdom’s ways.

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” They call that the serenity prayer, but it could just as well be called the courage prayer, or the WISDOM PRAYER.

“O come, thou holy Lord of might, who to thy tribes on Sinai’s height In ancient times, did give the Law In cloud and majesty and awe.” Of course, this refers to the Ten Commandments given to Moses on Mount Sinai. Like every verse of the song, it begins “O come”. That’s what Advent is all about. Come, Emmanuel, come wisdom, come holy Lord of might. We’re waiting patiently. (or maybe not so patiently).

 

“O come thou Rod of Jesse’s stem. From every foe deliver them. From death and sin thou people save, And give them victory o’er the grave.” We want Jesus to come. We want our friends, our fellow Christians, to be delivered from their foes. Of course, that also includes us. And we especially want to be saved from sin and death. Lord, give us victory over the grave.

 

Twenty centuries later we know that all of this has come to pass. Jesus came and we no longer fear death because we’ve been given victory over the grave.

 

“Oh come, Thou Key of David, come. And open wide our heavenly home. Make safe the way that leads on high, and close the path to misery.” This one may be a little confusing but notice that Thou Key of David” is capitalized. Jesus is the Key of David and the Key to Heaven. He will open wide our heavenly home. And, as we know from the New Testament, Jesus gave Peter the keys to the kingdom. Here the song implores God to make the path to heaven save and to close the path to misery.

 

“O come, desire of nations. Bind in one the hearts of humankind. Bid every sad division cease. And be thyself our Prince of Peace.” Here we’re asking for peace and unity among all men and all nations. We know that Jesus is the Prince of Peace.

 

And finally, “O come thou day-spring come and cheer our spirits by thine advent here. Disperse the gloomy clouds of night. And death’s dark shadow put to flight.” This song was written in the 12th century. We don’t know who the author was but we do know it was written in Latin and that the music, probably French, was added around 100 years later. The words were translated into English by John Mason Neale in 1851.

 

This final verse is the only time the word “advent” appears in the song. Notice that in the notes before the verse, this 7th one is supposed to be sung on December 24, the last Sunday of Advent. It has a lighter feel than the first six. Cheer our spirits. Disperse the gloomy clouds of night. Death’s dark shadow put to flight. Jesus is coming and He’s almost here! Halleluiah!

 

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, a local boy who’s made good has a book of Advent Reflections cleverly titled Advent Reflections.  He says “The older I get, the more I’m convinced that life is all about advent.” He’s right. We’re all waiting to meet our Savior face to face.

advent reflections

 

We’re living in a time that’s at least as bad as the days of the Old Testament, probably worse. Crime is running rampant. People hate one another for being different. Our national, state, and local leaders are corrupt and pass laws that are detrimental to the poor, to the elderly, and to the unborn. People we trust are turning out to be sexual predators and there seems to be another revelation every day.

 

We don’t need to pray for a Savior. We already have one. No, what we need to pray for is that people will come to Jesus. We need to fill up our churches and to spread the Gospel. It’s a big job, so big it almost seems impossible. But remember, this whole Christianity thing was started by twelve men in the Middle East. There was no Internet. There was no television or radio. There weren’t even newspapers. It would be fifteen centuries before the invention of the printing press. No, they did it by word of mouth. One person talking to another. The twelve Apostles spread the Word throughout the known world, usually traveling by foot. For the first 300 years they didn’t even have Bibles.

 

In more recent times, immigrants from Eastern Europe came to Saint Louis. They built this beautiful church and at one time it served hundreds of families. There’s no reason it can’t return to its former glory. It will be hard work but I know you have the will and a capable new leader and I expect to see big things from Saint John Nepomuk in the years ahead.

 

God bless you all, thank you for putting up with me for the past seven years, and have a blessed and holy Advent and a Merry Christmas.

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From today’s Gospel:

“Which is the first of all the commandments?”
Jesus replied, “The first is this:
Hear, O Israel!
The Lord our God is Lord alone!
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind,
and with all your strength.

The second is this:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no other commandment greater than these.”

That seems to be pretty clear.  The greatest commandment is to love God and the second-greatest is to love your neighbor.  So, why do we have such a hard time with this?  I wish I had a really great answer.  But people way smarter than I am have been trying to answer this question for centuries.

Clearly Jesus made an impression when He gave this answer to the scribe.  The passage ends:

And no one dared to ask him any more questions.

For once He was able to shut down His critics.  As we know they will be back, but on this day Jesus had the last word.

27th Sunday of Ordinary Time

FAITH!  All of our readings today speak of faith.  But what exactly is “faith”?  The dictionary definition is the belief in something that can’t be proven.  We can’t prove that Jesus rose from the dead, so if we believe it that means we have faith.  But, there are other kinds of faith.  Even atheists have faith in something, even if it’s misplaced faith that there is no God.

 

I have faith that the sun will rise tomorrow in the eastern sky.  I can’t prove it.  But my experience of almost 65 years is that it rises every day so it must surely rise tomorrow.  But there are a lot of crazy people in this world who have the capability of blowing up the planet if they decide to, so there’s at least a small possibility that there won’t be a tomorrow, let alone a sun rise, at least here on earth.

 

It could also be cloudy and overcast tomorrow so we can’t see the sun.  But even under the heaviest clouds, some light gets through so we know the sun’s up there somewhere.

 

Closer to home, I have faith that when I leave here today and head down Highway 55 toward home that someone won’t be coming the wrong way and hit me head on.  That faith is a little weaker, because I know it does happen.  I’m having faith in my fellow motorists which isn’t quite as strong as my faith in God or the cycles of the universe.

 

Even animals have some faith.  If you feed your dog everyday at 8 in the morning, you know he’s going to be waiting for you at 7:59 tomorrow.  As far as your pet is concerned, you’re god in his world and he has faith in you.

 

So, what’s Jesus telling us today.  If we have faith the size of a mustard seed we can move trees with just our voices.  A mustard seed is pretty small.  If I were to hold one up even you people in the front row probably couldn’t see it.  But this teeny-small seed can produce a fairly large tree; one tall enough for you to sit under it and enjoy the shade.

 

I’d like to think my faith is bigger than that little seed, but frankly I don’t believe that I can tell a tree to move and that it will obey.  Of course we live in modern times.  I guess if I had a friend with a bulldozer and I told him to move a tree, technically I’d be moving the tree with my voice, but I don’t think that’s what Jesus meant.  After all, He did like to speak in parables and use examples.

 

I believe what he’s telling us is that He can move trees with just a command.  And, if we have enough faith in Him, He will hear our prayers and move the big things in our lives.  Maybe not trees, but there are a lot of other obstacles that seem just as stubborn that He can move for us if we ask.  But, if we don’t believe that He answers our prayers, there’s a pretty good chance that He won’t.

Look at our own church as an example.  In 1870 I think most people around here gave the Bohemian founders of Saint John’s zero chance of building a magnificent house of worship.  Frankly the locals weren’t crazy about the new immigrants.  Some of them probably secretly hoped that the Czechs would fail.  The odds were against them.  What did they know about building a church?  They didn’t have a lot of money.  But they did build it.  And their neighbors were amazed!  The day it was dedicated was a HUGE celebration.  They had done something that seemed to be impossible.  They had moved the sycamore tree.

 

Then just 26 years later a tornado destroyed their beautiful church.  They could have given up, but they didn’t.  They rebuilt it bigger and better than ever. And I’m as sure as I’m standing here that their faith, and their prayers, were just as important, if not more important than the skill of the builders who did the actual labor.

 

That’s what’s lacking today.  It’s no secret that our country is in a mess.  Unemployment is high.  Terrorists are running wild. Crime is a huge problem. Politicians on both sides of the aisle find it impossible to sit down and come up with workable solutions to these problems.  What went wrong?  I believe it’s a lack of faith.  If every Christian in America, whether they’re Catholics, or main-stream protestants, or fundamentalists, would forget our differences and get down on our knees to pray for our country, there would be a miracle.  And let’s not leave out the Jews and the Muslims and everybody else who believes in the Almighty.  Right now our churches, regardless of faith tradition, should be standing-room-only.

 

But so many people have lost their faith in God that they don’t have faith in anything else either.  Who really believes that our present government, and I’m talking about both parties, can solve our problems?    If we don’t have faith in God, how can we have faith in men?

 

Our politicians are so busy trying to blame the other guys, that nothing gets done.  We’re about to elect a new President. Frankly, neither candidate is very good. It’s going to come down to which one the fewest people don’t like and the majority of people don’t trust either one of them. The same is true right down the line all the way to the local races. Neither side wants to admit that they’re part of the problem.  It’s all about blaming somebody else.

 

We all have to take a look in the mirror on this one.  How often have we said, “it’s not my fault.” ….when it really is?

 

We all know about Adam and Eve.  They sinned.  You ask somebody what they did and they’ll say they sinned.  How did they sin?  They ate the apple.  Everybody knows that.  God told them not to eat the apple but they ate it anyway.  But that wasn’t the real sin.

 

What did Adam say to God when He caught him red-handed with the apple core in his hand?  He said, “It’s not my fault.  That woman you gave me made me do it.”  Then God confronted Eve, standing there with apple juice running down her chin.  What did she say?  “It’s not my fault.  That serpent that you made, tricked me.”

 

Eating the apple, disobeying God, may have been sinful.  But what do we know about God?  He forgives sins.  If Adam had said, “Lord, I’m sorry I disobeyed you.  I shouldn’t have eaten that fruit.”, he might still living in the garden.  If Eve had admitted her sin and that she had talked Adam into eating the apple with her, and then asked for forgiveness, she might still be in the garden with him.

 

No the worst sin was refusing to take responsibility for their own actions.  That’s what got them thrown out of paradise.  And yet, so many people today think they’re going to get INTO paradise after committing the same sin, not just once, but over and over again.

 

God will forgive our sins if we ask Him to, and if we have faith, even faith as small as a mustard seed, He will.

 

26th Sunday of Ordinary Time

the-good-placeThere’s a new show on NBC called “The Good Place”.   I don’t think it’s ever going to be called great television, but it’s kind of cute. The idea is that this young woman, Eleanor, played by Kristen Bell, has died and gone to the “good place”. But there’s been a mistake. In life Eleanor was kind of a jerk and doesn’t deserve to be in the “good place”,

 

Her presence in the good place is causing some kind of a disturbance in the atmosphere and Eleanor has to clean up her act before anyone finds out what’s happened and she gets sent to the “bad place”.

 

Like I said, the show is cute, but besides not being great television, it’s also not great theology. No one ever mentions God and the words “heaven” and “hell” are never used. In fact, they don’t talk a lot about the “bad place” except to play a sound bite where there’s a lot of screaming and wailing. Eleanor is told that that’s what’s happening right now in the bad place.

 

There are some good things about this show. One is Kristen Bell and Ted Danson are very good. Another thing is that it’s a show about morality, which is rare today in prime-time television. As hard as Eleanor tries, it’s impossible to curse in “the good place”. Her mentor and “soul mate” is trying to educate her on ethics and morality so she can stay. And, even though the show isn’t very good theology, it’s kind of Catholic in it’s approach to heaven and hell. Overall, it’s a better use of thirty minutes than a lot of other things on television. It’s only been on twice so we’ll have to see how it develops and if it can get and hold an audience with it’s morality message.

 

Eleanor’s story is a little bit like the story of the rich man in today’s Gospel though Luke’s story is much more disturbing. Here we have a rich man who lived high on the hog when he was alive and would have nothing to do with Lazurus, the poor man who was lying at his door. Now they’ve both died and Lazurus has been carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham while the rich man is in torment in the netherworld. Luke tells us he is suffering in the flames.

 

The image is disturbing because it’s a very graphic description of what could happen to us. lazarusIt’s one of the few times in the New Testament when hell is described in such graphic detail. Yes, I said the h-word. Hell. The netherworld. The bad place. It’s something we don’t like to think about. But, here it is in black and white. It IS a possibility.

 

So what does the rich man do? He tries to use Lazurus. “Send him to dip his finger in water and cool my tongue.” Even now he doesn’t get it. Then, when Abraham tells him that it’s not going to happen, he wants Lazurus sent to his father and brothers to warn them of what could happen to them, again taking advantage of the poor man. But Abraham tells the rich man, “They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to THEM.”

 

This is another disturbing thought for us. We also have Moses and the prophets. The first reading today is from Amos, one of the greatest of all the prophets, telling us “Woe to the complacent.” Are you complacent? Or do you take eternity seriously? The readings today are meant to shake us out of our complacency. How much more warning do we need? The reading ends with the very ominous passage, “If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.”

 

One thing about today’s Gospel story that I find interesting is that after 2,000 years we know the poor man’s name; Lazurus. But we don’t know the rich man’s name. He must have been important in this life, otherwise he wouldn’t have been rich. But today we have no idea who he was. His story is important to us but his identity isn’t.

Tenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Our Old Testament reading today and our Gospel tell similar stories. Each involves healing. In the first reading, Elijah visits the home of a widow. While he was there, the widow’s son took sick and died. Elijah took the boy to his room and asked God for healing, and the child recovered.

 

In the Gospel, Jesus and His followers came upon a funeral procession. The deceased was the only child of a widow. Jesus took pity on her, touched the coffin, and said, “Young man, I tell you, arise!” And he did.

 

Both of these stories bring home the fact that God has the power to heal. Why He heals some and not others is a great mystery, but He DOES heal. He doesn’t just bring back the dead, like Jesus did with his friend Lazurus, but He also healed the blind, and the deaf, and the leper. He’s God! He can do that!

 

But what is healing? The practical part of us says that when a blind man regains his sight, he’s healed. When a child’s cancer suddenly goes into remission, she’s healed. But that’s a very narrow, short-sighted view of things. Healing is more than just a physical thing.

 

What about the terminal cancer victim who accepts his diagnosis with the determination to live out his last days at peace with God, enjoying the time he has left with family and friends? Is that guy healed? Our faith tells us that he is. Isn’t that person, who we would normally call “sick” actually spiritually healthy. By sharing in Jesus’ suffering, isn’t he drawn closer to God? And if we’re drawn closer to God aren’t we the healthiest people of all?

 

Archbishop Carlson has asked the churches of the Archdiocese to celebrate the Sacrament of the Sick next Sunday. Priests will be anointing the sick at most of our churches, including Saint John Nepomuk. But there may be some confusion about what the sacrament means. Here’s what the Scripture says, in the Book of James, “Is any among you sick? Let him call for the presbyters of the Church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven”

 

The Catechism tells us that “ The sacrament of Anointing of the Sick has as its purpose the conferral of a special grace on the Christian experiencing the difficulties inherent in the condition of grave illness or old age.” (ccc 1527) And, The anointing of the sick conveys several graces and imparts gifts of strengthening in the Holy Spirit against anxiety, discouragement, and temptation, and conveys peace and fortitude (CCC 1520)

 

 

When I was a hospital minister part of my job was to offer anointing to Catholic patients. You’d be surprised how many people, especially older people, would panic and say “absolutely not!” They were confusing the Sacrament of the Sick with what we used to call “last rites”. In their minds, anointing was the last step before death. Sometimes I was able to convince them otherwise, sometimes not. Old habits die hard.

 

Yes, anointing is appropriate for someone on the verge of death. But it’s not a “kiss of death”. It doesn’t mean you’re going to die, at least not right away. As the Catechism says, it confers a special grace. Any time someone becomes seriously ill, he may receive the sacrament. What’s “seriously ill” mean? It usually doesn’t mean the flu, but in some cases it might. I suffer from diabetes. I consider that to be serious and I’ve been anointed every time the condition seems to have gotten worse.

 

Any time you’re going to the hospital for surgery, that’s serious. You should be anointed. Any one suffering from the effects of old age should be anointed.

 

The actual anointing is done with oil that was blessed by the Archbishop on Holy Thursday. Each year the old oil is disposed of and replaced with newly blessed oil. Father will anoint the person’s forehead with oil and say, “Through this holy anointing may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit”. Then he will place oil on the hands and say, “May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up”. To each prayer the sick person responds: “Amen.”

 

Remember just a couple of weeks ago we talked about the Holy Spirit and how He works in our lives. Here we have another example of His amazing power. Father calls on His grace to free us from sin and raise us up.

 

So, to sum up. If you feel the need to have the Spirit enter you through the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick, please see me after mass. Next Sunday at

9:30 mass, along with the rest of the Archdiocese, we’ll celebrate this beautiful gift of God.

 

 

Baptism of the Lord

Today we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord by John the Baptist. We’ve heard the story lots of times. John’s baptizing at the river and Jesus gets in line along with everyone else. But, why? He was the Son of God. He came down from heaven and would soon go back. Why did He need to baptized? And why do we commemorate it today?

 

First, the answer is that He didn’t need it. Jesus didn’t need to be baptized, but you and I needed Him to be baptized. Saint Maximus of Turin, one of the Church Fathers, wrote “Christ is baptized, not to be made holy by the water, but to make the water holy.”

 

If you remember your grade school science you know that water evaporates, forms clouds, and returns to earth. The cycle repeats itself over and over. The wind blows the clouds so that the water that evaporates in one place comes down somewhere else. Eventually every drop of water on earth is connected to every other drop. When Jesus made the water of the Jordan holy, he made all water holy.

 

Obviously Jesus thought baptism was very important. In John’s Gospel He said, “Unless a man is reborn in water and the Holy Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” In Matthew’s Gospel he tells the Apostles, “Go, make disciples of all nations, and baptize them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” Baptism is our response to Christ.

Jesus died and rose from the dead to defeat death, to save all of us from our sins. But what He does today makes it possible for us individually to be one of his people. Baptism is the beginning of our journey of faith. Jesus’ seemingly unnecessary decision to be baptized by John, someone “not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals”, is actually the beginning of OUR journey of faith.

 

So, why do we celebrate Jesus’ baptism today? Today is officially the end of the Christmas season. Over the last few weeks we’ve celebrated Advent, the time to prepare for Christ’s coming. Then we celebrated His birth on Christmas and the Feast of the Holy Family on the following weekend.

 

On January 1 we celebrated Mary, the Mother of God followed by the feast of the Epiphany last weekend. We end this holy season by remembering the great gift Jesus gave us; the gift of baptism. In it’s own way, this feast is extremely important and it’s appropriate that we celebrate it at the end of the Christmas season.

 

This year there’s a very short time between Christmas and Lent. Ash Wednesday is February 10, just a month away. But it’s a long month. The days are short. The weather’s not so great. It’s easy to get discouraged and to forget the blessings of the season that ends today.   But the feast we celebrate today reminds us that this isn’t the end. It’s the beginning of our life in Christ.

 

Chances are most of us were baptized as infants. Our parents and godparents stood in for us in making our baptismal promises. But those promises, promises we made to God, are just as valid today as they were on our baptismal day.

 

As baptized Christians we reject Satan, all his works, and all his empty promises. That’s what Satan does. He makes us empty promises. “Do this and this will happen.” But we should know by now that his promises aren’t worth the paper they’re not written on. And we, or our parents speaking on our behalf, promise to reject those promises. Sometimes that’s easier said than done. Today, in lieu of the Creed, I’ve asked Father to lead us in renewing these promises.

 

Let’s let today be a reminder that we’re all part of God’s family, His children and brothers and sisters of His Son. We share baptism with Jesus. Water didn’t make Him holy. He made the water holy and by doing that, He made us holy.

 

After Jesus had been baptized heaven opened up and a voice came from heaven saying, “You are my beloved Son and with you I am well pleased.” I don’t know about you, but when I meet God face to face, I hope to hear those same words.

 

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.