Tuesday, December 25, 2012

My First Christmas Homily

Isaiah: 62: 11-12
Titus 3: 4-7
Luke 2: 15-20

“See, the Lord proclaims to the ends of the earth: say to daughter Zion, you savior comes!”

Christmas morning!  In America it has become a time when presents are unwrapped; family and friends gather for a dinner; and Christmas shows and movies are watched.  For many of us, Christmas is a time of colors, lights, joy and good times.  Yet, we know that there are people and places where the coming of Christmas morning is bittersweet.  I am thinking of the victims of Hurricane Sandy, still struggling to put their lives together again.  I am thinking of the families, trying to get through the tragic loss of loved ones in Oregon, Colorado, other cities and countries, and especially our brothers and sisters in Newtown Ct.  I am thinking of those in our community, struggling with the challenges, the curve balls that life sometimes tosses at us.

What I do want to speak about is of a Christmas that was experienced by a group of shepherds outside the town of Bethlehem, the town of King David’s birth.  Now shepherds in the time of Jesus were on the lowest rung of the agricultural workers ladder.  They owned no land; all they had were their sheep; they depended on the sheep’s wool to sell to weavers; on the sheep’s meat to feed themselves and their families.  Their flocks were always threatened by starvation if the pastures suffered drought; by disease, by wolves; and the thievery of other shepherds.  So they were not wealthy, mostly they were poor, very poor. 

And here they were, near Bethlehem, keeping night watch over their flocks, when suddenly, an angel appears to them, telling them that the Messiah had been born.  This proclamation is not made to rulers of nation, but it is to the poor that this great news is given.  And then they have a vision of thousands of angels, filling the sky, proclaiming “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”  Pope Benedict, in his recent book on the birth of Christ, expresses the belief that the angels sang this Gloria.  Can you imagine what that must have sounded like? Picture the Mormon Tabernacle choir times a hundred, times a thousand!

So what would you do if you had such a vision, heard such news.  You go check it out!  And that is what the shepherds did, and what they found was this couple in an animal stall, with their infant in a manger, something cattle or sheep would eat out off.  Now other people, more sophisticated people, might say this cannot be the Messiah, and go looking elsewhere.  But when these shepherds saw the child, something in their hearts, told them, “Yes, this is the one who is Christ, Lord, and Savior.”  Their lives were transformed, no longer filled with despair and sadness, but filled now with hope, with peace. 

“See, the Lord proclaims to the ends of the earth: say to daughter Zion, your savior comes!”

We have all come here today, like the shepherds, to see a miracle.  When Monsignor raises the Host and the Chalice, we will hear the words “Behold, the Lamb of God!”  And like the shepherds at that first Christmas, we will recognize our Savior.  As the Son of God came into the world as a small infant, he comes to us today in the form of bread and wine.  He comes to save us from darkness and despair; he comes to brings us hope.  He comes save us from fear and sadness; he comes to bring us joy. 

Let us all open our hearts to Him, receive Him, and experience His presence within us.  Let us then leave here glorifying and praising God.  By our lives, let us proclaim to the entire world the good news, “our Savior comes!!”

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Fourth Sunday of Advent 2012

Micah 5: 1-4a
Hebrews 10: 5-10
Luke 1: 39-45

Now I do not claim to be psychic, but I am willing to bet that every child here is thinking “One more day till Christmas!!”  And there must be many adults here thinking; “Oh my goodness, only one day till Christmas!”  We are thinking of the presents we still have to buy and wrap, the food supplies we have to buy for Christmas dinner, and how much time we need to prepare it.  Then all those personal crises seem to get magnified, during the Christmas season, so much pressure and tension.

Let us just for moment, stop, try to still our minds and our hearts, and listen for the voice of the Lord; feel his Presence, realize that we are about to celebrate something wonderful that has happened in the past, is happening now, and will continue to happen into the future.  St. Elizabeth knew something awesome was about to happen, she had already experienced God’s power in her life, when, in her late age, she was able to become pregnant.  One could say that she was already sensitive to the power of the Holy Spirit, so that when she heard Mary’s voice and felt her child leaped in her womb, not move or kick, but leaped, she knew something more powerful than her miracle was occurring.  She realized instinctively that Mary was carrying the Son of God.

God was intervening again in the lives of His people, the children of Israel, as He did during the time of Moses.  The promised Messiah was coming, not with great sound and fury, but as a little child, born of a simple Jewish, peasant woman.  Yet, He will become a Shepherd of His People, not only the people of Israel, but of all nations, caring for them, healing them, and guiding them. 

It is this that we celebrate in a couple of days, this great miracle, and this great act of love by the Father.  It is an act of love that continues today.  We continue to celebrate Emmanuel, “God is with us.”  Jesus Christ is present as the Word of God, He is present in the Eucharist, and He is present within each of us when we open our hearts to Him.  And He cares for us as a shepherd, comforting us, and guiding us, bringing us back to the Father.

In the time that is left, I encourage all of us to make some quiet space in our day, so that we can hear the voice of our Shepherd, and in hearing that voice we will leap for joy.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Third Sunday Of Advent Homily - Newtown CT Tragedy

The parish I am assigned to began by building an elementary and middle school in the same facility.  Instead of building a church, the parish converted the school auditorium into a full time worship space.

When I was in formation to become a deacon, we had a class on how to prepare and deliver homilies.  Our instructor advised us to spend at least a week in advance to prepare a good homily.  However, there are times when current events forces one to toss out the long prepared text, and speak to what is happening right now.

A great tragedy has happened to our neighbors south of here; to our fellow New Englander’s of Newtown, CT.  There are many households in that town where children’s beds lay empty and the grief is so great that you must feel it when you come into the community.  A sadness magnified because of the season we are in right now, a season that is suppose to be full of lights and joy, especially for children.  And there must be strong feelings being stirred amongst all of us here today, because of what is next door here, on the other side of that wall.  Some of us who have children in the school may be wondering, “Is my child safe?”

Questions are already swirling about, “Why did this happen?”  “What was wrong with that young man?”  “Where was God, how could He let this happen?”  I wish I had an answer: I wish somebody had an answer as to the why, because then maybe we could prevent this tragedy from happening again.  The only thing I can say is that a great evil must have taken possession of that young man’s soul, and he gave into it. 

As to being angry with God, well, humanity has been angry with God off and on for many years, during many crises and tragedies.  Just take a look at the Psalms, especially Psalm 88, if you want to see some real venting of anger.  Again, I have no good answer as to why bad things happen to good people, which by the way is the title of a book I would recommend.  But I will share with you my personal reflection on where was, where is God in all this.  In downtown Boston, at St. Anthony Shrine, the Franciscan friars have a statue of Jesus in their chapel.  He is portrayed having his hand over his face, and there is the suggestion of a tear falling down his face.  The title of the piece is “And Jesus Wept.”  It is taken from the Gospel story of Jesus finding the tomb of his friend Lazarus, and experiencing grief over the loss of his friend.  God knows grief, he knows loss, and because of that he is with everyone there in Newtown, the streets of Boston, in Oregon, Colorado, Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, where anyone is grieving; sharing in that grief, and offering healing, offering hope.  

We are still in the Advent season, a time of expectation, and especially a longing for some hope out of all this tragedy.  I would call your attention to the Advent wreath, to the rose colored candle that is lit.  It reminds me of a very early morning sky, when the rays of first light is just breaking, and there is a pinkish color to the sky, promising a new day.  Hope is coming.  Hope is already here, Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, “God is with us...”  He is present among us, grieving with us, comforting us, and healing us.

Again, from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians:

“The Lord is near.  Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.  Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

We will soon be gathered around the Eucharistic table to offer those prayers of petition, praise and thanksgiving.  And through receiving the Body and Blood of Christ, we will experience a peace the world cannot give.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Deacon Prevented From Addressing Other Deacons

The National Catholic Reporter has reported that Deacon William Ditewig was denied permission to give an address to a meeting of deacons, their wives, and deacon candidates for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.  The Archdiocese requires speakers to be approved by a commission of archdiocesan priests and a lay theologian.  Because Deacon Ditewig; who had in the past been on the staff of the National  Conference of Catholic Bishops; is himself a theologian, and an author of numerous books on the diaconate.  He co-authored a book examining the possibility of women being ordained as deacons. 

Although he did not intend to speak about this in his address, the commission felt that still his presence would cause confusion among the faithful.

Deacon Ditewig has spoken to numerous deacon assemblies.  I have read several of his books and essays, and found them informative, inspiring, and a joy to read.  And I believe him to be a loyal son of the Church. 

Our bishops have the responsibility to protect the faithful; but over zealousness can also prevent the Spirit from working within us, stifling legitimate theological exploration, that can lead to discernment of the Father’s will for His Church.  

Sunday, December 2, 2012

First Sunday of Advent - 2012

“Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man” Luke 21: 36 (From the readings of First Sunday of Advent, Cycle C)
“Secular Franciscans, therefore, should seek to encounter the living and active person of Christ in their brothers and sisters, in Sacred Scripture, in the Church, and in liturgical activity.  The faith of Saint Francis, who often said ‘I see nothing bodily of the Most High son of God in this world except his most holy body and blood,’ should be the inspiration and pattern of their Eucharistic life.”  (Art.5, SFO Rule)

Advent should be a time of anticipation, of preparation, of remembrance.  We remember the event of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son God coming into our world as a human child.  We prepare ourselves in expectation of His coming again at the end of time.  But Advent is also a time to prepare for and to anticipate an encounter with Christ here and now. 

Saint Francis believed that through the people he met in the streets of Assisi, through the poor and downtrodden, he encountered Christ.  In listening and meditating on the Scriptures, he encountered Christ.  And especially in receiving the Eucharist, he encountered Christ.  We see in his writings and in stories of his life, Francis lived as one who always anticipated that in the next moment he would meet Jesus Christ.  We can feel, through his words, the excited anticipation he felt.

With all that is happening with us during the mad rush to prepare for Christmas, and with all the everyday pressures and troubles we experience, it can be hard to be fully open to the same sense of anticipation that Francis had.  Yet, we should all strive to keep our hearts open in joyful expectation, because we can never know when we will encounter Jesus.