Archive for December, 2007

Homily — Holy Family MMVII Dec. 30, 2007

Monday, December 31st, 2007

Homily — Holy Family MMVII                Dec. 30, 2007

In today’s Gospel we meet two very different families, the family of Joseph of Nazareth and the family of Herod the Great.

Joseph’s family begins in a lowly cattle stable in little town of Bethlehem, Herod’s family in an opulent palace in the great city of Jerusalem.   But the main difference in the two families isn’t material wealth, but rather, who’s in charge:   In Joseph’s Family, God the Father is the supreme Lord over the Household.   But in King Herod’s family, King Herod is the supreme Lord over the Household.

And from these two families we can learn what makes for a Holy Family and what makes for an unholy Family.

Let’s look first at the Holy Family.  Every Holy Family should be headed up by a holy Husband and Father.  He is to rule over his family not in a strong armed, domineering and demeaning way, but he rather is to be a leader in the ways of virtue and holiness.

The father should set the example to his wife and children of, as St. Paul says, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience and forgiveness.  He also needs to lead the family in the practice of the faith.  God will hold husbands and fathers to a strict accounting on the Christian example they’ve shown to their families on judgment day.

And the Gospels show us that St. Joseph was a shining example of a husband and father, in his faithfulness to his marriage vows, in his courage and hard work in protecting and providing for his family, and in the way he puts God’s will and the needs of his wife and child before his own desires.

Certainly however, Joseph’s vocation was made easier by the love and affection given to him by his wife and child.   Wives and Mothers of families certainly also need to be good examples to their husbands and children of Christian discipleship, as Mary certainly was.

And children also need to do their part in families in order for them to be truly Holy Families that give glory to God.   As the first reading from Sirach says, “the child who honors his father is heard when he prays.”  and “the son or daughter who reveres his mother stores up riches”.   And the Gospels show Jesus as a child and teenager being obedient to Joseph and Mary at their home at Nazareth.

Such is the model Holy Family, that every Christian family needs to try and imitate.

But now let’s take a brief look at the other family in today’s Gospel, the family of King Herod the Great.   Unlike St. Joseph, King Herod wasn’t very faithful to his first wife, Doris.  He dumped her for a wife that would give him better political connections.  But then he had this 2nd wife killed in a fit of passion because he suspected her of adultery (which I guess was OK for him to do, but not for her).

King Herod ended up going through several other wives and having nine sons, most of which he either killed, disinherited or banished from the country.  (Augustus Ceasar is reported to have said “I would sooner be Herod’s pig than his son.”)   But one of his favorite sons, also named Herod, he appointed ruler of Northern Israel upon his death.  This was the Herod who married his brother’s sister (who was also his father’s grand daughter), and gave her John the Baptist’s head on a platter after his step daughter did a seductive dance before him at a party.

What a family!  But even to the families of the world like Herod’s, the Baby Jesus offers the potential to be converted, by God’s grace, into a Holy Family.  And the tragedy for King Herod’s son Herod was that the Gospels say that he liked hearing John the Baptist preach; it appeared that God’s grace was beginning to touch his heart.  Perhaps had he not put himself in such occasions of sin, not surrounded himself with wine, women and song, perhaps he would have eventually been baptized by John and brought the Gospel of Christ to his other family members.  But unfortunately, Herod Junior chose otherwise.  May it not be the case for us!
On this Feast of the Holy Family, may Jesus Mary and Joseph bless and strengthen all families of the world, and help them to be places where the peace and love of the Newborn Jesus are found in abundance.

Homily — Christmas MMVII

Wednesday, December 26th, 2007

Homily — Christmas MMVII

Nativity Scene in my parish

Long before the Magi arrive, and well before the Shepherds begin to make their way to Bethlehem, and even before the Angels start singing the first notes of the Gloria, we find very early on that first Christmas night, alongside of the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph, two lucky creatures adoring the Baby Jesus before everyone else does: a cow, and a donkey.

The Old Testament Prophet Isaiah begins his long book of prophecies of the coming of the Messiah by saying in Isaiah 1 verse 3:”The ox knows his owner and the donkey knows his master’s crib.”

And our Lord Jesus begins his fulfillment of every prophecy and every promise of the Father by being born in a manger, a feeding trough, and by being first worshiped by these two animals.

Let us journey in spirit, then, to that Bethlehem cave, very early that first Christmas night, and make our arrival before the Shepherds, and gaze in on the wonderful things that are taking place.

There in the candlelight and starlight, we see the ox! There he is; look, how he pokes his big black head down into the manger, to get a good close look at the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, careful not to hit Mary or Joseph with his big pointy horns!

The Ox in Scripture and elsewhere has always been a symbol of strength, perseverance, and virtue. But the Ox wasn’t born a gentle giant. In fact, no ox is born as an ox. Rather, every ox starts out life as a wild and dangerous bull.

But after the master has taken the young bull, and patiently, week after week, trained him and taught him to take up (the Master’s) yoke and learn from Him, this wild and unpredictable bull is slowly transformed into a mature, intelligent creature, an Ox, who is just as big and strong as he was before, but now also much wiser, much better able to use that God given strength for the good of others and himself.

And perhaps the Ox was the first to adore the baby Jesus to remind us that you and I first need to change from being wild Bulls to being tamed Oxes, before we can kneel worthily at the Manger. What’s wild and strong in us must be tamed more and more each day by Jesus our Master, so that we may use all our gifts and talents to serve God and others, and not our own selfish pursuits.

And let us remember this Christmas, that no matter how wild we’ve been in the past, the Baby Jesus is the Divine Matador that can convert the wildest of Bulls into gentlest of Oxes, who adore at the Manger in Bethlehem alongside of Mary, and Joseph, and the donkey.

And so we turn our gaze now upon this other privileged creature, who got a first row seat and a private showing of God’s Son even before the Angels of Heaven got to see Him. There he is, bathed in the glow of Christmas light, poking his head, with it’s big ears and big teeth, down into the manger, to get a good look at the Baby Jesus sleeping, there on the hay.

Unlike it’s companion, the Ox, the donkey isn’t that impressive of an animal. Try as it might, the donkey will always be in the minor leagues, always living in the shadow of its bigger and better cousin, the Horse. And whether rightly or wrongly, the donkey has also for centuries had a bad reputation of being stubborn and foolish.

But maybe that’s exactly why the donkey is there at the Creche: to remind us that, no matter how lowly and unimpressive we are, and no matter how much much of a stubborn and dumb, um, donkey we can at times be, there’s a place for us also at this Manger in Bethlehem, which means House of Bread, and we shouldn’t be so stubborn as to not go there every week to be fed by Jesus the Bread of Life.

And even if we’re more the lowly donkey type than the strong ox type, we should remember that Jesus was carried by a lowly donkey when He triumphantly entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and He wants us donkeys of today to carry Him into this world we live in, so that He may continue His Triumph over sin and death in our world today.
And so, on this Holy Day of Christ’s birth, and throughout this Christmas Season, may we take our place alongside our two animal friends, and with them enjoy some quality quiet-time, adoring the Baby Jesus, with his Mother and St. Joseph, before the sheep, and camels, and shepherds, and wise men get there, and the place starts to get crowded.

Homily — 4th Sunday Advent A Dec. 23, 2007

Monday, December 24th, 2007

Homily — 4th Sunday Advent A            Dec. 23, 2007

Do not be afraid to take Mary . . . .into your home.” the Angel said to Joseph.

Our Patron, Saint Joseph, who we invoke in the Litany of St. Joseph under the title “The terror of demons,” is himself terrified and afraid.  But, if demons fear Joseph, what does Joseph have to be afraid of?  He’s afraid, because Mary his wife, whom he has already lawfully married but hasn’t moved in with yet (as was Jewish custom), was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.

Now, some people, even some Fathers of the Church, think Joseph was troubled and afraid because he suspected Mary of adultery.  While this might have been the case, its hard to see how it could have been, judging from what we know about the character of Mary and Joseph.  Could Joseph, the just man, have thought for a minute that Mary the Immaculate Conception was guilty of such a grave sin against the sixth commandment?

A better explanation, which St. Jerome and other Church Fathers held, is that Joseph is afraid because the Virgin Mary told him what happened: about the Angel’s Annunciation, about the Holy Spirit overshadowing her, and about how, as she speaks to him, she is carrying God’s only Son, the Messiah, in her womb.

Recall Elizabeth’s reaction to this news at the Visitation:  Who am I that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?

Who am I?  Elizabeth recognizes how unworthy she is to have Jesus and Mary just pay her a visit;  How much more does Joseph recognize his unworthiness of being the man who’ll care for and raise God’s Son?

And this is why Matthew says Joseph decided to divorce Mary quietlyShe wasn’t the problem, he was.  Actually, some people think a better translation this from the Greek would be “He withdrew from her mystery.”  Who was he to be a part of this most important plan of God?

But the angel comes to him and says “Do not be afraid to take Mary . . . .into your home.”  God the Father wants you, Joseph, to be a part of His plan to bring His salvation to the world.  You will name Him Jesus, Joseph.  God doesn’t want to save the world without your help.

And so Joseph listened to the angel and entered into to this Great Mystery, taking Mary and the unborn Jesus into his home.

My brothers and sisters, you and I can also be afraid to take Mary (and her Son) into our home.

We can be afraid in a good way like Joseph and Elizabeth was, saying “Lord, who am I that you should come to me, who am I that I, with all my imperfections, could be of any use to You?”   But God’s angel will then say to us “Do not be afraid.  Take Mary and Jesus into your Home, into your life, whole heartedly; and God will use you, He will touch many souls through you.”   This kind of Fear of God’s call is a supernaturally healthy thing, one of the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit given to us at Confirmation.

But we can also however be afraid in bad ways that are not of the Holy Spirit;  we can be afraid for example that if we take Mary and Jesus into our home and get real close to our faith, it might reveal faults and sins that we’ll have to repent of, and we’d rather not go there, rather not have to grow in our faith.

The angel says to that Prodigal Son in us: “Do not be afraid to be holy; to break away from this faithless and immoral world;  Holiness is attainable, and it is the only road to lasting peace and happiness.  Turn away from the darkness of sin and come closer to the warm light of Christ.”

And finally, there are those non-Catholic Christians (and perhaps some Catholics as well) that aren’t afraid of taking Jesus into their homes and hearts, but are afraid of taking Mary His Mother in.  These people are afraid that too much focus on Mary will take away from the total devotion due to her Son.

This last group of people need to listen to the words of the Scriptures they hold so dear:  Do not be afraid to take Mary into your home.  And then there are Jesus’ last words to us from the Cross:  Behold, my beloved disciple, your Mother Mary.  May we take her into our home, as John the Beloved and Joseph did.   Drawing near to Mary will only make us draw nearer to her Son; she will only help us follow Him more closely.

May God the Father give us the graces we need to overcome our fears and give ourselves completely to Mary and Jesus, as St. Joseph did; so that Christ may be born anew in our hearts and in our world this Christmas.

Homily — 3rd Sunday Advent Dec. 16, 2007

Monday, December 17th, 2007

Homily — 3rd Sunday Advent                Dec. 16, 2007

The festive Rose colored vestments on the priest, the flowers in front of the Altar, and the rose colored candle on the Advent wreath this Gaudete Sunday emphasize the joyful aspect of this entire Advent Season.

Advent the Church teaches us is a Season of Joyful Waiting.   Notice how the Wreath has 3 Purple and 1 Rose candle.  This is to remind us that Advent is 3 parts Waiting mixed with 1 part Joy.

That Christianity mixes Waiting and Joy together and gets away with it is a miracle in itself.  In this world we live in, joy and waiting are like oil and water — they cannot be mixed together at all.

For example, this past Thurs., Fr. Marcin left our Rectory at 2 pm in the afternoon to head for St. Pius X Rectory in Westerly, where he was going to spend his day off.   He got to Westerly at 6:30, after getting stuck for 4 ½ hours in the gridlock on 295 and 95.   I don’t think there was much joy on the highways as people waited in the traffic during the storm.

Fr. Marcin told me that the gridlock where he was was all due to two lightweight cars which initially got stuck in the snow and blocked all traffic on a 2-lane stretch of 295 south.    In some ways that is a good image of Original Sin.  Adam and Eve had a spin-out on the road to Eternal Life which left everyone behind them unable to get their either.

But just as joy comes when the stuck cars are cleared away and the traffic starts moving again, Joy came into our world when Christ came and cleared our sins away, freeing the gridlock of sin which was blocking up the Highway to Heaven.

And this is how we Catholics can have joy in the midst of waiting — through the Hope Jesus has given us.   Hope gives joy to the time of waiting.

Pope Benedict just came out with an encyclical letter on the Virtue of Hope called “Spe Salvi — In Hope We Were Saved”.  Title is a quote from  Romans 8:24.   The Pope wishes to remind us what a great Joy it is to have the Gift of Hope Christ gives us, and what need there is in today’s world for Christian Hope.

The Pope comments on how in the past few hundred years, our western world has by and large gone away from hoping in Jesus and turned more and more to hoping in science.    While science has brought about a greater quality of life in the world, through medical advances for instance, it has at the same time brought about a greater misery as well, through deadlier weapons for instance.

Ultimately, Pope Benedict says, the only lasting hope that can bring meaning and direction to all other hopes is Jesus Christ.    In Christ we have the certain hope of being unconditionally loved by God who is helping us at all times.  In Christ we have the hope of an Eternal Life of peace and happiness after this life.  In Christ we have the hope of seeing our deceased loved ones again, and being with them forever in the next life.  In Christ we have the hope of directing science and human knowledge to only serve humanity and not to enslave it.

And this Hope Christ gives us fills us with Joy, and gives us the grace and perseverance we need to Wait for the coming of His Kingdom.    May Christ fill us with His Gift of Hope, that we like John the Baptist, and the prophets before Him, may patiently and joyfully watch for His coming.

Homily — 2nd Sunday Advent A December 9, 2007

Monday, December 10th, 2007

Homily — 2nd Sunday Advent A            December 9, 2007

 A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse.

In the First Reading the Old Testament Prophet Isaiah paints us an image of a big old tree stump.

Picture that big stump alone in a field, hundreds of years having gone by from the day the ax was laid to the base of the tree that was part of the stump.

Back then, there was a majestic, giant tree which towered over the others in the forest, providing food and shade and protection to those who lived under it.

But after a while, the tree stopped bearing the good fruit it should have borne, and so this giant tree was cut down and thrown into the fire, and all that remained for 600 years was this old, dead looking stump.

But then, 600 years after the Jesse tree was cut down, a tiny shoot sprouts up from this old stump.  It grows bigger and bigger, and miraculously sends sap back into the old roots, until that stump is now a tree even bigger and more majestic than the old tree was.

And then this mighty new Jesse tree begins to form buds, that then begin to blossom flowers.  As the Psalm says Justice shall flower on this Jesse Tree, and profound peace also shall flower, till the moon be no more.

The full flowering of  wisdom and understanding will blossom in abundance on that Jesse tree, as well as counsel and fortitude, knowledge and piety and fear of the Lord, all of which will be pollinated throughout the world from this great Jesse tree.

That is Isaiah’s Prophecy, a shoot shall sprout from the stump of King David’s father Jesse, a stump that had been dead, that bore no shoots, no Kings, for 600 years, until Jesus Christ, a direct descendant of Jesse and of King David, came and sprouted forth into this world, establishing an even more glorious kingdom than the one of old.

My brothers and sisters, Jesus is the shoot that can sprout out of 600-year-old stumps.  And the Holy Season of Advent is a time when we are invited by John the Baptist to come out into the wilderness and take a good hard look at the dead, lifeless stumps that can be found in us, and in our Church.

It is a time when we need to take a good hard look at those  places in our life and in the life of our Church where justice and profound peace should be flowering, but instead there’s just a dead stump, because our sins have cut down what Jesus wanted to grow and flourish in our world.

Let us use wisely this Season of Advent to morn over the devastated forest of our soul, where those trees of Wisdom and Courage and Fear of the Lord have been cut down by our own sins and by our lukewarmness toward our faith.

Because if we lay bare those dead stumps of our soul to God this Advent, a shoot shall sprout from those dead stumps, and from them a bud shall blossom.

Christ, the Jesse Tree, will come in power into our lives, and His Justice and Profound peace will again flourish and be ours this coming Christmas Season and New Year.