Archive for December, 2006

Homily — Holy Family C December 31, 2006

Sunday, December 31st, 2006

Homily — Holy Family MMVI December 31, 2006

Nativity Fresco by Blessed Fra Angelico
And (in the family,) Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man.

As the well known saying goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” And while that is usually true, when it comes to our Catholic Faith, there are two pictures that taken together are worth the whole Bible.

And during the Christmas season, each time we come to Mass those two great pictures are dramatically depicted before our eyes: the Nativity scene, and the Crucifix.

In these two images we have the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End of Christ’s earthly life. These two images also give us the whole teaching of Christ: about loving and believing in God, and about loving and respecting one’s neighbor.

The Crucifix and the Creche also compliment each other and are dependent on each other to tell the whole story: the Crucifix becomes just another execution of a condemned criminal without the Manger preceding it; and the Creche becomes a sham fairy tale without the saving death and resurrection of Christ coming after it.

While a picture is worth a thousand words, some of those words have more worth than others. In the Nativity, the One Main “Word” spoken by the picture is the Baby Jesus, the Word made Flesh. This is of course the main reason why we kneel before an image of the Nativity, to worship and adore God become a Baby.

But we do more than just adore and worship Jesus when we
kneel before a Nativity. At the very same time, we also honor and reverence certain things surrounding the Baby Jesus in the creche, things very essential to Christ’s coming to us as our Savior.

For example, kneeling before the creche, we reverence and honor the Mother of God, which is the focus of January 1st’s Mass. We even reverence and honor Holy Poverty, the life of simplicity Jesus voluntarily took on and calls us to also voluntarily take on.

And today we focus on another essential thing the Nativity scene pays honor and reverence to: the Christian Family.

One of the major “words” the Nativity picture speaks is that God, from all eternity, chose to be born into a traditional family of one man and one woman, married to each other, in life long fidelity.

God the Father obviously holds this type of family unit in the highest esteem. Jesus His Son wasn’t born of a polygamous family, nor of a cohabitating, non married couple, nor of same sex couples. No, God only came to us – and, Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today and forever, God only comes to us, – through what we might rightly call the holy Family, small h, of one man and one woman in a life long covenant of love, respect, and fidelity.

It was within this holy family unit that today’s Gospel says Jesus advanced in wisdom and years and favor before God and man.

My brothers and sisters in Christ! If we want Jesus today to advance in our world; if we want His Wisdom to advance, if we want His favor, that is to say, His blessings and peace to advance in our day; Then we have to realize Jesus will only grow strong in our society to the degree that traditional marriage and family is strong in our society.

And if we fail to continue to give reverence and esteem, and, yes, if we fail to give preferential treatment to this holy institution of marriage and the family in our society, the wisdom and favor of Jesus will retreat before modern man, more and more.

May we, and the many people of good will in our Western culture who still put up Nativity scenes this time of year, be touched by the baby Jesus to wake up and save the holy Family and Holy Matrimony before it’s too late to save it in our culture.

And for all of us who are striving to live and defend the Christian ideal of family, may we not only the image of the Creche always before us, but also that other image which completes the picture of marriage and the family — the Cross of Christ. For every marriage and family has in its center the saving mystery of the Cross, or else it wouldn’t be a Christian marriage or family.

May Jesus, Mary, and Joseph bless and strengthen all holy families this Christmas Season and coming New Year.

Homily — Christmas Night MMVI

Monday, December 25th, 2006

Homily — Christmas Night MMVI

Adoration of the Shepherds by Ridolfo Ghirlandaio 1510

 The stage is set:  Mary and Joseph have taken shelter in the cave where the animals lodge;  the shepherds have begun their Night Watch.  

 In a few hours, the Virgin will give birth, the angels will appear in the night sky, and the shepherds will make their journey to Bethlehem and arrive at the manger.

 Far far off in the distance, exotic Magi dressed in the finest robes on sleek camels slowly but surely make their way to the creche by the light of a still distant star, bearing gifts for the New Born King.

 But those Magi are twelve days away;  tonight, the shepherds will have the Baby Jesus, and Mary, and Joseph all to themselves.  But first, the shepherd also must make that Christmas journey, from their fields to that Manger.

 In many ways my brothers and sisters, most of us here are very similar to those shepherds we meet tonight.  And in many ways, their Christmas journey to the New Born King is like our Christmas journey to the New Born King.

 Who were the Shepherds?  Unlike the very wealthy, highly educated, globe trotting Magi, the Shepherds were hard working, family men of modest means, too busy taking care of their children and their sheep to fancy far off trips to other countries.

 The shepherds enjoyed the simpler things of life:  earthy jokes, singing and dancing, home made wine, time spent with family and friends.

 But what made them even more different from the pagan Magi was that these Shepherds were born and raised to follow the One True GodShema Yishrael — Hear O Israel the LORD alone is our God, therefore you shall Love the LORD God with all your heart, soul, and strength.

 But, how fervent were these Shepherds in their faith?  How well did they Shema, and follow the commandments of the One True God?  We don’t know, but probably they were a mixed bag:  some very devout and religious shepherds, others somewhat devout, others not religious nor devout at all.

 The angel appears to the whole lot of them, and bids them all to “(go to Bethlehem) and you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”

 Go to Bethlehem, and you will find.  No star, no address, just “go to Bethlehem”, which means “House of Bread”, and you will find the Baby Jesus, the Prince of Peace.

 And inspired by that vision in the night, they all went in search of Him.  

  What was their journey like?  Bethlehem was at least a half hour’s walk away, in the dark and cold of night, through the wilderness.

  It was also an uphill walk.  The shepherds had a 600 foot climb in front of them to reach the city — no Mount Everest, but at about 1 A.M. in the morning, no picnic either.

 And after they reached the gates of that nearby City, a city which they had been in so many times before, which they grew up in and around, as they began the search from place to place, not finding the Baby Jesus in the first dozen caves they looked in, perhaps the Shepherds began to wonder whether it was all just some kind of dream, whether angels had spoken to them at all.

 Could God really be born to us here, in our own day?  The great King David was born here, but that was over a thousand years ago.  Could The Christ, that all the Scriptures spoke of, The One who will save His people from sin and even death — could He really be born tonight, just up the road from us?

 But fortunately they rejected those temptations to give up the search, and pressed on.  And finally, after an hours search through the city, they spot a cave with Light streaming out from it.

 They enter into that cave, and there it all isjust as it had been told to them says St. Luke. 

Just as it had been told to them by the angel.  Just as it had been told to them by their scriptures, and by their priests.  Just as it had been told to them by their pious grandmothers.

 My brothers and sisters in Christ!  The angel of God’s grace has brought us to this Bethlehem, this “House of Bread” tonight.  We come here in search of the Baby Jesus, the Prince of Peace.  The angel tells us Go to Bethlehem tonight, and you will find Him, born anew this Holy Night.

 We search for Him Tonight, — in our hearts, in our parish, in our world.  We are tired from the climb, the night has grown long, it’s cold outside in our world, and we may even be tempted to doubt whether He will be born anew tonight in this very familiar place we’ve grown up in.

 But have faith, O shepherds.  The Prince of Peace will be born this Holy Night to all “Hominibus Bonae Voluntatis” — all Men and Women of Good Will who search for Him;  they will find Him just as it had been told to them by the angels, the scriptures, their priests and their pious memeres.

  And as a reward for their faithful searching, these shepherds will have the Baby Jesus, and Mary, and Joseph all to themselves for the next twelve days, at which time they will be more than happy to share Him with the Magi and their camels!

 A merry and blessed Christmas to all shepherds who tonight take that Christmas journey to Bethlehem, and to their families and sheep as well.

Homily — 4th Sunday Advent C December 24, 2006

Sunday, December 24th, 2006

Homily — 4th Sunday Advent C December 24, 2006

fourth sunday of advent

“Who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Elizabeth asks.

Who am I, that God would become a man and be born of the Virgin Mary for my sake?”

In many ways, the wonder and even magic of Christmas consists in that very question of Elizabeth in today’s Gospel: Who is man, who are we, who am I, that God would come down from Heaven and become One of us?

The one answer to that question has two parts to it. And we can miss the true meaning of Christmas if we fail to reflect on both parts of that one answer.

Part I: Who am I? I am a child of God, made in the very image of the invisible, all powerful and all loving Triune God.

According to the Book of Genesis, creation was “good” before God created the human person, but after God created us, it was “very good.”

And the rest of the created world is kind of like a big Christmas present from our Heavenly Father to us His children, all wrapped up in shiny paper with ribbons and a bow on top. We have been given dominion over all the rest of creation, to delight in it and make responsible use of it as good stewards.

Such is the dignity not just of the human race as a whole, but such is the dignity of each and every human soul from the moment of its creation, throughout it’s earthly life, and on into eternity.

That is who I am, that God should come to me: a beloved child of the Eternal Father, a God so madly madly in love with me that He was born in a dingy manger to be with me.

But that’s only Part I of the answer. Part II is just as important to realize, if not even more important in some ways.

Who am I also? I’m also unfortunately, but definitely, a sinner, born East of Eden, banished from paradise along with all the other sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, conceived with original sin, and blemished with personal sin, the image of God disfigured in me by the curse of sin and death.

See the apples on this Christmas tree here (in our sanctuary)? Fr. Blain told the liturgical decoration committee to put them on the tree to remind us of this fact. (He also wanted a rubber snake as well — but that got shot down– just kidding!)

But as we say at the Easter Vigil, O Felix Culpa — O Happy Fault, O necessary sin of Adam that gained for us so great a redeemer.

God became a Man to deliver us from sin and death, to cleanse us of original sin, to restore the image of God in us to its original beauty, to empower us to resist temptation and grow in virtue, and finally to open the gates of paradise to us once more.

As the Second Vatican Council teaches us, “It is only in this mystery of the Word made Flesh that the mystery of man truly becomes clear” (GS, 22.1).

My brothers and sisters, this coming Christmas as the shepherds, the magi, and St. Joseph gaze in wonder into the manger, and even as the angels and the cows and donkeys wonder along with them “Who is Man, that God should be born of Mary for him?”

May we kneel along side them and never forget, but come to know more and more fully, through the graces of this Christmas Season, just who we are in the eyes of the Good God.

Homily — 3rd Sunday Advent December 17, 2006

Sunday, December 17th, 2006

Homily — 3rd Sunday Advent  December 17, 2006

third sunday advent 

 Rejoice in the Lord always.  I shall say it again:  rejoice! . . . .The Lord is near.

  Today’s readings, prayers, liturgical vestment colors, Advent Candles, music and flowers around the altar all convey to us the same God sent message Gaudete!  Rejoice!  The Lord is near.

 This Gaudete Sunday message is a crucial one for us in our Advent preparation for the Great Feast of Christmas, now only one week away.

 Two Sundays ago, you will recall how Jesus in the Gospel of the first Sunday of Advent told us to be vigilant. . . .and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent before His coming.

 Today, two weeks later, those tribulations Christ warned us of are no longer imminent, you and I are being bombarded by them as we speak — from minor tribulations like “I’m never going to get all my Christmas shopping done” to major tribulations like “how am I going to get through Christmas Season with all the stuff that’s going on in my personal life lately?” 

 And yet, in the midst of all these tribulations, God commands us children of His to rejoice — or rather
(for most of us probably) to Re-joice.

 The Advent exhortation to re-joice is similar to the Lenten exhortation to Re-pent.  Whereas in Lent we focus on turning away from sin and returning back to God’s commandments, in Advent we focus on turning away from despair and returning back to God’s joy.

 And maybe in some ways, re-joicing, turning back to the Joy of the Lord, is just as difficult as re-penting of our sins.  In some circumstances, rejoicing seems next to impossible.   But as the Archangel Gabriel tells Mary at the Annunciation:  Nothing is impossible for God.

 Christian Joy, like Christian Faith, is a supernatural gift of the Holy Spirit (in fact, Jesus equates the Joy He will give after the resurrection with the Holy Spirit!).  All we need is a humble and contrite heart, recognizing our need for it, and this Joy will be ours no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in.

 And you know, just as God sometimes allows our Faith to be put to the test, in order to strengthen that Faith, so also does God sometimes allow our Joy to be put to the test, in order to strengthen that Joy.

 When Jesus at the Last supper spoke about the Joy He was going to give His disciples after He rose from the dead, He said No one will (be able to) take (this) Joy from you.  Not persecution, not separation or estrangement from loved ones, not long dark winter nights, not anxiety about getting everything ready for the holidays.

 Perhaps if we are still having problems re-joicing, we should recall the joy of the saints despite their many trials:  St. Lawrence the Deacon and St. Thomas More were so joyful that they both cracked jokes while they were being martyred for the faith (I’m done on this side–turn me over.  Don’t cut off my beard when you cut off my head). 

 St. Maximillian Kolbe managed to keep himself and his fellow condemned inmates joyful in a cramped hellish starvation bunker at Auchwitz by singing hymns to God.  Some of those hymns were probably Polish Christmas Carols — a good way to re-joice.

 And finally, the martyr St. Perpetua, while in the arena, was so full of the joy of the Lord that she didn’t even notice that the beasts had been set loose on her until St. Felicity and company pointed out her wounds to her afterwards. 

 And so my brothers and sisters, in the midsts of our current pre-Christmas tribulations, whether severe or mild, may we re-joice in the Lord always for the Lord is near and He has come to save sinners and bring hope to the despairing, and that’s me and you.

 May our kindness as disciples of Christ be known to all.  May we not be anxious at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition and with Thanksgiving may we make our requests known to God.  

 Then the peace and joy of God, that surpasses all understanding, will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus as we “wait in joyful hope” for His coming to us on Christmas Night.

Homily — 2nd Sunday Advent C December 10, 2006

Sunday, December 10th, 2006

Homily — 2nd Sunday Advent C December 10, 2006

 Advent Wreath Second Sunday

  Up Jerusalem!  Stand upon the heights.

 In the first reading, the prophet Baruch, Jeremiah’s trusty secretary, today tells Jerusalem her days of sorrow can now be over. 

 Daughter Jerusalem had for years been in mourning and in misery, ever since her children were led away on foot by their enemies.

 Far away were her beloved children led, over rugged Mountains,  across gorges and seas.  And years have passed since her children were led away in captivity by their enemies, never to be seen by Jerusalem again.

 But while they not seen with her eyes all those years, the memory of each one of them was held in her heart.  And all those years of sadness and separation, Jerusalem never lost hope in God’s promise of restoration.

 And today God speaks to her:  Up Jerusalem!  Stand on the heights.  Lift up your drooping head, Climb up onto the highest mountain peak in this city set on a hill, get on your tip toes and see what your God is doing in the distance.

 See your children gathered from the east and the west . . . . rejoicing that they are remembered by God.  See the lofty, unpassable mountain be laid low so your children can return home to you.  See the wide chasms, the age old depths which separated you from your loved ones be filled to level ground to reunite you to them.

 God has prepared the return of the exiles, but you Jerusalem must first Rise and Stand upon the heights, so that these children of yours will see you from afar and come toward you.  

  If you don’t stand on the heights now, Jerusalem, your children won’t see where you are, and the mountains will rise back up, and the deep chasms again return to bar their way home.

 My brothers and sisters in Christ!  This Holy Season of Advent, in the seventh year of the reign of George W. Bush, when Donald Carcieri is governor of Rhode Island, and Susan Menard the mayor of Woonsocket, during the Pontificate of Benedict XVI and Episcopacy of Thomas Tobin, the Word of God comes to you and me in this parish, calling out to the New Jerusalem, the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.  He calls to us: Up, New Jerusalem!  Stand upon the heights. 

 Now is not the time for moping, or saying how bad things are in the world today or in my life today or in the Church today.  Now is the time to stand upon the heights I have built My City upon, to climb the Lord’s mountain to it’s very peak!

 Now is the time, from now until Christmas, to daily hike for ten minutes or so, the upward path of silent prayer and scripture reading, to daily take up the Cross as a walking stick and with it ascend the path of repentance and good works.

 And yes, now is the time to make that serious steep scramble up into the confessional and make a good confession of our sins on that vista.

 And finally, after all this is done, with renewed strength and joy we will run the rest of the way, all the way up to the Summit of our Faith, the Summit of the New Jerusalem, as we climb up to this Altar and receive Jesus in the Holy Eucharist.

 If you and I stand up upon these heights this advent, we will see our long lost children gathered by the Lord off in the distance.  

 Long lost innocence, long lost faith hope and love, long lost peace.  

 We may even see long lost family members start to turn back to God, when they see this New Jerusalem we are part of shining out with the glory and joy of the Lord, and see how easy the way would be to get back to God.

 My brothers and sisters, may we not be afraid of heights, but set out rejoicing to the house of the Lord today, in the remaining two grace filled weeks of Advent we have left, when the valleys are temporarily filled in and the mountains are for a brief moment laid low