Sunday, December 26, 2010

House of Bread - House of Flesh

Homily from the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord - Year A

I’ve lived in Fort Wayne for only six months now and I’m starting to get to know my way around the city. It wasn’t always like that though. On one of my first days in Fort Wayne, I was downtown at the Cathedral and I started driving back to St. Vincent’s when I suddenly realized, I didn’t remember how to get back.

Luckily, I had a GPS. So I typed in 1502 East Wallen Road and added St. Vincent’s to my “favorites” list. And my handy little friend told me how to get back home.

A few weeks ago I changed St. Vincent’s from being a “favorite” to being “home.” Home used to be 5028 Greenleaf Lane in South Bend. But my home is St. Vincent’s now.

We all know that Christmas Carol, “There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays.” And it’s so true. No doubt, most of us have traveled or will travel to be with family on the holidays. We get the word “holiday” from “Holy Day.” So, you could say that “There’s No Place Like Home for the Holy Days.”

1502 East Wallen Road isn’t just a “favorite” place for us. It’s our home. It’s a house. The house of God.

Today, Jesus calls us home to his house. And on Christmas, he calls us to his first home, Bethlehem.

The name of that little town, “Bethlehem”, is so significant, that one can’t help but recognize the obvious fact that Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem is the work of God the Father.

In Hebrew, “Bethlehem” means “House of Bread.” The little town of Bethlehem is the house where we find Jesus, the Bread of Life. It is where God becomes food for mankind.

And in Aramaic, “Bethlehem” means “House of Flesh.” The little town of Bethlehem is the house where the Incarnation, the Word of God becoming flesh, takes place. It is where God becomes man.

God becomes bread… God becomes man. Why?

Why did God choose to become a man like us? God became a man like us so we could become like Him. One of the greatest things I ever read in six years of seminary studies was a line from “Gaudium et Spes” a document from the Second Vatican Council. It says, “The truth is that only in the mystery of the Incarnate Word [Jesus Christ], does the mystery of man take on light… Christ… fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear.”

How many times do we attribute our mistakes and failings to our so-called “human nature”? Quite the contrary. Jesus became a human being so he could show us the true meaning of “human nature.” By himself being born into poverty, Jesus shows us that true human nature is not full of pride, but full of humility. By his own obedience to His Father in Heaven and his service to mankind, Jesus shows us that true human nature is not full of envy, but fully of love of God and neighbor. And by taking up his cross, Jesus shows us that true human nature is not full of selfishness, but full of sacrifice.

And in Bethlehem, God becomes bread? Why?

Why did Jesus become food for mankind? We cannot live without food. Without food we die. We cannot live without Jesus either. Jesus says, “I am the living bread that comes down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world… Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood will have eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.” (Jn 6:51,54).
Ordinarily, when we eat food, it becomes part of us.  We ingest it and assimilate it and it becomes part of our bodies and helps us grow.  However, when we receive Jesus in the Eucharist, we become part of him.  He assimilates us into his body and helps us grow in holiness.

In Bethlehem, the “House of Bread” and the “House of Flesh” Jesus became man and food. He did so by allowing himself to be placed in a manger – a feeding trough for animals. The word “manger” comes from the French word “manger” (“mohn-zhay”) which means, “to eat.” In Bethlehem, Jesus transforms the feeding trough for animals into the place where human beings come to feed on the Bread from Heaven, the Bread of Life.

This first happened over 2,000 years ago and over 6,000 miles away. As another Christmas Carol states, “Away, in a Manger.” But the truth is, the manger is not “away.” It’s not some past event in history. It’s not halfway around the world. The manger is right here and right now. This is Bethlehem. This is the “House of Bread” and the “House of Flesh” where Jesus becomes man and food. This is the place where Heaven comes down and touches Earth. So that for one hour every week, we can leave Earth behind for a moment and come to this Church; and in Jesus, see who we are truly called to be and received eternal life, and enter into our true home.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Men Like Joseph

Homily from the 4th Sunday of Advent – Year A

Every year, our Sunday Gospel readings focus on a different Evangelist’s writings.  This year, beginning with the First Sunday of Advent, the vast majority of our Sunday Gospels will come from the Gospel of Matthew.  We’re now in what’s called “Year A” of a three-cycle.  The cycles are actually easy to memorize.  Years A, B and C focus on the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke.

Two of the Gospels, Matthew and Luke, have what are called infancy narratives or, the stories of Jesus’ birth.  And each of these infancy narratives gives special attention to one of Jesus’ parents.  The Gospel according to Luke focuses largely on Mary, whereas the Gospel according to Matthew focuses largely on Joseph.

Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve had the opportunity to reflect a lot on Mary.  We celebrated the Solemnity of Mary’s Immaculate Conception on December 8th,  And last Sunday, was the feast of Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe.

This week, we hear the beginning of the infancy narrative from the Gospel of Matthew.  So, this gives us the opportunity to consider St. Joseph’s role in the birth of Christ.

In today’s Gospel, St. Joseph stands as a model of virtue worthy of our admiration and imitation.  And St. Joseph is a role model in a particular way to men.  So, if you’ll permit me ladies, I beg your patience for just a few moments, because I would like to take this opportunity to preach in particular, to my fellow men gathered here today.  I think you’ll be pleased that I did.

Men, St. Joseph is for us, a true model of manhood.  You and I must become men like Joseph  He bears a number of manly qualities for us to imitate.  Allow me to mention but a few

Joseph is a man of integrity.  He was betrothed to Mary.  She was to be his wife.  In our Gospel reading today, he and Mary did not yet live together.  But one day, Mary said to Joseph, “I’m with child.”  And Joseph knew the child was not his. 

According to the law of Moses, it was Joseph’s legal right to have Mary stoned.  But Joseph was not a vengeful man.  Joseph did not care about being right.  He did not care about winning the argument.  He cared about the welfare of Mary.  The Gospel tells us, Joseph “was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame.”  Joseph is a man of integrity.

Joseph is a man of God.  Joseph listens to God.  Three times, God spoke to Joseph through an angel.  In today’s Gospel, we hear of the first message.  In a dream, the angel tells Joseph to not be afraid to take Mary into his home.  Later, the angel will warn Joseph to take Mary and Jesus out of Bethlehem because Herod seeks to kill the child.  Later again, the angel tells Joseph to return to Israel.  Joseph listens to God and he trusts God.   Joseph is a man of God. And by being a man of God, Joseph is empowered with another heroic virtue.

Joseph is a man of action.  Immediately after receiving instruction from God through the angel.  Joseph rises from his sleep and does exactly as God commands.  He doesn’t doubt or question.  He doesn’t whine or complain.  He doesn’t wimp out. He takes action.

He takes Mary into his home and raises the child as his own.  When in danger, he leads Mary and Jesus to safety in Egypt.  When the time to return home has come, he brings his wife and his child under his roof.  Joseph is a man of action.

Joseph is a man of humility.  It could be said that Joseph was a soft spoken man.  If you want proof of Joseph’s humility, try finding in the Bible anything he said.  In all of the Gospels, you will find not one single word spoken by Joseph.  We know nothing of what Joseph said.  And there’s no need to.  Because, as I said before, Joseph let his actions speak for themselves.  He did not need to hear himself talk.  Joseph is a man of humility.

And lastly, Joseph is a man of responsibility.  As I mentioned before, it was Joseph’s responsibility to guard and protect Mary and Jesus.  It was Joseph’s responsibility to make a home for his wife and child.  It was his responsibility to earn a living and provide food and clothing for his family.

And if you want to see a great example of Joseph as a man of responsibility, take a look at the beautiful statue of the Holy Family over to the left as you leave through our gathering space.  In this statue, we see a truly amazing image.  In this statue, we see Joseph, leaning over Jesus and teaching him the Torah, the Sacred Jewish Scriptures. 

Think about that for a moment. Joseph is a mere creature, created by the Word of God, teaching the Word of God to the one who is the Word of God.  Despite his own limitations and despite his own shortcomings, Joseph did not shirk his responsibility; which was, despite his own sinfulness, he was responsible for protecting the only sinless woman who ever lived and for teaching and raising the only sinless man who ever lived.

So, my fellow men; past, present and future husbands and spouses, let us ask Jesus and Mary for help to become men like this. 

Men who listen to God and are obedient to Him. 

Men who guard, protect, and provide for our spouses and children.

Men who put aside our own ego for the sake of others.

Men who would rather suffer our own embarrassment than expose another to shame.

Let us be men like Joseph.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Right Before the Son Appears

Homily from the 3rd Sunday in Advent (Gaudete Sunday) - Year A

One weekday morning, a couple of weeks ago I was greeting our students as they arrived for school.  And on this particular morning, the sky was filled with brilliant colors as the sun was about to rise.  On the western horizon the sky was still pitch black.  But as you looked across the sky and moved your eyes to the east, the blackness of night gave way to a deep violet.

And with every passing minute, the heavens turned brighter and more brilliant; richer and richer in vivid shades of purple.  Huge, white, puffy clouds accented the sky and drew out more and more shades of that wonderful pre-dawn color.

And as the students were walking into school, I’d pull one or two aside and say  “Look at that beautiful sunrise.  Tell me there isn't a God!”  It was wonderful to watch them just enjoy the sunrise for a moment.  A few of them said their parents pointed it out to them as well.

And right before the sun peaked over the horizon, everything turned a beautiful rose color.  And it was one of those moments you wish would last forever.

Today, we celebrate the third week of Advent also known as Gaudete Sunday.  Gaudete means “rejoice.”  We rejoice because we know our Advent is halfway over and Jesus is coming.

The black night of our sin gives way to the beautiful violet of our Advent waiting and preparation.  And as we get closer and closer to Christmas in which we celebrate Christ’s coming in history, we also get closer and closer to the end of time when Christ will come in majesty.

And right before the Son (S-O-N) appears, everything turns a beautiful rose color .  We light the rose-colored candle on our advent wreath and wear rose-colored vestments.

Ordinarily, we celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12th.  But Sundays always trump feast days so the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe was moved to yesterday.  However, I think it would be OK to talk about Our Lady of Guadalupe a little bit.

I’m sure many of you know the story.  In 1531, Mary appeared four times to a poor farmer named Juan Diego.  And she asked Juan Diego to go ask the bishop to build a church on the mountain where she appeared.  Juan Diego said the bishop would not listen to a simple man like him, so Mary told Juan Diego to go pick some Castilian roses which were growing on the mountain.  These roses would be a miraculous sign to the bishop because they were native to his birthplace in Spain, but not in Mexico, and also because they never bloom in December.

So Juan Diego found the roses as Mary promised and began picking them, placing them in the fold of his cloak which is called a tilma.  And when Juan Diego went before the bishop and opened his tilma to show him the roses, the roses fell out and revealed the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe which remains to this day.

Our beautiful mosaic of Mary is a reproduction of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  In that image, Mary wears a sash around her waist.  This is no ordinary sash, but specifically, a sash that, in Mexican culture, expectant mothers wear.

Our Lady of Guadalupe is with child.  So as we look at her, we see not only Mary, but also Jesus who is present in the image as well.  A baby, hidden in the womb, not yet seen by our eyes, but just around the corner, just over the horizon.

And this infant Jesus, who is present within Mary’s womb, who is, in a sense, already here, but not quite yet, rests, hidden beneath Mary’s rose-colored inner garment, which breaks through the violet of her outer garment.

On that violet outer garment are displayed the stars of night.  The forthcoming birth of the Messiah pierces the dark of night.  And behind Our Lady of Guadalupe we see the rays of the sun.  A sun which is not yet fully revealed, but we know is there.  Just as the Son within her womb, is not yet fully revealed, but we know is there and is on the way.

This connection between Our Lady of Guadalupe and Gaudete Sunday is not designed, or given to us, by the Church.  They don’t always fall on the same day.  Plus, the sun Mary is standing in front of represents Mary blocking out the sun which was an object of pagan worship at the time; instead Mary shows us the real Son to worship, her Son Jesus.

But nevertheless, both Gaudete Sunday and Our Lady of Guadalupe reveal to us today that Jesus is indeed on his way.  Not just at Christmas, but also at the end of our time here on this earth, which is sooner than we think.

The day of our departing and the Lord’s coming is unknown to us; not yet seen with our eyes, but it is just around the corner... just over the horizon.

Let us not fear or dread that day.  But prepare and rejoice!

Again With Eyelashes

Homily from the 2nd Sunday of Advent - Year A

One of my former professors from the seminary, Monsignor Bill Cleves, is a language wizard.  He knows a handful of different languages, many of them, he taught himself.  And he spent a number of years working at the Vatican, translating documents.

He would often reveal to us the fuller meaning of a word by breaking a word down into parts, then translating those parts from their original source language.  One word that he broke down for us was “reconciliation.”

Reconciliation has three main parts: “re”, “con”, and “cilia."  Most of you probably know that “re” means “again”. For example “reread” means “read again.”  “Con” means “with” as in “chili con queso” which means “chili with cheese.”

Then there’s the last part: “cilia.” You may remember the word “cilia” from your high school biology class, when you were studying about cells such as protozoa.  Cilia are tiny hair-like structures that protrude from tiny cells and help them move around.  “Cilia” is the Latin word for “eyelash.”

You may be wondering what eyelashes have to do with reconciliation.  Well, when you put the translations of these three parts together, “re”, “con”, and “cilia”, you literally get: “again with eyelashes.”  Or, we would say, “to see eye to eye again with”

Jesus has given us the Sacrament of Reconciliation because he wants us to see eye to eye again with God.  In today’s Gospel, St. Matthew reports that the very first word out of John the Baptists’ mouth is “Repent.”  “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

St. Matthew also tells us a few chapters later in his Gospel that the very first word out of Jesus’ mouth when he begins his public ministry is “Repent.”  In fact, he repeats the cry of John the Baptist word for word: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

If the first word out of John the Baptist and Jesus’ mouths is “repent”, it’s probably a very important word worth listening to and heeding.

John the Baptist cries out, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.”  He’s telling the people to remove the obstacles that stand in the way of seeing eye to eye with God. And so the people come to John the Baptist and, the Gospel tells us “they acknowledged their sins.”

This season of Advent is a season of preparation for welcoming Jesus into our hearts.  We would do well to prepare ourselves by following the command of John the Baptist and Jesus: to repent, to be reconciled with God.

I’m well aware that there are a great many people who do not feel the need for confession.  Some might say, “I don’t need to go to a priest. I can just pray to God and express sorrow for my sins that way.”  Well, we certainly should express sorrow for our sins in our personal prayer with God. In fact, we should do it everyday.

However, to refuse to confess one’s sins to a priest is to refuse the will of Jesus.  Jesus said to St. Peter, our first Pope, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Mt 18:18)

Jesus gave St. Peter and the Apostles, and their successors the bishops, and their assistants the priests, the same authority he had to forgive sins

One of those Apostles recorded this sharing of authority in his Gospel. St. John wrote that on the day of his resurrection, Jesus appeared to the Apostles and said “‘As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven and whose sins you retain are retained.” (Jn 20:21-23)

The denial of the need for a priest for sacramental reconciliation is not the only obstacle that can get in the way of our seeking God’s forgiveness.  There are other fears about the sacrament that keep the way between us and God crooked; that keep us from seeing eye to eye with Him

John the Baptist told the Pharisees and Sadduccees, “Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’”  Don’t presume to say to yourself, “God and I love one another. I don’t need to go to confession.”  Of course God loves us. But he’s not going to let us rest in our sin.  When you’re children break the rules, you don’t stop loving them.  But they don’t get away with it either. You lovingly offer them correction that is for their well being.

You might say, “I don’t want the priest to know what I’ve done.”  Well, you can go behind the screen.  And trust me, being a priest in a parish of 10,000 people is a blessing, because you can’t tell one voice from another.  And you can go to a priest other than Monsignor John or myself – Advent Penance Service – December 20th, 7PM.

Perhaps you’re worried the priest might tell someone what he heard in confession.  This will not happen.  First of all, it’s a very serious mortal sin and I don’t want to put my soul in jeopardy.  Second of all, it’s an excommunicable offense and I don’t want to put my vocation in jeopardy.  The priest can never repeat what he’s heard in confession.  Not even to another priest.  In fact, not even to the person who’s confession he just heard.

Perhaps you don’t remember how to make an examination of conscience.  We have printed copies right outside the confessional door.

Perhaps you don’t remember how to say the Act of Contrition.  We’ve got it written down on cards in the confessional.  I need stuff written down for me. That’s why I use that big red book on the altar.

Perhaps you’re not sure what to say.  Just say your sins and say you’re sorry.  If you get stuck, the priest will walk you through it.

Perhaps you’re thinking you’ve committed a sin so horrible it can’t be forgiven.  To think that is to pretend that God is not all-powerful.  God is more powerful than sin.  And He graciously and abundantly pours out His mercy on every heart that asks for His forgiveness.

Perhaps, you’re just afraid. Perhaps you’re thinking it will be painful.  I won’t insult you by pretending that confessions aren’t a little scary and a little painful sometimes.  But I guarantee you, you will feel much, much better afterwards. 

Conversion can hurt.  John the Baptists tells us today, Jesus “will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”  Fire is scary and sometimes painful.  But Jesus is not unleashing the “unquenchable fire” on you in the confessional.  It’s a controlled burn that scorches off the bad stuff. A refining fire that purifies you the way fire purifies precious metal. A transforming fire that recreates you into your authentic self.

Remember, you’re meeting two men in the confessional who love you: Jesus and the priest.

Perhaps, you’re saying to yourself, “But I can’t stop sinning.”  Welcome to the human race.  None of us can completely stop sinning in this life.  It’s called concupiscence, our inclination to sin due to the fall of the human race in Adam. 

But we try.  And we can stop sinning less.  And with frequent, regular confession, you will notice yourself sinning less and less over the years.

When we commit venial sins we take our eyes off God.  And when we commit mortal sins we turn completely away from Him.  God wants to see eye to eye again with us.  Reconciliation helps us see eye to eye again with God and with one another.

Through Confession, Jesus brings us back into harmony and balance.  As St. Paul says in our second reading, “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to think in harmony with one another.”  Through Confession, Jesus restores creation to the way he intends it to be

And as the prophet Isaiah says in our first reading, “The wolf shall be the guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; the calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them.”

That little child is the child Jesus.  Let him guide you to himself in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  And let him guide you to the Father so you can see eye to eye again with Him.