Sunday, December 25, 2011

A King Who Lives With His People

Homily from the Nativity of the Lord - Year A

I asked our young children at the 4PM Mass on Christmas Eve to imagine they were a great king or queen of a powerful nation. 

"If you were a king, where would you live?"  "A castle!" they responded. 

"If you were a king, what would you wear?"  "A crown!" one boy shouted.  "Robes." another child answered.  "Fancy shoes" said another.

"If you were a king, who would be your friends?"  "Rich people!" shouted one kid.

"If you were a king, what would you eat?"  "Anything I wanted" said one child.

When Jesus was born, there was a king who lived just like that.  We heard his name in the beginning of today's Gospel: Augustus Caesar.  Augustus Caesar was the king of the Roman Empire and he was the most powerful man in the world.  He lived in the best house.  He wore the best clothes.  His friends were the richest and most powerful men in the world.  And he ate whatever he wanted with just a snap of his fingers.

Then I asked the kids the following question: "But was Caesar the true king?"  "No!" they shouted.  "Who is the true king" I asked.  "Jesus!" they responded in enthusiastic unison.  (By the way, every young child answers "Jesus" to every religious question: "Who's the Son of God?"  "Jesus!"  "Who's the mother of God?"  "Jesus!")

However, Jesus did not have any of the things we say belong to a king.  He didn't live in a palace; he was born in a stable.  He didn't wear fancy robes: he wore swaddling clothes, strips of rags.  He wasn't surrounded by the rich and powerful; he was surrounded by poor shepherds. 

"So," I asked the children, "If Jesus is the true king, why was he born in such a poor way?  And one child answered, "Because he's humble."

Perfect answer.

Jesus was born in humble means so that we might know that we have a king who does not merely rule over us.  We have a king who loves us and wants us to know that no matter who we are or what conditions we're born in, we have a God who loves us, who cares about us, and who wants to live with us.

A long time ago, there was a king in Europe who use to put on a disguise, sneak out of the palace at night, and walked around with the poor people of his kingdom without their knowing it.  His servants warned him not to do this because it was unsafe for him, he wouldn't be protected by the palace walls.  The king responded, "I cannot rule my people unless I know how they live."

That's the kind of king we have in Christ Jesus.  

Jesus "humiliates" himself for our sake.  And I don't mean "humiliate" in the negative sense of the word as in "to put down," but in the true sense of the word, as in "to come down to earth."  That's where we get the words "humiliate" and "humble" from.  They both come from the same Latin root "humus" which means earth or dirt.  If you've ever eaten pitas and humus, you know that humus kind of looks like a sandy, wet mud.

God humiliates Himself, comes down to earth, as a small child so that we might know that we have a king who knows everything we're going through.  Like the good king mentioned above, He, who is God; He who is fully divine, put on the "disguise" of humanity, if you will.  And, while never losing any of his divinity, lowered himself to share fully in our humanity. Jesus didn't stay locked up in a palace.  He left his palace, the Kingdom of Heaven, so that he could live here on earth among us.  The only thing he ever owned was the simple robe he wore.  He befriended sinners so they could become Saints.

And he didn't eat fancy food.  Instead, he came to feed us; by giving us his Body and Blood in the Eucharist.  That's why Jesus was born in a manger, a feeding trough for animals, so that he could become food for us so that we might have eternal life.

That's the kind of king we have.  A king who loves us so much, he chooses to live among us, his subjects.  "Emmanuel" - "God with us."

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Home! The Lord is With You!

Homily from the 4th Sunday of Advent - Year B

During the first three weeks of Advent, we have heard very definitive themes in our readings.  The theme of the First Sunday of Advent was “watch.” Jesus said three times in the Gospel to “watch” for we do not know the hour when the Son of Man will come.  In week two, our theme was “prepare” as John the Baptist called us to “prepare the way of the Lord” through repentance.  Last week, on Gaudete Sunday, the theme was “rejoice” for the coming of the Lord grows near.  This week, the prominent theme in our readings is “home.”

You could say that this week’s readings talk about God building a home for Himself.  In the first reading, David, the great King of Israel laments that fact that God is basically living in a tent.  God’s presence at that time was represented by the ark of the covenant which held the tablets of the Ten Commandments.  The ark was kept in a tent while King David lived in a luxurious house of cedar.  So David has it in mind to build the Lord God a more worthy dwelling place.

However, God has other plans.  God tells David’s servant Nathan to ask David, “Should you build me a house to dwell in?”  And then God goes on to present a litany of everything He has done for David and the people of Israel, pointing out that it was by God’s power, not David’s that these things were done: “It was I who took you from the pasture... I have been with you wherever you went… I have destroyed all your enemies before you… I will make you famous… I will fix a place for my people Israel… I will give you rest from all your enemies… I will raise up your heir after you… and I will make his kingdom firm.”

Basically, God is telling David, “All this has happened to you because of Me. You can’t build Me a house to dwell in, only I can.”

Now, jump ahead 1,000 years, to today’s Gospel and we hear the story of God building the house for Him to dwell in.  The angel Gabriel announces to Mary that she will conceive and bear the Son of God.  Then, Mary, asks an interesting question: “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”  In a sense, Mary is asking, “How can I bear this child? How can I provide a place for him to be conceived and to grow? How can I build a house for him to dwell in? I’m a virgin!”

And the angel’s response to Mary is just like God’s response to David.  “Should you build me a house to dwell in?  No. It’s not by human powers that this house will be built. It’s not by human conception that this house will be built. I will build the house.”  The angel says to Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you… nothing will be impossible for God.”

So in Mary, we see the House of God.  Built and prepared by God, she is the first place the Son of God calls home.  In her person, she and Jesus dwell together.  She is the first Church, the first House of God.

That’s what the Church is.  It's where God dwells.  It’s where God dwells with His people.

And if you are here today, perhaps after an absence of some time; if you’re here because you’ve accepted the invitation of a friend, or perhaps you’ve seen the “Catholics Come Home” commercials on TV, I want to say, “Welcome Home!”  On behalf of Monsignor John, Father Polycarp, and our entire parish family, welcome back to your home, the Catholic Church.  Our parish family is incomplete without out you. We want you here. We need you here. And we are overjoyed that you are here.

This is your truest home on earth for in this place where the Son of God dwells.  Jesus literally lives here. He is present in the Eucharist, the Blessed Sacrament of Holy Communion, which is reserved in the tabernacle in our Blessed Sacrament chapel and there he dwells 24/7.  Just as he tabernacled himself in Mary.  And just as he tabernacles himself in you through the Eucharist.  Think about that. Whenever you receive Jesus in the Eucharist, He finds a dwelling place, a home, in you.

Now, maybe you’re saying to yourself, “I’m not worthy to receive him.”  Well, none of us are, that’s why we say each time before we receive the Eucharist, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”  You’re not worthy, I’m not worthy, none of us are worthy. But Jesus chooses to enter under our roofs, to dwell within us.

But don’t fall into the trap of thinking that we make ourselves worthy.  Just like King David and Mary, we are powerless to build in ourselves a worthy dwelling place for Jesus to dwell. Only God can build the house.

So maybe there’s some cleaning up to do under our roofs.  Let God do the cleaning. Come to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Come to our parish Advent Penance Service Monday night at 7.  Let Jesus say those words through the priest: “I absolve you from your sins.”   Let Jesus only say the word, and your soul shall be healed.

Then, just as Nathan said to David and as the angel Gabriel said to Mary, “The Lord is with you.”  Then, the Lord will find a place to dwell within you.  He will find a home in you and you will find a home in Him.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Rejoice! In All Circumstance Give Thanks!

Homily from the 3rd Sunday of Advent ("Gaudete Sunday") - Year B

Today, the Church celebrates “Gaudete” Sunday, which means “Rejoice” in Latin.  Called so, because “gaudete” is the first word in the introit, the entrance chant, to this Mass.  “Gaudete in Domino semper.” “Rejoice in the Lord always.”

When the season of Advent was first celebrated in the Church, it was seen as a kind of “little Lent” marked by acts of penance, prayer and fasting.  And in both seasons, Advent and Lent, one of the Sundays is set apart to lighten the mood a bit and encourage us in our prayerful preparation for Christmas and Easter.

The fourth Sunday of Lent is called “Laetare” Sunday. The third Sunday of Advent is called “Gaudete” Sunday and one of the subtle ways we rejoice and lighten the mood a bit is by wearing rose colored vestments and lighting the rose colored candle.

And for many, this time of year is one for lightening the mood a bit and rejoicing.  There’s a dusting of beautiful white snow on the ground – and it’s always beautiful when it remains just a dusting isn’t it?  We gather in each other’s homes for Advent and Christmas parties.  Cookies and candies start showing up in our homes and workplace.  We hear the beautiful sound of Nat King Cole singing “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire,” Johnny Mathis’ “Sleigh Ride,” and of course, Bing Crosby singing “White Christmas.”  And the cards and letters fill our mailboxes.

So, I thought I’d lighten the mood a bit by sharing something with you that made me rejoice this past week.  The 2nd graders wrote me letters.

Grace wrote: “Dear Father Andrew, Did you watch the Notre Dame game on November 26 on Saturday? I did. It was pretty good. I thought of you when we were watching it. They lost! I bet you were mad.”

Jacob wrote: “Dear Father Andrew, Hi. I have a question for you. What is it like being a priest in Church? This year I am going to have First Communion and Reconciliation. That is going to be fun. Do you like Notre Dame? I do too. I want to be a priest. Bye.”

Lucas wrote: “Dear Father Andrew, How is Mass going? Do you like being a priest? Is your day going good? Every Sunday or Saturday I see my friends at Mass! I pray every day. Praying is good, even if you don’t want to. Maybe I can pray more.”

And finally, Will wrote: “Dear Father Andrew, How do you remember all those words in Mass? We are making two sacraments this year. It’s a big year. Don’t eat the yellow snow.”

It’s the little things right? The little things that make us rejoice.  It's letters from our kids.  The coloring pages they give us that we display proudly on the refrigerator.  Our friends that bring us joy simply by their presence.  Because the littlest things make the biggest difference.

Like a tiny baby, born in an animal’s stable, sleeping in an animal’s food trough, who would grow up to do nothing less than save the world.

This little thing, this child is the source of all our rejoicing.  As Isaiah says in today’s first reading: “I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul.”  As Mary says in today’s psalm: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”  And as St. Paul says in today’s second reading: “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstance give thanks.”

So I want you to do something before you go to bed tonight: follow St. Paul’s advice: “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks.”  Before you go to bed, mentally walk through your entire day, and rejoice, give thanks to God for everything He has given you today, big or small.

Thanks for the warm bed you woke up from.

Thanks for the alarm clock that kept you from sleeping too late.

Thanks for the hot water in your shower.

Thanks for soap, shampoo, toothpaste and deodorant.

Thanks for everyone else’s soap, shampoo, toothpaste and deodorant!

Thanks for a family that brought you joy or tested your patience and in either instance gave you the opportunity to grow in holiness.

Thanks for hot meals.

Thanks for warm clothing.

Thanks for Nat, Johnny and Bing.

Thanks for a vehicle that brought you to Mass this morning.

Thanks for the gift of God’s Son, Jesus, who gave Himself completely to you in the Eucharist so that you might have nothing less than eternal life.

Thanks for letters from your 2nd grader.

Thanks for friends.

Thanks for laughter.

And if it’s the case, give thanks to Him for being there always and especially when there aren’t things like hot meals, warm clothing, or laughter.

Yes, it’s true, sometimes we have good reason for not feeling like rejoicing. But remember that there’s always a cause for rejoicing: a baby born in a manger.

“In all circumstances give thanks” and rejoice.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Remember How Good You Are - True, Authentic Human Nature

Homily from the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

You've all heard the phrase: “Boys will be boys."  It's often used when boys are misbehaving.  Similar phrases are: “They’re only human.” “It’s just human nature.”  Which are often used when describing human failings.

Both of these statements imply a human nature that is often viewed as inherently flawed or failed.  However, truth to be told, our true, authentic human nature is not flawed or failed.  True, authentic human nature is good.

To understand true, authentic human nature, we have to go back to the beginning to see human nature as God originally created it.

In today’s first reading, we hear about a flawed and failed human nature.  After the man, Adam, had eaten of the tree, the Lord God called to the man and asked him, “Where are you?” 

The very question itself, “Where are you?”, suggests that mankind is lost.  Adam has no direction. He is disoriented; because he is no longer oriented towards God.

Adam answers: “I heard you in the garden; but I was afraid because I was naked so I hid myself.”  Listen to how Adam describes himself: “I was afraid,” “I was naked,” “I hid myself.”  Language riddled with shame and guilt.

God points out, “You have eaten, then, from the tree.”  And Adam immediately responds, “The woman whom you put here with me, she gave me the fruit from the tree.”  Shame turns into blame.  "Boys will be boys" right?

So God asks Eve, “Why did you do such a thing?”  Eve follows the example of her husband, “The serpent tricked me into it, so I ate it.”  “The devil made me do it!”  “They’re only human” right? “Just human nature” right?

No. This isn’t true, authentic human nature.  To find it, we have to go back even further. 

Listen to the first words of today’s reading, “After the man, Adam, had eaten of the tree” things went terribly wrong.  Which means before the man, Adam, had eaten of the tree, things were very good.  Before the fall, Genesis says, “The man and the wife were both naked, yet they felt no shame.”  They live in harmony with one another.  They live in friendship with God.  They are free from sin; or, another way of putting it: they are full of grace, immaculately conceived.

Sound like someone you know?

This is Mary.  Living in harmony with mankind.  Living in friendship with God.  Free from sin; or, as the angel Gabriel puts it: full of grace, immaculately conceived.

Mary reveals to us God’s original design for true, authentic human nature.

Here’s the point: who we really are, who God created us to be more closely resembles the immaculately conceived Virgin Mary than it does fallen Adam and Eve.

“Boys will be boys” or “They’re only human”, and the negative aspects those phrases imply, present a false view of human nature.

Here’s the further and ultimate point: we are good. You are good!  That’s how God created you. 

When God created everything, Genesis says that He saw how good it was.   He creates the water and the sky. God saw how good it was.  God creates the plants and vegetation. God saw how good it was.  God creates the sun, the moon and the stars; the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the animals on land. God saw how good it was.

But then God creates mankind, male and female. You know what He saw. Not just how good it was. But how very good it was.  In Genesis we read, “God looked at everything He had made, and he found it very good.”

Everything He had made.  That includes you.  We are not just good. We are very good.

A friend of mine shared with me something his priest would always tell teenagers at the end of their youth group meetings, and I want to share it with you today: "Remember how good you are."

I will frequently tell people that: "Remember how good you are."  And I will get looks sometimes as if I’m crazy.  Many times people cannot accept it: that you are good.  Because we’ve bought into the false notion of human nature: that we’re fallen and failures.  We’ve forgotten who we are.

That’s why we have to remember how good we are.  We have to remember how God made us, before the fall.  That we’re very good – that’s true, authentic human nature.

Now, do we sin? Of course. We’re even inclined to sin.  But at the core of our being, we are good.  Because God made us that way and God doesn’t make mistakes.

Listen to St. Paul’s words to the Ephesians from our second reading: “He [God] chose us in Him [Jesus], before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him.”  You were chosen by God to be holy and without blemish.

Sound like someone you know?

“You were chosen by the Father, you were chosen for the Son.”

Who you really are, more closely resembles the immaculately conceived Virgin Mary than the fallen Adam & Eve.  Become who you were meant to be by imitating the live of Mary, the Immaculate Conception.  Let the Holy Spirit come upon you. Let the power of the Most High overshadow you.  Let the new life of Jesus Christ be conceived in you.  Become a handmaid, a servant, of the Lord through obedience to Him as Mary was obedient.  In the simple, everyday tasks and challenges of life; follow the will of God always.  And let it be done to you according to His word.

Then, you will know lasting happiness and peace even in difficult times.

Then you will discover your true, authentic human nature.

Then, you will remember how good you are.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Prepare! What Sort of Persons Ought We to Be?

Homily from the 2nd Sunday of Advent - Year B

Last week’s Gospel had a very clear theme of watching for the Lord.  This week’s readings also have a very clear theme: one of preparing for the Lord’s coming.

The prophet Isaiah says “In the desert prepare the way of the Lord. Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!”  And then, in today’s Gospel, the prophecy is fulfilled: John the Baptist comes out of the desert preaching repentance for one mightier than he is coming.

Isaiah and John the Baptist are talking about preparing a way for Jesus to enter into our hearts.  It’s very simple really. There is no greater joy in life than the life of Christ in us.

Jesus is coming. Not just at Christmas; but at the end of our days.  Are we ready to meet him?  If he were to walk through that door right now, would we be ready?

St. Peter asks us a very loaded question in today’s second reading: “What sort of persons ought you to be? Waiting for and hastening for the coming of the day of God.”

What should we be doing to make ourselves ready for the coming of the Lord?  How should we prepare a way for him to enter our hearts?  I would like to suggest to you four ways for you to truly come to know Jesus more intimately.

The first one is easy because you’re already doing it right now.  Receive Jesus in the Eucharist.  There is no greater way to enter into intimacy with Jesus than by receiving his Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity within our very persons.  Receive him as often as you can.  Prayerfully consider coming to additional Masses throughout the week.  Take a look at the Mass schedule in the bulletin.

Second, come to our parish Advent Penance service Monday, December 19th.  Prepare a way for the Lord by allowing Him to lower the mountains of sin and fill in your valleys with grace.  Let the Sacrament of Reconciliation make a straight path for Jesus to enter into your heart.

Buy "Catholicism" here.
Third; maybe some of you saw a television series lately on PBS or EWTN called “Catholicism.”  It’s hosted by a very powerful preacher Fr. Robert Barron.  He explains with clarity the beauty of our Catholic faith.  Everything from the Trinity, to Jesus Christ, Mary and the Saints, the Church, the Mass and Sacraments, Prayer, Heaven, Hell and everything in between.  And it’s done beautifully; Fr. Robert explains the mysteries of the faith, showing amazing locations such as Bethlehem, Jerusalem, St. Peter’s in Rome, the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, Lourdes, and so on.  It’s ten episodes long and guess what? We’re going to give you the opportunity to see all ten.  Beginning Monday, January 16th, we’re going to show this series for ten straight Monday nights in the Spiritual Center.  The first episode is about who the person of Jesus Christ is and the the second episode focuses on his teachings.

And lastly, come to know Jesus Christ through your daily personal prayer.  Every year in the Church, we hear from a particular Gospel writer.  Today we began the Gospel of Mark and we’ll be hearing it throughout the year.  I want to suggest that you pray the entire Gospel of Mark this year.  Pray a small passage from Mark every day.  Begin today with today’s Gospel.  Spend a few minutes, reading the Gospel slowly and prayerfully.  Then think about what God is saying to you in the passage.  Then offer Him a prayer in return. It’s that simple.  And each day, pray through the next passage until you reach the end.

If you want to know Jesus more, come to know him by praying the Gospels.  Especially the Gospel of Mark in which people are continually asking, “Who is this Jesus?”  When Jesus calms the storm at sea the disciples ask, “Who is this whom even wind and sea obey?”  This Gospel answers the question in the very first verse. “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God.”  It answers it again right in the middle. When Jesus asks the Apostles who they say he is, Peter responds firmly, “You are the Messiah.”  And it answers it a third time at the end, when Jesus breathes his last on the cross, the centurion standing there says, “Truly, this man was the Son of God!”

Everyone I know wants to know Jesus more.  It’s the greatest desire of the human heart: union with the divine.  That’s why we’re drawn to enter into union here on earth; to get ready for divine union.  Come to know Jesus more this Advent through his Word and Sacraments.