Prepare for the Glory of God

This is the holiest week of the year.

This is the week we call to mind, through the living memory of the Church, and make present again the most sacred events ever to occur in the universe.

This is the week Jesus Christ our Savior instituted the Sacrament—the Sacrament of the Most Holy Eucharist—by which He would forever remain present in his people.

This is the week Jesus Christ our King entered his royal city, was crowned as Lord of the Universe, and mounted his throne.

This is the week Jesus Christ our God entered his holy city and from his holy and glorious throne defeated the forces of sin and death and hell.

This is the week Jesus Christ shatters the tyranny of sin that had for too long reigned over humanity and ushered in a new age for all humanity.

This is the week we embark on this solemn journey with our Lord. We may have some fears, because despite the spiritual and heavenly reality of the situation, we can be all too distracted by the material reality. It is not easy to follow our Messiah as he is welcomed, betrayed, and crucified in Jerusalem.

If there is nothing spiritual, if there is no Father in Heaven, if there is nothing beyond the material world, then we are all fools. If there were nothing beyond the material, the existentialist philosophers would be right: the only meaning is what we make, and it dies with us. We know, however, that those depressing philosophers are wrong, because deep inside each and every one of us, we recognize that there is more to all of this than simple material things. If there weren’t anything more, then money, power, and fame would keep us content for all of our days. They don’t. We long for more. Our hearts know the truth: we were made to be loved by the God who created us. Our hearts are restless until they rest in God, because we are made to be filled by love, and the only one capable of filling our hearts is God, the limitless lover. This spiritual truth and reality is far more important than any merely material reality. Truth in a merely material reality is limited to the merely material. Spiritual truths are not so confined.

We all know what is coming this week: Jesus is about to die for us.

The material reality this week shows us the Jesus was tortured and died for us.

The spiritual reality this week shows us that God willingly breaks his heart open and pours out every drop for love—he empties himself totally—in order to repay the covenantal debt that is owed to him by humanity’s failure, our failure, to eradicate sin from our lives.

This is the week Jesus Christ shatters the power of sin and death over humanity.

This is the week Jesus Christ destroys the veil separating Heaven and Earth, opening the gate of Heaven to all who are willing to follow him and enter.

This is the week we welcome Jesus Christ, our God and King and Savior, into our hearts. As we embark on this most solemn and most holy journey, let us make those final preparations so we might greet our King well as he comes to us. Isaiah tells us to set our faces like flint in this task, for we know that in doing so we shall not be put to shame. The master has need of a place to celebrate these mysteries with us. Let us ask his Holy Spirit to assist us in preparing our hearts to be such places as the appointed time draws near.

Brothers and sisters: prepare for the coming and the glorification our God.

Entrata in Gerusalemme, part of the Armadio degli argenti, by Fra Angelico.

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Today’s Readings:
April 5, 2020
Passion Sunday, Year A
(For the Procession) Matthew 21:1-11; Isaiah 50:4-7; Psalm 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24; Philippians 2:6-11; Matthew 26:14-27:66

Jesus Wept

Jesus Wept (Jésus pleura) by James Tissot

“And Jesus wept.” (John 11:35)

Death is not something in God’s original plan for mankind. Death is a consequence of sin, that original sin we hear about in Genesis. We don’t have time to get into all of that, but it is critical that we always remember that suffering and death are consequences of humanity’s turn away from God and towards itself. Even at the beginning, though, God had a plan to redeem us. In Genesis 3:15, we encounter what is called the Proto-Evangelium—the first good news—God says to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.” If there were any doubt that God has put himself into solidarity with us, He sent his Son to become one of us, and this divine Son—God Incarnate—wept at the earthly death of his friend. Death makes God weep. Even though Jesus knew he would soon raise Lazarus, even though Jesus knew that death on this earth was not an end, but a beginning, even though he knew all of this: Jesus wept. He became “perturbed,” the Gospel says, that is, he became stern-faced and resolute, and he commanded Lazarus to come out. He showed his absolute lordship over life and death. Jesus shows today that while we may perish on this earth, death is no match for Him.

Here’s the problem, though: if Jesus, i.e., God,  has absolute sovereignty over life and over death, if he hates sin and suffering and death even more than we do because he understands it more fully, if even a temporary death makes him weep, then why does he permit such things to happen? Jesus brings us the answer today. In John 11:4, we heard Jesus say, “This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Later—without having been informed by anyone—He informs the apostles in verse 14 that “Lazarus has died. And I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe.” To rephrase it slightly, God allows Lazarus to die so that many may come to faith because of the mighty that would be wrought by the hands of Jesus.

This all makes me think of the reflection Pope Francis gave on Friday during the extraordinary moment of prayer and Urbi et Orbi blessing. If you did not see it or have not read it, it is excellent. I would that you go to the Vatican’s website, read it, and reflect on it. The Holy Father, reflecting on the calming of the storm in Mark’s Gospel said, ‘we see how [the apostles] call on [Jesus]: “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?” (v. 38). Do you not care: they think that Jesus is not interested in them, does not care about them. One of the things that hurts us and our families most when we hear it said is: “Do you not care about me?” It is a phrase that wounds and unleashes storms in our hearts. It would have shaken Jesus too. Because he, more than anyone, cares about us. Indeed, once they have called on him, he saves his disciples from their discouragement.’1

But how does Jesus care for us when we feel more like Lazarus: dead? Whether we want to admit it or not, something inside each of us has been killed—and many people have been killed—by this pestilence, this viral plague. The pope continues later, this plague ‘exposes our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities. It shows us how we have allowed to become dull and feeble the very things that nourish, sustain and strengthen our lives and our communities.’ This plague, then, has been a call from God for us to wake up and remember our glory as human beings: that God emptied himself and became one of us to save us, to save us even from death itself, to save us from not only physical death, but also from a far more deadly and insidious spiritual death. The pope, showing us how God is calling us to glorify him, later continued, ‘[t]he Lord asks us and, in the midst of our tempest, invites us to reawaken and put into practice that solidarity and hope capable of giving strength, support and meaning to these hours when everything seems to be floundering. The Lord awakens so as to reawaken and revive our Easter faith. We have an anchor: by his cross we have been saved. We have a rudder: by his cross we have been redeemed. We have a hope: by his cross we have been healed and embraced so that nothing and no one can separate us from his redeeming love.’

This is no easy task on our part. It requires faith and trust in God. We must believe and be confident in the knowledge that God has and will continue to save us from sin, suffering, and death. This challenge of faith is what Ezekiel confronts in our first reading today. To set the scene: the Israelites are exiled from their lands into Babylon. They are cut off from their temple and their temple worship of the Most High God. The entire book of Ezekiel is built around the message that God will NEVER abandon his beloved children. If you look at the first chapter of Ezekiel, it is, admittedly, a little trippy, but Ezekiel is struggling to communicate a vision of God that has at its core one truth: the throne of God moves. God goes anywhere and everywhere that He desires to go. That hasn’t changed in the last 2,618 years, and it never will. As we stay at home, separated from our parishes, unable to fully participate in worship, we face the same tragic question as the captives in Babylon all those years ago: How can I offer fitting worship to God? How can I truly celebrate the Lord’s day? How can I do these things separated from my brothers and sisters in Christ?

Ezekiel today tells the Israelites that God will open their graces and rise them up from them. God will continue to lift us up from our sorrow and breathe new life into us even now, during this time of challenging separation. And God does not stop there. He promises to bring Israel home. God never told Israel that their temple was not the most fitting place to offer him worship. It was the most fitting place to glorify him prior to the fulfillment of the old covenant and the establishment of the new covenant during the Easter Event. The most fitting place to offer God worship now is when we are assembled as a community to participate in the Easter Event which is made present during Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. God has never taught us otherwise. But as the Israelites learned all those years ago, and as we are being forced to remember now: God will not allow himself to be sequestered or confined to that hour we spend at Church on Sunday. God lives within our hearts at every moment of every day. He desires to be with us and involved in every aspect of our lives. Through this plague, perhaps God is calling us to glorify him by putting our Easter faith back at the center of our lives. The psalmist today cries, ‘Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; Lord hear my voice!’ and ‘With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption.’

Let us ask the Lord to increase our faith, so we glorify him every moment of our lives.

Today’s Readings:
March 29, 2020
Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year A
Ezekiel 37:12-14; Psalm 130:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8; Romans 8:8-11; John 11:1-45

Prayer, Fasting, and Alms-giving lead to Joy!

During Lent, we intensify our efforts to grow closer to God. We fast, pray and give alms, just as Jesus taught us in today’s Gospel. These are things we must do. Humanity has turned away from God. We all have sinned and turned from God—sometimes intentionally, sometimes not. Psalm 51 speaks to all of these types of sin. It uses three different Hebrew words: פשׁע (pesha), חטאה (chatta’ah), עוון (‘ă·wōn). Each of these expresses a different type of sin. I wasn’t able to find my notes from 4 years ago, but if I remember correctly: עוון refers to a general condition of sin within humanity, חטאה refers to sin committed unintentionally—sort of a side effect of human nature, and פשׁע refers to sin committed intentionally. (I’m fairly sure the words and the definitions are right, and I’m pretty sure that’s how they line up, but I’m not 100% sure!) These are all different ways we get turned around and separated from God. We need help turning back to God. The prophet Joel tells us all—the children, the elderly, those literally just married, even infants—to cry out, “Spare, O Lord, your people!” If the Lord does not forget the cry of the poor, neither will he forget the cry of his children who, poor in spirit, turn back to him.

Jesus today tells us how to make that turn back to him prayer, fasting, and alms-giving. And he tells us how to do each of these things. We are supposed to do all of these things in private, so that others cannot see them. In fact, Jesus takes it one step further: when we fast, we are supposed to anoint our head, wash our face, and no appear to be fasting. It’s as if he wants us to undertake these penances joyfully.

It may seem odd, but there is, actually, a logic to it. Let me explain. Prayer, fasting, and alms-giving clear space out of hearts, getting rid of all the cruft that has been building up: attachments to material things, over-concern about our bodies (see Matthew 6:25-34), or things we have allowed to take God’s place. We clear out all those things that get in between us and God. When we empty out that space, though, we need to fill it up with something. If we fill it up with the praise and adulation of those around us, what good would any penance do? What good would all this work do? We’d be no better off than the hypocrites Jesus talks about in the Gospel today. Instead, we do these things in secret, and offer them to God, so that He can fill up our heart. In addition to the great practice of giving things up, we should add additional time for prayer and the Sacraments during Lent, so that we are filling that space we spent all that energy to clear with God. God is the source of all our joy, and if we are full of him, how can we help but be joyful? Fasting, prayer, alms-giving—these things are not easy, but they clean out our hearts and open them to God, they give us more room for God to work in our lives: of course we’ll be more joyful, because God lives within us!

This is, in fact, what we must do to fulfill what God has asked us to do. Paul, in the second reading, reminds us that we are to be ambassadors for Christ. We must allow God to appeal to others through us. We must be lights, shining brightly with God’s love and his joy and his mercy. What better way is there to do that then to clear out all the junk from our hearts and let God fill it?

Now is an acceptable time, now is the day of salvation. This Lent, let’s do something a bit hard, to truly open up our hearts to God. The collect today was so excellent, it said “Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting this campaign of Christian service, so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils, we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint.” (Emphasis is mine.) This is our campaign of Christian service, by which Christ sends us to do battle with evil. We pray, fast, and give alms, so we get everything between us and God out of the way and go forth as joyful witnesses and ambassadors for God.

Today’s Readings
February 26, 2020
Ash Wednesday
Joel 2:12-18; Psalm 51:3-4, 5-6ab, 12-13, 14 & 17; 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

He was sent to bear witness to the light

A man appeared, sent from God, whose name was John. He came for a witness, to bear witness of the light, so that through him all men might learn to believe. He was not the Light; he was sent to bear witness to the light.

John 1:6-8 (Knox Translation)

To whom was John testifying?

I’ve always assumed it is a crowd, but if you look at the verses around today’s Gospel, the crowds were there the day before today’s reading. It doesn’t tell us if the crowd was still there. Maybe there were, but it’s possible they weren’t. Either way, John is testifying. He is possibly testifying to the crowds, but there are two other potential witnesses to his testimony. Before we talk about them, though, let’s talk about that word: testify.

When we hear that word, it evokes the image of a courtroom. Our human system is not always perfect, but let’s imagine how an ideal courtroom would work. Ideally, a courtroom is a place where the truth is discovered. Uncovering the truth is vital in a courtroom, because justice can only be served when the truth is known. To discover the truth, a court asks for—or perhaps compels—witnesses to come forward. The witnesses then recount their experience of an event. There are two things to note about what a witness says. First: they recount an event. An event is something that happened in history. It is an objective fact. The second thing to note: the witness recounts their experience. While the event objectively happened, each person experiences that event differently. Perhaps one witness saw one thing, another witness saw another, and a third witness hear yet another thing. If we want to understand what happened, we must take these statements together, resolve their potential differences, and piece them together into one account. To do this, we have to trust the accounts of the witnesses, because we were not there. We must rely on their testimony; we must trust them. (Remember, this is an ideal courtroom, where we are all seeking the truth, so the witnesses aren’t trying to mislead us!)

So when we talk about testimony, at least in the Bible, we are talking about a person’s experience of an event that happened. In today’s Gospel, John the Baptist gives his testimony of the event that revealed to him that Jesus was the Son of God. He testifies that he saw the Spirit descend like a dove from the sky and rest upon Jesus. This was the event that caused John the Baptist to know the Jesus was the Christ. John then tells us why. John had been told previously by the Lord that one would come, that the Spirit would rest on this person and remain on them, and that this person would baptize with the Spirit. God had appointed John as the watchman for his Son. The job of the watchman was to constantly be looking for any hint of news from afar, and to bring that news to those awaiting it. When John recognized these signs of the Messiah, he could not keep quiet: his life’s entire purpose was to proclaim that the Son of God had come.

And so, John testifies. He gives testimony that the event everyone had been waiting for had happened: God had become Man. The Son of God had come. He told them who it was, how he knew, and why he knew.

Now, back to our original question: to whom was John testifying?

The answer? John testifies to anyone awaiting the news that God has become man and that Jesus is the Christ and the Son of God. John’s job was to watch for this event and to proclaim it to all once he spotted it. He proclaimed it to anyone with him that day. He proclaimed it to himself, for sometimes even the watchman is startled. He proclaimed it to us, via the evangelists.

We are, in a way, judges of John’s testimony. The judge presides over the trial and determines the action that follows as a result of the trial, the investigation of the truth.  John has testified to us that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. He is the light to the nation foretold by Isaiah. Do we judge his testimony to be true? If John’s testimony is true, then what actions must we now take in response to it?

Today’s Readings:
January 19, 2020
Second Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A
Isaiah 49:3, 5-6; Psalm 40; 1 Corinthians 1:1-3; John 1:29-34

Jesus Redeems our Baptism

Note: this homily was preached on January 12, 2020. It was posted online on January 17, 2020.

Why did Jesus insist on being baptized?

Battesimo di Cristo (Baptism of Christ) – Andrea Verrocchio and Leonardo da Vinci

It was not even the same as the sacramental baptism we now receive. Strictly speaking, it had no power of law over the people. Jesus had no need of John’s baptism. John knew this. He protested Jesus’s request. Jesus replied to these protests, saying, “Allow it for now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” What does this mean, though? How would Jesus receiving John’s baptism fulfill righteousness?

John’s baptism was one of repentance. It had no sacrament power to forgive sins, but it allowed people to show God that they recognized their sinfulness and that they desired to repent and be closer to him. In receiving John’s baptism, Jesus showed solidarity with us. He had no need to repent. It is quite impossible for God himself to sin, but Jesus was also fully human. He knew that we need to repent. He wanted to be with us in every way possible. There is an ancient principle within Christianity, it goes back to at least St. Gregory of Nazianzus in the fourth century. In the fourth century, we, as a church, still had a lot to figure out. Many heresies attacked the idea that Jesus was fully human and fully God at the same time. People were scandalized that God would demean himself so much that he would become a human being. In fact, some say that this scandal goes back to before the creation of the universe itself—that Satan’s refusal to follow God was based on the fact that God was going to become human. Anyway, the principle St. Gregory Nazianzus articulated was the idea that anything which is not assumed is not redeemed. If Jesus had not been fully human, if he had not lived a fully human experience, then we could not be healed of our sins and saved. Jesus allowed a baptism of repentance so that he could experience the very human experience of repentance. He experienced human repentance and purified it, he healed it, he made our repentance holy.

While John’s baptism could not change Jesus, Jesus did change baptism. By being baptized in the waters of the Jordan, Jesus communicated his holiness to those waters. By submitting to John’s baptism of water, he made the waters of baptism holy. His holiness was contagious. That water communicated the holiness to all the rest of the water on the planet, by virtue of the water cycle and all that science stuff we learned about in grade school, and so now all water has been made holy for baptism. When we entered into these now holy waters of repentance in our baptisms, they put to death all that is sinful within us. Then this same sanctified water is used when the Holy Spirit raises us back to life, instilling the fire of Christ in our hearts, as the words that change us and open us up to a new life of grace are pronounced: I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

This brings me to my final point. Jesus’s Baptism is also an epiphany. We used to celebrate it as a part of Epiphany, and the Eastern Church still celebrates this feast primarily on Epiphany. God reveals himself to us in a couple of critically important ways on this occasion. It is, perhaps, the first time when God the Father, in the voice, God the Holy Spirit, in the dove, and God the Son, as receiving the baptism, are all together and manifesting themselves to the people at the same time. God reveals himself to be a Trinity at Jesus’s baptism. Furthermore, when the Father calls Jesus his Son, it reveals that this person standing before them, Jesus, is truly God, truly divine. God fully reveals himself at the Baptism of Jesus: He shows that Jesus, the Messiah, is truly and fully God and truly and fully man, and God reveals that he is a communion—a community—of persons.

Today, we thank God for the gift of his Baptism, through which he revealed so much of himself to us. We also thank him for the gift of our own baptisms, through which he opens our hearts and our souls to his holy grace which, if we allow it, will lead us back to him in Heaven.

Today’s Readings:
January 12, 2020
Baptism of the Lord, Year A
Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7; Psalm 29; Acts 10:34-38; Matthew 3:13-17

The Manifestation of Christ

Note: this homily was prepared on January 5, 2020. It was published online on January 17, 2020. Sorry about the delay.

Today we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany. We all just heard again the story we know so well. Three magi, guided by a star, come to Israel in search of a newborn king. They find Jesus with Mary and Joseph, prostrate themselves, and offer him gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Warned in a dream against Herod, they depart from Bethlehem a different way. But why do we call this Epiphany? You used to have to look these things up in a very thick and fancy book about Bible things, but now Wikipedia tells you right away that “Epiphany” comes from a Greek word ἐπιφάνεια (epipháneia), which means something like manifestation or appearance. They used it to refer to the appearance of a God to worshippers. What occurs during the visit of these three wise men from the East, these three astrologers, these three Gentiles, that reveals Jesus to his followers—to us?

We can actually learn a lot from the three wise men from the East. These men were watching the sky closely enough to recognize a new star being born in the sky. They were constantly on the lookout for a manifestation of deity from the Heavens. As the magi watched the sky for signs from heaven, we are called to watch for the Lord. We must live with open eyes, because the Lord will come at a time we do not expect. We might not even recognize him at first—his own Apostles did not recognize him on the road to Emmaus! We do not know the day or the hour that we will meet our Lord; however, we must always be prepared to meet Him.

After traveling for quite some time, the magi went to Jerusalem to inquire about where the new king had been born. The star, the light and guide for their journey, seems to have become hidden from their view. We too can lose sight of our Lord. We too can become lost along the way. There are many responses we could have when this happens, but the wise men show us what we must do. They consulted the scholars of the law and the chief priests for guidance. If anybody knew where the King of the Jews would be born, it was them. When we become lost, when we struggle to find God in our lives, we can turn to our Church and our priests for guidance. Sometimes this can be an incredible challenge, especially when our Church finds itself mired in all the muck that she finds herself in today. How can we trust the Church and her ministers lead us to Christ? The simple answer is that we trust God to make it happen. Look at who the magi consulted: Herod the Great was known to be a paranoid, homicidal despot. The Jewish religious authorities had a bad history of killing every prophet they came across. Despite all that, the wise men consulted them and received the truth.

When the wise men arrive, finally, in Bethlehem, the prostrate themselves—a gesture of worship—and give Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These gifts each symbolize and reveal something about the child Jesus. Gold shows Jesus’s kingship, frankincense his divinity, and myrrh his humanity. The wise men, who were not even Jewish, recognized in the mystery of the Christ Child something greater than themselves, so they prostrate themselves in worship to him. They offered him lavish gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh were not easy to come by in the ancient world. We too are called to worship God and offer him good gifts. We worship him most perfectly when we attend Mass and witness the re-presentation of salvation to us. We are called to offer him gifts every moment of our lives, because God wants much more then our treasures: he wants to be on our mind constantly. When we go to work, to school, to the gym, to our sporting events, God is there, waiting for us to acknowledge that he is with us even there.

On this feast, Jesus’s kingship, divinity, and humanity are made manifest by the magi, let us learn from these wise men. Let us ask the Lord for assistance in following him every moment of our lives, so that our eyes may be open to see his work even in the most mundane moments of our lives. Let us ask the Lord for the courage to ask for help when we can’t see him. Let us ask the Lord for the resolve to always be attentive to his worship and in recognition of the many gifts he has given us, to offer some of those gifts back to him.

Adoración do los Reyes (Adoration of the Kings) – Diego Velázquez

Today’s Readings:
January 5, 2020
Epiphany of the Lord, Year A
Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72; Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6; Matthew 2:1-12

Reflect on these things

Note: this homily was preached on January 1, 2020. It was posted on January 16, 2020. Sorry about the delay.

Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.

There are two holy days (holidays, for those keeping score at home) throughout the year that are so incredible, so mysterious, so full of grace, that the day cannot be contained within 24 hours. Instead, we take 8 full days to celebrate them. These two feasts are Christmas and Easter. On these two feasts, we follow the example of Mary, the Holy Mother of God, and our mother too: we follow her example and take these mysteries into our hearts, pondering them, making these mysteries present again, here and now, by our words and actions, and carrying them into the world with us. By pondering these words in our hearts, we allow these mysteries to shape our lives, and we allow God to work through us. Following Mary’s example, we become agents of Christ’s Incarnation in the present day.

Today, we conclude our observance of Christ’s birth, a new beginning in our story of salvation, on the same day as we celebrate the beginning of a new calendar year. What a fitting intersection of beginnings and of days! We can celebrate this last day of Christmas by giving the world a Christmas gift on this New Year’s Day: the gift of a joyous Christian heart. Throughout these days since Christmas, we have been filling out hearts with God’s love, filling our hearts with the joy of the Nativity, filling our hearts with the Good News that God has become one of us. Saint Pope Leo the Great, in a sermon on the Nativity, taught us that these days of Christmas should fill our hearts with love and joy. As members of Christ’s body, of his Church, Christmas is not just his birthday: it is ours too. The head does not celebrate its birthday separate from the body! What birthday is this that we celebrate with Christ on Christmas? our Baptismal rebirth with Christ. Leo also taught why God becoming one of us is such Good News. Leo, wrote that our Savior, Jesus, became the Son of Man so that we might become children of God. This is one of the most important teachings of Christianity. By becoming a human being, Jesus bridged the unbridgeable gap that existed between God and us. Jesus opens the gate so that we might cross that bridge by his Passion and Resurrection.

The Nativity, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection are all mysteriously linked. All three of these mysteries are necessary for our salvation. Without each other they are not complete.  Today, Jesus received his name, which means “God Saves,” and so it is good that we celebrate the beginning of our salvation. We celebrate God’s coming to earth to save us. We thank Mary for saying “yes” to God, to giving him flesh. Without Mary’s yes, God would not have been able to become a human being. Without Mary, the bridge between us and God would never have been built. Without Mary, our chance at redemption would have been lost. Luckily, she said “yes.”

Then, Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.

Let us follow Mary’s example and bring Christ into the world by allowing him to enter into our hearts, by allowing him to show us how to love as he does, by allowing him to shatter everything we ever thought we knew about ourselves and the world, by allowing him to shine forth from us like the beacon of a lighthouse to ships in stormy seas. Let us follow the example of the Mother of God. Let us keep all these things and reflect on them in our hearts.

Today’s Readings
January 1, 2020
Ordinary Form: Mary, Holy Mother of God
Numbers 6:22-27; Psalm 67; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:16-21
Extraordinary Form: Octave Day of Christmas
(sometimes called the “Feast of the Circumcision”)
Titus 2:11-15; Ps 97:3-4, 2, Hebrews 1:1-2; Luke 2:21

Family Life

It seems like every time Joseph goes to sleep, an angel of the Lord appears to him and give him more work. Joseph, incredibly, appears to have no problem whatsoever with following the commands of God’s messengers. Whether it was to take his wife into his home or to flee with his wife and infant to Egypt, the Bible records no protest from Joseph. When God asked, Joseph simply acted. Joseph was able to act because he trusted God. He had confidence that God would provide, as God always had for his people, and so he did not fear.

This complete and utter trust in the Lord enabled Joseph to lead his family, the Holy Family. If Joseph had not trusted God completely, he would never have been able to complete the task he had been given: to protect his young wife, Mary, and his foster child, Jesus, and to raise up and teach Jesus—he was fully human, after all—in cooperation with Mary. Joseph did so through his example. Scripture records none of his words; only his actions are recorded. His trust and confidence in following the will of God became an example to his family.

We see this trust and confidence in God within Mary and Jesus too. Sometimes it can be easy to get caught up in the miraculous events that surround the Holy Family. Sometimes we forget that Jesus lived with his family, mostly in silence, for the better part of 30 years. Not much has been recorded during those 30 years. It is safe to assume that the Holy Family lived much like any other family, that they experienced the same things any family would experience: living on a budget, working to make ends meet, going to the synagogue to worship God, saying your daily prayers, and raising a child. At some point between the Finding in the Temple and the Baptism of Jesus, Joseph dies: so the Holy Family experienced the loss of loved ones too. Jesus knows the pain of losing a parent. Since we don’t know particular stories about the home life of the Holy Family, and can’t draw examples from them, we must instead look in other places.

The book of Sirach tells us that both a father and mother exercise authority over their children, that children should care for their parents, and that children should honor their father and revere their mother. In other words, Sirach is calling for children to learn filial piety. Fr. Scalia, in his book That Nothing May Be Lost, describes this as simple devotion to one’s family, country, God, and all that bestows and shape’s one’s life. (p. 21) Jesus is a perfect example: he is a devoted son, of his parents, his country, and his Heavenly Father. He begins his ministry at home. Even when he ventures out, he remains in Israel. It can be easy to forget the importance of our home and our roots in our society. Our American way is tragically individualistic. We seek to make a name for ourselves, and convince ourselves that the familiar is our enemy. In the meantime, we lose our sense of community and belonging, things which are vital for us to thrive as humans. (see pp. 22-24)

Paul gives us a lot also, but it can be summarized in one word: love. Husbands and wives must love each other with a sacrificial, self-disinterested love. The husband, in particular, should be willing to lay down his life for his spouse. Their relationship must be rooted in Christ, because only he can give them the grace needed for all of the compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and forgiveness they will need to make a marriage work. Parents should love their children, and children should love and obey their parents.

None of this is easy, but it is not really supposed to be easy. God never promised us easy, and his Son, Jesus, certainly didn’t have it easy. Families are hard. But it is through our families that we learn to love our God, our neighbors, and our fellow human beings. It is through our families that we learn how to interact with God and the world. It isn’t easy, but it is possible. We just have to allow ourselves to trust the Lord.

Trust in the Lord, and do not fear, for God is with us.

Today’s Readings:
December 29, 2019
Holy Family Sunday, Year A
Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14; Psalm 128; Colossians 3:12-21; Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23

God Is With Us

Tonight, we hold vigil in preparation for that most incredible event: the birth of Jesus, the Christ Child. We hold vigil, because he is not yet born. The entire universe awaits that glorious moment, when God speaks his Word to all of us: that Word which burst forth from God and creates all things; that Word which God cannot keep quiet; that Word which vindicates; that Word that shines forth, like a burning torch; that Word, foretold by all the prophets and heralded by the greatest of the prophets, John the Baptist. The entire universe awaits, with pangs of labor, for God to speak his Word. The entire universe awaits, as the Virgin Mary prepares to give birth to her son and our Savior.

As we wait for this joyous event, we do what every family does when we wait: we tell our stories. We speak of those who have gone before us. We remember our past, how we got here, and where the future might lead. Tonight, we heard a long list of names, but each of these names has a story. It is the family tree of Jesus, the human lineage of God himself. His family history is that of the entire human race. To really understand it, we have to go further back, though. We must go to the beginning, to the dawn of history.

In the beginning, God created the universe and everything in it out of love. The crowning moment of God’s creation was his creation of humanity and our first parents, Adam and Eve. These progenitors of humanity spoke for all of us, as parents speak for their children even now. They initially accepted God’s great gift, but soon began to doubt. They experienced that all too human of emotions: fear that God might not mean what he says. Satan, the vile tempter and the enemy of all humanity, saw his opening in those seeds of doubt and convinced Adam and Eve to do something seemingly innocuous and small: to disobey God. To say “no” to the One who created all out of love. The “small” decision, though, shattered the entire universe. Humanity was separated from God and his love, no longer able to see with eyes of faith. Adam and Eve were bound to toil and labor for their nourishment, bearing children became painful, and human vision was clouded through the fog of sin. We must now search and strive and suffer. We are all born, wounded by this original sin. After Adam and Eve, humanity has experienced millennia of pain and suffering as a result of that tragic, small choice.

That is not where our story ends, though. That is just the beginning. Because even as our story took a turn for the worse, as the universe was shattered and the human soul wounded for all time, God also give us a promise of redemption. He is never willing to accept defeat, and he will always fight for us. Despite the tragic sin perpetrated against our all-loving God, he condemns the vile serpent. In Genesis 3:15, God vows to “put enmity between you,” that is, Satan, “and the woman, and between your offspring,” that is, all Satan’s perfidious minions, “and hers; They will strike at your head, while you strike at their heel.” This woman: Mary. This offspring: Jesus. But humanity was not ready yet. You see, we expected a savior. The Jews had figured out that a Messiah was coming, but what we got was so much than we ever expected. What we got was something we never expected. Nobody expected that God himself would become man. God knew this, and he had to prepare the world—us—so we might recognize him when he comes.

The beginning of this preparation was with Abraham, our father in faith, the first in the book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ. Abram was faithful to God, he followed God wherever he was led. God rewarded him with a covenant: he would be the God of Abraham, and Abraham and his descendants would be God’s chosen people. The descendants of Abraham were called to be a light to all the nations. Isaac, Jacob, and those following generations took up this mantle, finding their climax in David the king. There are a few blemishes in the record, and you can find all their stories in Genesis, but King David represented the height of Israel. From that height, Israel shined throughout the world as a beacon. Sadly, it did not remain such a beacon. Solomon, the son of David, begins the next set of names. These names tell the opposite story: one of decline into darkness. Where David repented and turned toward God, Solomon persisted in his sin and turned to false gods. There are a few bright spots in the record, but most of these names belong to kings who led Israel further away from God and into the darkness. Their stories are in the books of Kings. The Babylonian exile ends this list at the darkest moment in Jewish history.

The nation of Israel suffered many times under foreign rulers, but nothing quite compares to the Babylonian exile in Jewish consciousness. I am not exaggerating when I say that in Jewish consciousness, the two worst moments in their history—the two moments in history every Jew remembers with pain—were the Babylonian exile and the Holocaust. That’s the kind of darkness and tragedy that we’re talking about here.

The next set of names, beginning with the Babylonian exile and ending with Jesus is largely silent in Jewish history. From the darkness of exile, generations of silence emerged. At the end of that silence, after generations of darkness, there came a light: a burning torch, which cut through the night. That torch was Jesus, the Christ, the Word, spoken by the Father, through whom all was created. Jesus, both fully God and fully human, came to save his people from their sins. Jesus was the fulfillment of the prophecy under King Ahaz—one of those names we just heard—that the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel. Jesus was the fulfillment of the prophecy to David that his son, a member of his line, shall sit on the throne forever. Jesus was the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham that from his descendants a light shall shine forth to all the nations.

Tonight, we hold vigil in preparation for that most incredible event. The entire universe awaits, with pangs of labor, for God to speak his Word. The entire universe awaits, as the Virgin Mary prepares to give birth to her son and our Savior. As we wait, let us ponder our history. Let us recognize God’s desire and love for us. The angel that appeared to Joseph told him not to be afraid to take Mary into his home. As Joseph was called not to fear, so are we. Let us not be afraid to allow Jesus into our hearts. It can be frightening to allow God into our hearts, because when we do we might recognize that we have to change. We might recognize that God is calling us to more. That is not a small ask. God is calling us to greatness and perfection. That request can be frightening.

But do not be afraid. Jesus is coming. He will save us from our sins, and he will be with us for all ages. Emmanuel, God is with us, is more than just a name. It’s a promise. The question we must ask ourselves this Christmas is this: How can I let God be with me?

The Holy Night
The Holy Night – Antonio da Carreggio

Today’s Readings
December 24, 2019 (published December 27, 2019 at 11:06 am)
Christmas – Vigil Mass
Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 89; Acts 13:16-17, 22-25; Matthew 1:1-25

The Only News That Really Matters

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near.” The Entrance Antiphon for today’s Mass asks us to rejoice. If you ever wondered why we call this Gaudete Sunday, it comes from the Latin version of this verse from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians: “Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico gaudete. […] Dominus prope est.” The Church, during this time of preparation for the Nativity of our Lord, feels it necessary to remind us to rejoice in the Lord. Our reading from Isaiah speaks of the joy that we will experience when we the Lord comes to us: the earth itself will be unable to contain its joy, with even deserts exulting and blooming with flowers.

To me, this little breakout of rejoicing and joy seems like a perfectly human thing to do. When I am preparing for some really amazing event, at some point everything just fades out, and I have to simply sit back and delight in the joyful anticipation of the event. I must admit, I am feeling this way about Christmas right now. I’ve been very conscious of my preparations for Christmas this year, and at this point, that’s all fading away, and I’m just excited for Christmas. When I was praying about the readings this Sunday, I kept thinking about a movie I recently saw… Ford vs. Ferrari. (If you haven’t seen it, it’s a really good movie. A little bit of language, but nothing really objectionable. I wish more movies were like it.) You may be thinking, “what in the world does a movie about Ford beating Ferrari at Le Mans have to do with Gaudete Sunday?” Well, that’s 100% fair, but I kept thinking about the voice-over at the beginning of the movie, where Carroll Shelby, played by Matt Damon, says, “There’s a point, seven thousand RPM, where everything fades. The machine becomes weightless, it just disappears. And all that’s left is a body moving through space and time. Seven thousand RPM, that’s where you meet it. It creeps up near you, and it asks you a question. The only question that really matters. Who are you?”

Seven thousand RPM aside, there is a deep and profound point here. The question at the end, “who are you?,” is a critically important question, but there is even more than that here. When we have focused on something long enough, when we have prepared for it with everything we have, and when we finally find ourselves right in the middle of it: everything else really does fade away. We are left with just two things: ourselves and whatever it is we’re getting ready for. In Advent, we prepare to make present again the memory of our Lord, Jesus Christ, being born in Bethlehem all those years ago. We try to let all of the hustle and bustle of the world, all of the parties, all of the distractions fade into the background as we focus on just that one even: the sudden and completely undeserved appearance of Jesus Christ on this earth, in our hearts, in our lives. It is a moment of profound joy. Elizabeth, at Mary’s visitation, asked, “why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?” We, ourselves, can pose a similar question as we move closer to Christmas: “why has this happened to me, that my Lord comes to me?”

The simple answer: God loves us too much to leave us. Our love is fickle and fades, but his never does. So, he came to us to save us. In case we wouldn’t take him at his word that he was who he claimed to be and had the power he claimed to have, he worked miracles and incredible signs, so that we might know he was the Messiah foretold by the prophets. John the Baptist had dedicated his whole life to preparing for the Lord. There was no more credible witness than John the Baptist that Jesus was the Messiah foretold from the very beginning, the offspring of the woman who would crush the head of the serpent.

There’s a point, the Third Sunday of Advent, where everything fades. The things of this world become weightless, they just disappear. And all that’s left is that pure and joyful expectation. Third Sunday of Advent, that’s when you meet it. That joy, it creeps up near you, and tells you Good News. The only news that really matters: Rejoice! The Lord is near!

Today’s Readings:
December 15, 2019 (published December 27, 2019 at 11:40am)
Third Sunday of Advent, Year A
Isaiah 35:1-6a, 10; Psalm 146; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11