This year, I would like to share with you some texts that are ripe for meditation on the birth of Christ. On Christmas morning, I took a video of the sunrise for your viewing pleasure, and I’ve put a bit of music in the background to keep it exciting.
Texts for Christmas meditation
Magnificat and antiphon from Christmas Evening Prayer I
Prologue from the Gospel of John (Christmas Day Gospel)
Luke 2:1-20 (Knox Translation)
Selection from Pope St. Leo’s Christmas Sermon (Office of Readings on Christmas Day)
The prophets were obnoxious to the people around them. Jesus Christ, the fulfillment of the just man, was ultimately obnoxious. As disciples of Christ, we must learn to become obnoxious to evil through our childlike humility and complete vulnerability to Jesus Christ.
Homily for Sunday, September 19, 2021. Recorded at the 9am Mass.
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
Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.
While we may not be very familiar with this passage, the Jewish people of Jesus’s time knew this particular passage of scripture intimately. The Jewish people—to this very day—recite it multiple times a day. This is the scripture passage that they put in their phylacteries. (What is a phylactery? It’s a little boxes Jewish people strap—again, to this day—to their forehead and left arm when they pray.) The Jewish people would know that the passage continues, “Take to heart these words I enjoin on you today. Drill them into your children. Speak of them at home and abroad, whether you are busy or at rest.”
Jesus tells us that this is first and greatest commandment, it is the most important instruction Jesus gave us. And what is this instruction? Love God alone. Don’t just love God partially, though, love God with your whole heart and soul and mind and strength. Don’t just love him totally but let these words—the words of God’s love—be written on your heart, and let these words write the love of God on the hearts of your children. Don’t be content to teach just your family to love God but teach people in your home town and abroad to love God. Don’t just limit this teaching to special teaching moments but teach people about God’s love, and how they can love him back, every moment of your lives. God loves us more than we could possibly imagine, and today Jesus teaches us that we must love God in return. God has given us so many gifts! The only way we can respond to God’s love is to give him everything we have.
After I completed my engineering degree and had been working for a few years, a nagging question formed in my mind. It was this question of how I could thank God for all he had given me. I had a great job that paid well. I had great friends. I was not in need of anything. I gave my time and money to the church, but it wasn’t enough. Something was missing, and I couldn’t quite figure out what that was. The question of how I can give back to God kept coming back. It finally dawned on me that the only way I could respond adequately to all the gifts God gives me is to give him everything. God had a plan that he was asking me to follow. I was loving him in many ways, but not fully.
I was not following the command to love God with my whole heart, whole soul, whole mind, and all my strength. How do I love God with my whole heart? Every decision I make should be rooted in my love for God. For example, if by some miracle the Bears went to the Super Bowl, but I had somehow not been to Mass yet that Sunday, how would I decide? Would I watch the amazing new Doritos commercial, or worship my God who gave me everything… including Doritos? How do I love God with my whole soul? The soul is what makes us who we are. It is the core of our being. When Jesus asks us for this, he is asking for us to be willing to give up everything for him. By asking for our soul, Jesus is asking us to live our lives for him, not for money, power, or any passing thing. How do I love God with my mind? Our thinking must be imbued with love for God. We love God with our minds by learning about him, by reading the Bible and good books. We love God with our minds when we marvel at and explore this amazing universe and remember that God built it for us. How do I love God with all my strength? I love God with my strength when I’m willing to do the hard things. When we endure persecution for living our faith, for proclaiming the Good News to the world when they don’t want to hear it, this is loving God with all our strength. Sometimes, it literally means with all your strength. The March for Life, for example, is exhausting. I’m entirely drained when it is over, but I go on it, because God and human lives are important, and this is a way I can show my love for God and neighbor.
How do we begin to love God more? Start small. Ask yourself, how am I giving back to God now? If I volunteer at a homeless shelter, maybe I can spend a little more time there. If God has blessed me with a well-paying job, perhaps I can give a little more to my parish or to a charity like Food for the Poor. If I attend Mass most Sundays but occasionally miss, maybe I can love God by simply making sure I’m at Mass every Sunday. I recognize that there are limits to our time and resources, and I recognize that we all have different talents, but I truly believe that if we really think about it there is something each one of us can do to love God a little more. For me, I think this might take the form of me only watching 13 episodes of Parks and Rec tonight, so that I can get to bed at a decent time. (Kidding!)
In Deuteronomy, this passage ends with, “Take to heart these words I enjoin on you today. Drill them into your children. Speak of them at home and abroad, whether you are busy or at rest.” God calls us to allow these words to be written on our hearts: the words of God’s love for us and our love for him. These are the words of the New Covenant which was instituted by Jesus at the Last Supper. This is the New Covenant we celebrate at every Mass, when ordinary bread and wine become the Real Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Through the Eucharist, we renew the New Covenant relationship with God that our Baptisms established. The Eucharist strengthens our love for God, because when we receive the Eucharist God Himself is entering into our bodies and transforming us. He transforms us into better people, people who are more fully alive and loving. In the Eucharist, we share in God’s life and love for us.
God loves us. He gives us everything we have. Every time we receive the Eucharist, he gives himself to us in a life-changing way. Let us commit ourselves to loving God every moment of our lives and never allowing anything to come between us and God. Let us live out the words Jesus said in Gethsemane, “Father […], not as I will, but as you will.”
November 4, 2018
31st Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B Deuteronomy 6:2-6; Psalms 18:2-3, 3-4, 47, 51; Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 12:28b-34
God said that it is not good for הָֽאָדָ֖ם (hā-’ā-ḏām) to be alone. That word, האדם, is often translated as “the man,” but the Hebrew meaning is really more like “the human.” God did not create humanity to be alone. He did not want us to be alone. He created us to be in relationship with him. He also recognized that we would need help in learning how to do this. God recognized that other humans, people like us, people made of the same flesh and bones that we are teach us relationship. How we relate with each other affects our relationship with God, and it directly impacts our happiness. The first relationships we encounter are within our families, and they form our understanding of relationships. The foundation of our families is the relationship between the husband and wife. “From the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” The love between a husband and wife is also an image, an example, of God’s faithful love for us.
Unfortunately, sin got into the mix. Men did not understand the dignity of women and treated them as property. Moses saw this hardness in the hearts of his people, so Moses tolerated divorce. Sin further corrupted men and hardened hearts. By Jesus’s time, the major debate was no longer, “How can we overcome sin?” but, “What is the minimum bar for divorce?” Many Jewish rabbis taught, essentially, that no-fault divorce was permissible. When the husband was tired of his wife, he could get rid of her. After Rome took over, the wife was permitted to do the same. Sin has a way of multiplying that.
This is the situation in which we find Jesus today. He gets right to the point. Hardness of hearts—sin—is why Moses tolerated divorce, but God did not create us this way. God created us to love and to be loved by him. Marriage is an image of the always faithful love of God. God loves us so much, he is so faithful to us, that he became one of us and entered into our fallen condition, into the muck of sin, and accepted the punishment that we deserve for our sins in order to repair the relationship between God and us. Jesus came to destroy sin. Divorce existed because of sin. Since Jesus came to destroy sin, he had to destroy divorce also.
Jesus teaches us that two people joined together by God in marriage can never be separated. The question cannot be, “What is the minimum standard for divorce?” but must instead be, “How can we help Jesus destroy sin?” To destroy sin, we must recognize that marriage must always be true and faithful, and that it lasts until death. When a man and a woman say “yes” to each other at marriage, they must mean it. They must remember that “yes” every day of their lives. To deny that “yes” through divorce and remarriage allows sin to win. There are certain situations in which separation and civil divorce is still tolerated, such as abuse, but even in those situations the marriage still exists. Unless we can prove that the marriage didn’t actually happen through what we call the annulment process, Catholics are not allowed to marry again. This prohibition against remarriage can cause deep pain and suffering. We all know someone who has been through a divorce, and we know the pain and suffering involved in the wake of such a tragedy. We might wonder why the Church insists that remarriage is not possible after divorce, why can’t we let someone “move on” with their life? Jesus made it very clear in today’s Gospel reading. “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” This is a hard teaching, but God is the one teaching us, so we must follow this teaching.
This teaching is hard to accept in our society. It seems unfair. How can we tell someone that they aren’t allowed to get married again? How can we prevent someone from loving someone new? Unfortunately, our society has a mistaken understanding of happiness. We no longer place Heaven and eternal life as our highest goal. Our society has placed “me” and “right now” as our highest goals. What makes me happy right now? What makes me feel good right now? We have forgotten that we are all in this together. We have forgotten how important relationships are to our happiness here and now, and how important relationships are at bringing us to eternal happiness. We have forgotten that sometimes God does allow us to go through pain and suffering, but I can also tell you that God knows our pain. God became one of us. God, who made us, became incarnate of the Virgin Mary: God became a human being who was named Jesus. For our sake, he suffered. He was crucified by Pontius Pilate. He died and was buried. Then, something amazing happened. He rose from the dead. Jesus showed us that suffering, pain, and, ultimately, death are passing things. Suffering, pain, and death lost. In the end, we can unite all of our pain and suffering with Jesus’s pain and suffering, and he will transform it into new life. The pain which we suffer because of the breakdown of marriages must be united with the pain Jesus felt when his disciples turned away from him and left him. We can take all of that pain and give it to Jesus, and he will transform us. Yes, Jesus asks us to do hard things, and he demands that marriage be faithful for life, but he does not leave us without hope.
At the end of today’s Gospel, Jesus teaches us that we must become like children to enter Heaven. When a child is hurt, who is the first person they run to? They run to someone who loves them unconditionally. Let us be like children. Let us run to the person who loves us more than anyone in the entire universe. Let us run to Jesus. When our relationships are struggling, run to Jesus and ask him to help. When someone hurts us, run to Jesus and ask him to help. When absolutely everything goes wrong, and the world crumbles around us, let us run into the arms of Jesus, who will always say to us, “I love you. I am glad that you are here.”
October 7, 2018
27th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B Genesis 2:18-24; Psalm 128:1-2, 3, 4-5, 6; Hebrews 2:9-11; Mark 10:2-16
The second reading ends with the line: Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works. But I think this is one sentence too early. The next line reads, “You believe that God is one. You do well. Even the demons believe that and tremble.” We must have faith to be saved, but what does it mean to have faith?
Having faith is so much more than the simple ability to say, “Jesus Christ is my personal Lord and Savior.” It’s so much more than saying, “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth.” The words are important, don’t get me wrong, but to truly mean those words we say: that is faith. To truly mean those words we say, not only must believe those words in our minds, but we must show that believe those words in our actions.
If I have faith and believe that Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior, that should show in how I live my life. Jesus Christ cared about the poor and the lonely, and he helped them when they allowed him to do so. Jesus Christ taught those around him the truth, even when his life was threatened because of it. Jesus Christ showed compassion to the sick and the lame. Jesus overturned the tables of the money-changers, and He admonished those who were persistent in sinning. Jesus Christ looked at people, and He loved them. Jesus Christ lived the Gospel. If I believe that he is my God, then shouldn’t my life resemble his? If I believe that he is my God, do I have any right to decide that one of these aspects is more important than the others? Perhaps my natural abilities lead me to teaching others and showing God’s love to people, but that doesn’t mean I can ignore the sick or allow sin to go unchallenged. Jesus did all these things. We aren’t God, so we can’t do everything, but we should at least try!
But this is all if I have faith. This is all if I believe in Jesus Christ. It all depends on how I answer one question. It depends on how I answer the question Jesus asks the disciples today: Who do you say that I am? If Jesus was standing in front of you, and he asked you this question, how would you answer? Think about it. How would you answer the question? Say it to Jesus in your mind and be honest. Jesus doesn’t want to hear what your spouse or religion teacher says about him. He doesn’t want to hear the preconceived notions you have of him. Jesus wants to hear who you say that he is. Is he your friend? Is he the one who will always love you? Jesus can handle whatever you say to him. Let’s take a few seconds, right now, and answer Jesus.
Did you tell him? Were you honest to him?
No matter what you just told him, I think Jesus would say to each one of us, “my child, I love you. I love you so much more than you can imagine. I did not come into this world to condemn you, but so that you may have eternal life, and I have so much more I wish to teach you about myself. You have to take the initiative though.” Then Jesus says to as, as he did to his disciples in the Gospel, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.”
Pope Saint John Paul II said that, “These words denote the radicality of a choice that does not allow for hesitation or second thoughts. It is a demanding requirement that unsettled even the disciples and that, throughout the ages, has held back many men and women from following Christ. […] Even today these words are regarded as a stumbling block and folly (cf. 1 Cor 1: 22-25). Yet they must be faced, because the path outlined by God for his Son is the path to be undertaken by the disciple who has decided to follow Jesus. There are not two paths, but only one: the one trodden by the Master. The disciple cannot invent a different way.” 1
We must deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Jesus, because only this path leads us on the road to eternal life. Only Jesus can offer us Heaven and eternal happiness. Following money, prestige, power, worldly pleasures, or anything that is not Jesus else will result in precisely the opposite: eternal misery and separation from God. Self-denial is hard. Any cross given us is hard. Following Jesus is hard. All those things that Jesus does in the Gospel, and then asks us to do: they’re hard. They are exhausting. They tax us. Flannery O’Connor wrote that “people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it if the cross. It is much harder to believe than not to believe.”
Following Jesus is hard. It is taxing. It depends that we do God’s will instead of our own. But we are not alone when we follow Jesus. God is on our side. He will never let us lose our way, as long as we follow his Son as well as we can. Pope Emeritus Benedict says that we have been “created for greatness—for God himself; [we were] created to be filled by God. But [our] heart[s] [are] too small for the greatness to which [they are] destined. [Our hearts] must be stretched.” 2 Because our hearts must be stretched, “the ways of the Lord are not easy, but we were not created for an easy life, but for great things, for goodness.” 3
Friends, let us do the hard things, let us do the great things. We have God on our side, the same God who calls us to be lights to the world. Let us follow Christ, so that he can lead us into eternal life. In the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “I have told you this so that you might have peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.” (John 16:33)
September 16, 2018
24th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B Isaiah 50:4c-9a; Psalm 116:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9; James 2:14-18; Mark 8:27-35