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.
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
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