Friday, December 30, 2016

Holy Families Make Great Saints

If you decided that you wanted to become a saint, where would you have to go to make your dream a reality?

Would you have to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land or Rome? Would you have to go to a monastery? Would you have to visit renowned people of faith around the globe? Would you have to visit all the world’s great libraries and read the works of faith handed down to us over the generations?

While all these pursuits might be helpful in nourishing our faith, they are not absolutely necessary to becoming a saint.

If we want to become saints - and all of us are called to be saints through our baptism - then we need to look no further than our families and our homes.

It is through our family that we first come to learn about our faith. Our parents are the ones who bring us to church and teach us our prayers. By their example, we learn what it means to be men and women of faith. And in the home we learn and practice virtues such as patience, kindness and love which are necessary for living a godly life in this world. It is through our families that God forms our minds and hearts to serve Him as women and men of faith.

There is no doubt that all the great saints had their beginnings in a family. Jesus Himself needed Mary and Joseph to teach Him how to speak, how to pray and how to obey God. One of the Church’s greatest saints, Saint Augustine, was converted by the ceaseless prayers of his mother, Saint Monica. In more recent times, Saint Therese of Lisieux learned her faith from her godly parents both of whom are also canonized saints. In fact, they are the first saints to have been canonized as a couple. Blessed Pope John Paul II spoke frequently and fondly of how his parents nurtured a sense of faith, courage and integrity in him.

All of us, no matter where we are on our journey of faith, are called to make our families a priority. It is in our homes and among our loved ones that God wants to make us holy.

Today’s readings are rich with advice and encouragement for us in relationship to our family members. We could be here until next Sunday going through every line of these Scriptures and reflecting on their meaning for marriage and family life. In fact, it would be a good idea for all of us in the coming week to look these readings up in our Bibles or online and pray over them so that we can begin to act on them. They give us a beautiful blueprint for how God intends us to live. However, today, for the sake of time, let us focus on what the role of each member of the family is.

Our first reading tells us that “God sets a father in honor over his children.” In any family, the father is irreplaceable.  It is by the father’s words and example that daughters come to know that they are beautiful and worthy of being protected. Sons learn from their dads about courage and integrity and about the dignity with which they should treat women. Not only do fathers bring economic security to families, they bring psychological and emotional security as well. Also, it is through our earthly fathers that we learn to relate to our Heavenly Father. If our father on earth is stern and distant, we will perceive God the Father in the same way. However, if our father is warm, affectionate and loving we will relate to God the same way. So all fathers have a very important role - a true vocation from God - to be examples of love to their wives and children.

Mothers also have an irreplaceable role in the home. All new life comes through the mother who shares her body first with her husband and then with the children which come from their loving union. This is a beautiful reflection of Jesus who gives His own Body and Blood to give us live and nourish us in the family God. Mothers teach their children how to be gentle, how to take care of themselves and how to care for each other. When children are hurting, their first instinct is to run to their mothers because they have a special touch in bring comfort and making the pain go away. As Jesus honored His Blessed Mother, we should all honor our own mothers no matter how flawed or imperfect they may be, because they are God’s gift to us reflecting His own tenderness and mercy.

Children also have a very special role to play in the family unit. It is for the nurturing of children primarily that God created the family. It is through children that parents experience true self-sacrificing love. By facing all the challenges that come with raising boys and girls, parents grow in patience, love and gentleness. Also, children grow in virtue by sharing in chores around the house. By emptying the dishwasher, raking the leaves, cleaning their rooms, they learn diligence and the satisfaction that comes from doing a job well. When they interact with their brothers and sisters, they learn how to share and to put the interests of others before their own. Through their families, children learn to become good citizens of their country and holy saints in God’s Kingdom.

No families are perfect and not every family is whole. Many times through death or divorce, homes cannot always have both a father and mother. However, God provides the grace to overcome the shortcomings and weaknesses of our families. So the other essential element of any home is Jesus. When we put Jesus at the center of our family lives through prayer and through attending Mass, He will provide us with all we need to grow in love and faith.

In no other time of human history has it been harder for the family. However, through faith, we can reclaim the blessings that God intends to offer us through the home. It requires us to make a renewed commitment to our own family, taking up whatever challenges may come our way with determination and courage. When we embrace it all with the grace that God gives we will find ourselves growing in holiness and, in the end, becoming saints.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

What Child Is This?

One of the most popular Christmas hymns is "What Child is This?" The melody is taken from a sixteenth century English ballad entitled "Greensleeves". However, the lyrics we know today were written in 1865 by William Chatterton Dix. As a young man in his late twenties, he was struck down by an illness which nearly killed him. The recovery period left him bedridden for several months during which he fell into a deep depression. To pull himself out of it, he began writing poetry turning his attention to more positive and constructive thoughts. The words to the popular song, "What Child is This?",are the fruit of his efforts. It quickly became a standard piece featured in Christmas liturgies and a favorite among Christmas carolers.

The song asks a question which is at the center of today's celebration. What child is this laid to rest in the manger at Bethlehem? Who is it that is born for us this day? Why do we continue to celebrate his birth so many centuries later?

This child is Christ the Lord. He is the Savior, sent to rescue us from a life of sin. He is God come down to earth for us to worship and adore. He was present when the world was created. He is the image and likeness of God. When we look upon him, we see the all-powerful God. When we hear him, it is the very Word of God which reaches our ears.

Before his birth, God sent his prophets to teach us his ways. They proclaimed to Israel the truth of God's love for them and the promise that one would come who would be their King forever. With the birth of Jesus, however, it is not another prophet who is sent but God himself who comes not only to teach us but to share our lives with us. Today's second reading puts it this way: "In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he has spoken to us through the Son." This child is the Son of God come down to bring the light of God's truth to the whole world.

At the same time, this child is one of us. He is made of flesh and bones. He needed to eat and breathe just as we do. He needed to be protected as a baby by his parents. We know all too well that he also was capable of suffering and dying. Yet he lived a life of perfect obedience to his heavenly Father, and because of it, he could be the source of new life to us who have believed in him.

And so, Jesus teaches us not only about God, he also teaches us about ourselves. No man in history lived as fully a human life as Jesus did because he was free from sin from the moment of his birth. All other women and men have had the beauty of their humanity scarred by selfishness, pride and greed. As great as many of them were, they could never show us the full potential of our human nature. But Jesus, being free of sin, reveals to us what God meant us to be and how he meant us to live. Not only that, by sending his Spirit upon us, he has given us the power to live a fully human life, free from the bondage of sin. This is Saint John's message to us in the gospel: " those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name."

Today's feast is not just a commemoration of Jesus' birthday. Rather, it is about our new birth through faith. In the waters of baptism, we were born again. We stepped out of the darkness of ignorance and sin into the light of God's word. We rejoice that on this day that light entered the world and that it has shone in our hearts. Because Jesus was born, we do not have to stumble around in the darkness unable to reach God and unable to live a good life. Rather we have God's word revealed to us, we have his Spirit in our hearts guiding us on the way of salvation and we have a Savior who made it all possible by becoming one of us.

What child is this? He is Christ, our King and our Lord. He is the one whom shepherds adore and wise men seek. He is our brother who walks among us and reveals to us the love of our God. He is Jesus who will one day come again, not in the humility and meekness of the baby born in a manger, but in the power and glory of the only Son of God. We look forward to his coming again just as we rejoice in his birth. We commit ourselves to bringing the light of his word into the darkness of our world. That light is Christ the Lord, and the darkness will never overcome him.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Christmas Mysteries Of The Rosary

1. The Birth of Jesus (Mt.1:18-25; Lk.2:1-7)

2. The Angels’ Proclamation to the Shepherds (Lk. 2: 8-20)

3. The Magi (Mt. 2: 1-10)

4. The Flight to Egypt (Mt.2: 13-15)

5. The Death of the Holy Innocents (Mt.2: 16-18)

Sunday, December 25, 2016

A Child Born In Wonder

Part of the beauty of this day is that it brings us back to our childhood.

If we have children of our own, we can re-live in their eyes the wonder of presents mysteriously appearing under a Christmas tree. We can share their joy in a world full of angels, elves and other mystical beings.

If we do not have children of our own, we remember Christmases past when we enjoyed the warmth of our family. We may call to mind the joy we felt in sharing gifts with one another. As we sing carols, we may remember the loved ones who once stood by our side at Christmas Mass who are no longer with us.

This day might also be a time when we remember what it was like to be a child. How we were so quick to believe in angels. How we were filled with wonder at a world charged with mystery, a world in which a child could be born of a virgin. We were so confident that the universe was ruled by a loving Creator and that we were cared for and would always be provided for.

In no small part, Christmas day is a time to remember the wonder and awe which once came so naturally to us. For many of us, the hard realities of life began to rob us of our ability to wonder. Our education sometimes stripped the world of its mysteries, attributing what we thought were miracles to natural causes. As we ventured out into the world to try to make it on our own, we began to see it as a cold, dark place where it was difficult to get along rather than the planet sustained by the love of God. All these realities began to seep into our hearts, callusing them and making it harder for us to believe.

On this day, we celebrate the birth of Jesus who told us that we must become like children if we are to inherit the Kingdom of God. In this morning’s proclamation from the Gospel of Saint John we hear that those who believe in Jesus and accept Him are given the power to become the children of God. Finally, in the same Gospel of Saint John, Jesus tells the Pharisee, Nicodemus, that we must be “born again” or “born from above” if we are to be saved.

Becoming children again - children of God - means allowing our Heavenly Father to renew our sense of wonder. It means opening our eyes again to the mystery of a universe that is sustained in being by a loving Creator who knows each of us by name. It means being quick to believe rather than always being skeptical. It means entrusting our lives and destiny in the hands of our Heavenly Father rather than always having to be in control.

If your heart feels hard and calloused, if you feel as though you have lost the ability to wonder, then Jesus is reaching out to you today. He came to draw us out of the darkness of doubt, skepticism and fear and lead us into the light of a world that is charged with mystery and awe. At the heart of this universe is a God of love whose word is truth and who is waiting for us to let Him be our Father again. All it takes is opening our heart to Him as much as we can, admitting to Him that we do not have all the answers and entrusting to Him our lives and our destiny. Then He will do the rest, renewing our awe at a God who continues to work miracles.

Accepting this child, Jesus, and becoming children of God does not mean closing our eyes to the harsh realities of this world. In fact, the Christmas story is by no means a sugar coated fairy tale. It is the story of a baby born into the poorest of circumstances. A baby who was homeless and became a refugee in a foreign land because King Herod was determined to kill Him. Becoming a child again does not mean making believe there is no darkness. Rather it means believing that light conquers darkness, that love conquers hate and that God will make His salvation known. It means believing that God loves us and that, if we follow His commandments, He will set everything right in ways we cannot begin to fathom.

God created the world and all its wonders simply by the power of His word. He commanded, “Let there be light”, and a blinding light scattered the primordial darkness. He made the world He created to be a place where life and love were abundant, where there was plenty for everyone, where we could see the wonder and goodness of God in every mountain, in every sunrise and in every face. That Word which created the universe took on flesh, became a man, in Jesus Christ, the baby born this day. Whoever sees Him, sees the Father. Whoever welcomes Him, becomes a child of God. And all who love Him already have the eternal life of God burning within them.

On this Christmas morning, let us choose to believe again. Let us allow ourselves to be lost in wonder at a world charged with mystery. Let us surrender ourselves to a God who knows us and loves us and who wants to work miracles in our lives. In our hearts, let us make a home for this child whom the world is so quick to reject, even if it means being rejected ourselves. Most importantly, let us not be afraid to bring Him to others, to let His light shine through us, so that this new creation will spread throughout the land touching more hearts with the joy of salvation as we look forward to that day when Jesus will reveal Himself once and for all.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Away In A Manger

Those who were in the congregation that morning said that it was one of the most moving events they had ever experienced.

Fifteen year old Davion Only, wearing a black suit he borrower and a clip on tie, stood before the church packed with three hundred people asking for someone to adopt him.

Born in jail to a cocaine addicted mother, Davion spent his life moving from one foster home to another. Angry at his mother for abandoning him and feeling unwanted, he struggled in school to study and keep his emotions under control. Unable to take it anymore, he began to search for his birth mother in hopes that she would take him into her home only to find out that she had died several weeks earlier.

It then became clear to him that no one was going to come and rescue him. So he started to get his life in order. He worked harder at his grades and at controlling his temper. To give him comfort and courage he also started reading the Bible. One day, someone told him that God helps those who help themselves. It was then that he had the idea of going to church and asking someone to adopt him.

With all the courage he could muster, he stood up after the sermon and told the congregation, “My name is Davion and I’ve been in foster care since I was born. I know God hasn’t given up on me. So I’m not giving up either.” His message was simple. He was just looking for a family that would love him. “I’ll take anyone,” he said. “And I would be really appreciative. The best I could be.”

It is hard to hear Davion’s story and not get choked up by it. Here is a boy who has experienced in fifteen years more rejection, more loneliness and more problems than many people see in a lifetime reaching out his arms and asking for nothing more than a stable home in which he can be loved.

On this night, Davion’s story rings with even stronger tones because it is also the story of our God. We celebrate nothing else except a God who came to earth as a baby asking for nothing else than to be loved. In a real way, Jesus came to earth so that He could be adopted by the human race, so that He could find a home within our hearts, so that He could be loved. He came among us as a child with his arms wide open asking that we take him into our own arms, cradle him gently and hold him dearly against our hearts.

On this Christmas night the love of God appears in our midst. He does not come as a warrior to destroy us. He does not come as a judge to condemn us. He does not come as a dictator to rule over us. Rather He comes as a child to find a place in our hearts and in our homes.

Only one family can adopt young Davion no matter how many may want to. However, all of us are called to and are able to adopt the Baby Jesus who is born for us this day. He makes His plea to each one of us in this church tonight to open our hearts and to make room for Him there. He begs us to open our homes to Him, to make Him the center of our family life and to let His light shine in whatever darkness we might be experiencing. The gift of God is offered to each one of us here today - young and old, rich and poor, sinner and saint.

In the sight of the choir of angels glorifying God, in the presence of Mary and Joseph who lay Him in a manger and under the star which leads wise men from the East to the stable in Bethlehem, we have a decision to make. Will we join in with the heavenly host who sing, “Glory to God in the highest”? Will we join with the shepherds who stream to the stable to see for themselves the grace of God which has appeared? Will we make any room in our hearts and in our homes for the baby who is born for us today?

And how will our lives be different? Will we look for Jesus in the face of everyone we meet, especially the poor and lonely? Will we become grateful for God’s many blessings in our lives rather than being envious of what other people have? Will we turn away from sin and live in the power of God who trains us “to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly and devoutly”? What are we willing to change so that the light of Christ which comes into the world on this cold night can shine more brightly through us and reach out to those who continue to dwell in darkness?

Each of us here, without exception, is offered the hand of friendship with God through Jesus Christ. The more plunged in darkness you might be, the more God wants to shine His light on you. The more steeped in sin you might be, the more God wants to save you. The more lost you may feel, the more God wants to find you. We know this to be true because He sent His Son not only to be born for us but to die “to deliver us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for himself a people as his own, eager to do what is good.”

If you have never welcomed Jesus into your heart, there is no better night to do so than on this holy night. It is as simple as saying, “Jesus, come into my heart. Be the Lord of my life.” He is waiting for you with arms outstretched and is longing to hear you say those words. Then this Christmas will be what God meant it to be. Not the remembrance of an event in the past, but a living reality in the presence - the reality of a God who comes to save us and wants nothing in return except our love.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Saint Joseph

Not everyone can be the star of the theater. Some actors have to play supporting roles and even more people are needed to raise the curtain and handle the lighting.

Not everyone can be the lead singer. Some musicians are needed to play rhythm guitar and drums and even more people are needed to set up the instruments and manage the sound.

In all of life, there are only a few people who can stand in the spotlight or claim the headlines. For the most part, the world makes progress through the dedication and work of people who never become famous and whose efforts are often overlooked. However, without them, nothing would get done.

These past three weeks, we have been deep in the drama of the Advent season. The stage has been dominated by great figures like John the Baptist whose wild appearance and fiery sermons drew crowds from all over Israel to be baptized. The other star of Advent is Mary who has been acclaimed down through the ages as the “Blessed Virgin” and “Mother of God.”

In today’s gospel, however, we encounter a man who does not take center stage but rather plays a supporting role. In fact, throughout the gospels he speaks no lines. His name is Joseph. When we speak about the birth of the Messiah, we take his role for granted. Nonetheless, he would serve as the great protector of Mary and the child Jesus. Though he speaks no words, his role in this drama of salvation is central. If Joseph had not accepted Him as his own son, then Jesus could never have claimed to be the “Son of David” and “Messiah” because it is through Joseph that the line of King David runs. Therefore, though Joseph speaks no words, his role in the salvation of the world is unique and unrepeatable.

Saint Joseph is a great saint and has much to teach us as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

The first lesson he teaches us is to be willing to work without recognition.

As we have said, much of his life, Joseph worked in the background. He played the supporting role to Mary and Jesus. He is an example to us, especially when we want the spotlight for ourselves. All of us experience moments when we think others are not valuing our contributions or that they are overlooking us. We can resent it when others take center stage and are rewarded for what they have given. All the while, we wonder why no one notices us.

In those moments, we should ask ourselves, “Are we doing what we do for God or for ourselves?” If we are doing it for God, then we can hope to receive our reward from Him. If we are doing it to have others recognize us, then we are doing it for ourselves and cannot hope to receive a reward from God.

If we find ourselves in that situation, it is good for us to remember the example of Saint Joseph and to pray that we will be content playing a supporting role and even being overlooked with our eye toward the reward that comes from God.

The second lesson Saint Joseph teaches us is to work through adversity.

Saint Joseph’s life was not easy. From the moment he takes Mary to be his wife, he must have had to deal with the gossip of those who wondered why she was already pregnant. When Jesus is about to be born, he had to endure the humiliation of not being able to find a decent place in Bethlehem for Mary to deliver her child. Shortly after his birth, he must flee to Egypt with his young family knowing that the king was intent on killing them all.

Through it all, Saint Joseph could have complained and questioned God for not rewarding his faith by making his life easy. Instead, he accepted God’s will and relied on whatever his Heavenly Father provided.

Like Saint Joseph, we should not expect that just because we have faith our life should be easier. Encountering resistance and  facing adversity are necessary if we are to pick up our cross daily to follow Jesus. When we feel tempted to complain or to question God’s plan, we should look to Saint Joseph. Most likely, whatever annoyances we are dealing with are nothing compared to what he endured. He can inspire us to persevere and his prayers can strengthen us.

Finally, Saint Joseph teaches us to work even when we do not see any results.

The Bible is silent about Saint Joseph from the time Jesus is twelve years old. It is most likely that he died before Jesus started His ministry in Galilee. Throughout those years, Saint Joseph worked to provide for and protect Mary and Jesus without knowing how it would all turn out. Because of the dream he received, he knew that Jesus would be the promised Messiah but he never got to see how it would all work out. Nonetheless, Joseph continued to labor leaving the results to God. He trusted that God had a plan even though he didn’t know the details.

Often we are tempted to think that there is no point to our lives or our work. We wonder if any good is coming from our efforts. At times, we may want to even give up.

Again, Saint Joseph can be an inspiration to us. Much of what he did went unnoticed. He worked day in and day out doing menial jobs. Through it all, he never knew what would become of his adopted son. Just so, though our efforts may seem meaningless and thankless, we can be sure that, if it is God’s will and if we are doing it for His glory, then immeasurable good will come from it. Like Saint Joseph, we have to persevere trusting the results to God.

Today, the curtain comes down on the drama of Advent and we prepare for the next act - the birth of Jesus. As we do so, we reflect on the life of a man who worked quietly behind the scenes to help make sure our Messiah would be born and delivered safely to us. He was content to work without recognition, to persevere through adversity and to leave the results to God. Therefore, he is an inspiration to us who seek to follow Jesus and bring the good news into the world. Through the prayers of Saint Joseph, may we be protected and inspired to work to bring the Kingdom of God to fulfillment. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Name Of Jesus

Expecting the birth of a child is an exciting time in any family. All the work that goes into preparing the nursery, buying clothing and getting the house ready brings the family together to welcome the new baby.

One of the funnest preparations, however, is selecting a name for the child. Sometimes the whole family gets involved suggesting either names of relatives, of celebrities or, in many Catholic families, names of saints. Once we have chosen a name, it really becomes part of the new baby’s personality. Can you imagine yourself with any other name than the one you have? Just so, once we give our babies a name, they go from being anonymous faces to having real personalities.

In our society, the literal meaning of names is rarely important. However, in many cultures, especially in the Old Testament, a person’s name gives us insight into who they are or under what circumstances they may have been born. For instance, the first two people ever to be named were our first parents, Adam and Eve. In Hebrew, their names simply mean “man” and “woman”. When the holy woman, Hannah, who had been childless for many years finally conceive and bore a son, she called him “Samuel”, a name meaning “God has heard” because God finally heard her prayers for a son. Very often in the Old Testament if a child was to be set aside for a specific mission, God Himself would name him. We see this to be the case in today’s first reading and in the gospel.

In today’s first reading, the prophet Isaiah tells the king of Israel, Ahaz, that a child will be born who will be the savior of the nation. Isaiah says that the child’s name will be “Emmanuel”. This name literally means “God is with us”. Therefore, the Messiah who was to come would be the presence of God among His people. No longer would our Heavenly Father seem distant and far off. No longer would He seem to be far from our cries or aloof from our daily cares. Rather He would live among us, share our joys, carry our burdens with us and ultimately lead us to the kingdom of Heaven.

This Old Testament prophecy is fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. He is God among us. Unlike every other holy man or woman of the Old Testament period, He does not only speak for God, He is God. Every word He speaks is literally the word of the Father. Also,  He does not only perform mighty deeds in God’s name. Rather when Jesus heals, it is God healing. When Jesus forgives sins, it is the Heavenly Father Himself who is forgiving sin. In the person of Jesus, God fulfills His promise to never abandon us, to walk always by our side and to carry us in our time of need.

In the gospel, an angel appears to Joseph in a dream telling him not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife. The child she is carrying is the Son of the Most High, and the angel instructs him to call the child “Jesus”. In Hebrew, our Lord’s name means “victory” or “salvation”. As the angel goes on to explain, “he will save his people from their sins.” Therefore, His person and mission are revealed in His name. He was born to save us from our sins. We can go to Him with confidence, then, because the whole meaning of His existence among us is to forgive us of our sins. Because of this we can go to Him just as we are and expect to be treated mercifully.

Because it is so full of meaning, the name of Jesus is powerful. It has been a pious custom for people of faith to bow their heads when saying “Jesus”. It is a good tradition for us to continue because it shows reverence for the name which is above every other name. Because of the power of the name, we should call upon it frequently during the day to give us strength in temptation, inspiration when we must explain our faith and courage to do the right thing. Saying the name of Jesus also reminds us that He is always by our side as He promised. The name of Jesus is powerful. We should have it on our lips often and bow our heads respectfully every time we use it.

Now that we are aware of the meaning of Jesus’ name, it is all the clearer why we should never take His name in vain. We should never use it in anger to curse or swear. When we do so, we show a lack of respect for our Lord and Saviour. We show a lack of gratitude for all He did to save us. And we give a bad example to others, especially to young people. When out of our human weakness we do use Jesus’ name in vain, we should apologize immediately to the people who heard us and go to confession as soon as possible. When we hear others use His name in vain, we should politely but firmly correct them and ask for an apology. It is the least we can do for the One who suffered and died to set us free.

In Jesus, God has fulfilled all the promises He made in the Old Testament. He sent us Emmanuel,  a Messiah to be His presence among us, to share our lives, to suffer alongside us and to lead us into His Kingdom. He sent us “Jesus” who gives us salvation from sin and victory over death. Jesus is the name above every other name, the only name given to us by which we are to be saved.

At this Mass, we celebrate that promise in a particularly powerful way. For the bread and wine we offer will become the very Body and Blood of Emmanuel. Not only is it the reality of God among us but God within us. Through the Eucharist, God makes our hearts His dwelling place. Jesus lives within us. This mystery gives us even more reason to bow our heads when we speak His name and to have confidence to draw upon the strength of that name in every challenge we face while striving to live the good news of His love.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Silent Actor Of The Advent Drama

While there are four gospels, only two of them tell the story of Jesus’ birth.

The Gospel of Luke focuses on the role Mary played in being the mother of the Savior. Matthew, on the other hand, tells the story from Joseph’s perspective. Though Joseph never says a word in the Gospel of Matthew,  his obedience to God’s plan helps make the birth of Jesus possible.

When Joseph receives the news that Mary is pregnant, he must have felt devastated. How could such a thing happen? He thought he knew her. It was unimaginable to him that Mary would betray him. Naturally, he would have felt angry and hurt.

In light of this, what Joseph decides to do is incredible. If he were to accuse her of adultery, she and her child would have been ostracized and shunned for the rest of their lives. They would have lived as strangers in their own families. By deciding to divorce her quietly, on the other hand, Joseph would make it look as if he were the father of the child but that he was abandoning Mary and the baby. Instead of Mary being shunned, he would come to be despised by the community. He would become the outcast. So great was Saint Joseph’s love for Mary that, even though he felt betrayed by her, he was still willing to protect her from the scorn of the community.

The love that Joseph shows to Mary and her unborn child is much like the love God shows to us in sending His Son, Jesus, to suffer and die for us. Through our sinfulness, we have betrayed God. Again and again, we have turned away from Him and refused His love. We have ignored His commandments and offended Him through our actions. Yet His plan was not to condemn and punish us. Rather He came to earth to suffer the punishment that we deserved. Rather than expose us to shame, He took it upon Himself, nailing it to the cross.

That is why Christmas is so much more than a nice story about a baby being born. It is, rather, the story of a God who came to earth to share our life. It is the story of God with us. By becoming human, God shared every aspect of our life. He knew what it was to be tired and afraid. He knew what it was to be tempted and discouraged. He knew what it was to be rejected and made fun of. There is no experience that we have had that Jesus did not have. There is no sin that we have committed that Jesus did not feel tempted to commit in one way or another. Whatever we are going through, Jesus understands. We can carry our burdens to Him because He knows what we are going through. He is “God with us.”

Most importantly, we can go to Jesus with our sinfulness and receive forgiveness. We can go to Him with our weakness, and draw strength. We can go to Him with our shame, and find healing and wholeness. The one who went to such lengths to save us will never reject us if we come before Him humbly. Jesus is waiting for us with outstretched arms and an open heart. All we need to do is go to Him to find the peace our souls are craving.

Now that we have been told the story of Joseph in the gospels and learned of the compassion of a God who forgives us and takes our shame away, it is time for us to consider what our behavior in our own families has been like. Have we been holding grudges? Do we keep reminding our parents or children of the mistakes they have made in the past? Have we abandoned our families because we could not bear the responsibility? Have the demands of our jobs kept us from spending time with our children? How do we need to change so that our families can be true reflections of the love of God?

Because we are human, all of us have failed in one way or another in our role as parents and children. God understands and wants to help us to do better. The example of Saint Joseph is a great help to us. He is the patron saint of families, of workers and of unborn children. We can ask for his intercession so that we can become better protectors and providers for our families. Because he was obedient to God’s plan even when it was difficult, his prayers can help us to be more obedient to our parents and those who have authority over us. Strong families are vital to the health of our society and of our Church. They are essential to our psychological and spiritual well-being. No matter what state our family may be in, no matter what challenges it may be facing, God wants to give us the grace to make it work. He only asks that we turn to Him and trust Him.

Jesus is “God with us” at every moment of every day, during every difficult and every joy. God never abandons us. Therefore, we can live with confidence no matter how weak we are and no matter how difficult the road ahead of us seems. God is with us especially through the gift of the Eucharist. As we prepare to receive Him, let us offer our families up to Him for healing. Let us offer ourselves up so that we may be transformed into the likeness of Jesus. Then we will know the peace that only a God who is with us can give.

Friday, December 16, 2016


Today’s gospel opens with a very dramatic scene. John the Baptist finds himself in prison after criticizing Herod for living with his brother’s wife. Stuck in a prison cell, John has time to reflect on his life and the mission God had given him to prepare the way for the Messiah. In particular, he begins to wonder about Jesus of Nazareth who has just began preaching throughout Galilee. If this Jesus is the Messiah, then John’s work is done and he will likely die in prison. If Jesus is not the Messiah, however, it is likely that God will find a way to bring John out of prison so that he can continue his mission until the real Messiah appears.

And so, John sends his disciples to Jesus with a very clear question. “Are you the one who is to come or should we look for another?”

As is often the case, Jesus answers a simple question with a deep and probing answer. He challenges John’s disciples to tell him what they themselves see. And what they see is that the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled in Jesus. “The blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news preached to them.” 

What is Jesus doing here? He is offering evidence to John and to his disciples that He is indeed the Messiah.

This is something that Jesus did throughout the three years He spent preaching the good news. Certainly, many came to believe in Him because of the words He spoke. But even more compelling to them were the mighty works He performed. He drew great crowds not only because He spoke with authority but because He healed the sick, raised the dead and cast out demons. Jesus performed these deeds as evidence that He truly was who He said He was - the Messiah, the Son of God. Jesus did not require those who followed Him to have blind faith, to just believe in Him because He said so. Rather, He gave them reasons to believe.

The same is true for us today. God does not require us to have blind faith. He does not simply want us to believe because the Bible or the Church say so. Rather, He wants to give us reasons to believe.

Now, there are many reasons to believe in the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. It would take more than one homily to go over them all. However, since Jesus offered miracles as evidence that He is the Messiah, let us also look at some miracles which have happened in our own day which point to the truth of the gospel and the power of prayer.

For holy women or men to be recognized officially as saints by the Church, it must be shown that miracles were accomplished through their intercession. Once someone makes a claim that a miracle has taken place, the Church convenes a panel of scientists to review the circumstances. If they conclude that there is no natural explanation for phenomena, then the Church recognizes it as a miracle.

Such is the case with Saint John Paul II.

Sister Marie Simon Pierre, a nun in France, began experiencing symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, an affliction of the nervous system, at the age of 47. Her disease had advanced to the point that she could not even move her legs. However, after asking the holy pope’s intercession, she woke up one morning able to walk. All traces of Parkinson’s disease had disappeared. After a panel of doctors reviewed her case, the Vatican was able to confirm that, indeed, a miracle had taken place.

Another incredible story comes from the United States. A young couple, the Engstroms, were devastated to learn that their baby was stillborn. In her distress, the mother, Bonnie Engstrom, began praying to Archbishop Fulton Sheen, a popular speaker whose television show was one of the highest rated programs of the 1950’s. Even though their child had been dead for over an hour, suddenly his heart began to beat. A panel of doctors reviewed the case and declared that there was no medical explanation.

Miracles are not a thing of the past. God continues to work in mysterious ways  to help us to believe and to strengthen or faith. While we should be careful not to be obsessed with looking for miracles, they can help us when we begin to have doubts or when the cares of life start to weigh us down. Often, seeing so much evil and darkness in the world today, we can feel disappointed and drained. Taking some time to read about all the miracles that still take place today can remind us that God is in charge and that He will make all things work out for our good. He has a plan and no powers of this world can keep Him from bringing them to fulfillment.

Of course, the greatest miracle of all is that simple bread and wine will be transformed into the Body and Blood of Jesus on this altar. The One who made the blind see and the deaf hear will enter into us to bring us His healing gifts. For those who receive with faith, no other evidence is really necessary. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Still The One

Today’s gospel poses a problem for us that is not easy to resolve.

How is it that Saint John the Baptist can be unsure whether Jesus is the Messiah, the “One Who is to Come”? Was it not John the Baptist who saw the heavens parted and the Spirit of God come down upon Jesus at His baptism in the Jordan River? Was it not John the Baptist who pointed Jesus out as the “Lamb of God who comes to take away the sins of the world”? Did not John the Baptist say when his disciples were leaving him to join Jesus, “I must decrease and He must increase”?

At one point, it seemed clear to John that Jesus was the one whom he and all of Israel had been waiting for. Why was he so unsure all of a sudden? What has changed that he now seems to doubt who Jesus is?

While there is no way for us to know for sure, many who study the Bible speculate that John, like many religious people of his day, was expecting a different kind of Messiah than Jesus. Many were looking forward to a Messiah who would conquer all of Israel’s enemies and establish the nation as the most powerful on earth. In particular, it seems that John the Baptist was expecting that the One to come after him would exact punishment on all sinners and evil doers. As we hear in last week’s gospel, he warns the Pharisees about “the wrath to come”. He prophesies that “Every tree that is not fruitful will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

It could be that John, from his prison cell, heard that, instead of punishing sinners, Jesus was welcoming them and dining with them. It could be that instead of living a severe life of penitence in the desert as he did, John saw Jesus moving about the people, going to wedding banquets and enjoying himself. Jesus was altogether not what John was expecting and so he wondered whether he was to wait for someone else.

In His usual way, Jesus does not answer John directly. He does not give him a “yes or no” answer. Like a good teacher, Jesus is not giving John the answer but challenging him to come up with the answer himself. Therefore,  He quotes from the prophet Isaiah that the blind are regaining their sight, the deaf are hearing and the lame are walking.  In effect, He is telling John that He has come not to condemn the world but to save it. Like the rest of the people, John now has to make a decision. Can he believe in a Messiah who offers forgiveness to sinners and treats them mercifully? Or is he so attached to his ideas of what a Messiah should be that he cannot accept Jesus?

Like John the Baptist, all of us have an idea of who God is and how He should act. For many of us, God is a loving Father. To others of us He is a just judge. Many of us expect God to be merciful and act tenderly toward sinners. Others of us wonder why He does not act more quickly to punish those who disobey His law.

No matter how we may view God, the fact is that both sides are correct. God is a loving Father and He is also a just judge. God is both merciful and just. He expect us to obey Him but is gentle when we ask for forgiveness. Like John the Baptist, we all have to accept a God who is greater than we can ever imagine, a God who is not willing to fit into the tight categories we have drawn up for Him.

Therefore, if we think of God as a Loving Father, it could be that we need to pay more attention to His laws and the rules of His Church. If we think of God as a just judge, it could be that we have to open our hearts to His tender mercy and His willingness to forgive us. Either way, the fact is that God is working in our lives and in our world. If we hold on too tightly to our rigid ideas of who God is and are not willing to change, we will miss out on it.

There is another dimension to this as well that is important for us to understand. If we are to find God it is not going to be in the places where we feel most comfortable. Rather we will have to reach out to people we normally would not associate with and neighborhoods we would normally not travel to. When He walked the earth, Jesus was found among the blind, the poor, the lame and other of society’s outcasts. Today, He can be found among prisoners, drug users, illegal aliens and others who are at the bottom of the social ladder. Unless we are willing to go out of our comfort zones and to reach out to those we would otherwise ignore, we will miss out on all the graces that God is offering us.

This Advent season we celebrate a God who does not keep His distance from us, but is within us and all around us. Too often we lose sight of Him because of our rigid ideas and narrow expectations. Today we are being called to broaden our vision and raise our eyes to a God who is always greater than we can hope for or imagine. Though He is the One we have been waiting for, He has too often passed us by because we were looking the wrong way. Like John the Baptist we are being challenged to look for our Heavenly Father in the people, places and situations we would otherwise run from. If through His grace we can find the courage to do so, then His coming among us will not be a nice thought or fanciful wish but a reality in our hearts, in our homes and in our world.

Sunday, December 11, 2016


For thousands of years, the people of Israel waited for someone to save them. Through the prophets, God taught His people that He would send a man anointed with His Spirit to lead them to a freedom that would not end. That burning hope helped the Jewish people endure many hardships including wars, exile and the occupation of their land by foreigners. That hope was focused on the Messiah.

The word, “Messiah” means “anointed one”. In Israel, when someone was anointed with oil it was a symbol that he had been set apart for a special service to the community. Kings, priests and prophets were all consecrated by the use of holy oils. This anointing came to be connected with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the Messiah would be one who was anointed with the Spirit of God to bring to the people the justice and peace that would be the hallmarks of God’s Kingdom.

We know that the Messiah was Jesus Christ. He was revealed to the world at His baptism in the Jordan River when the Holy Spirit descended on Him in the form of a dove and the heavens opened up. God then declared to the world, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him.” In the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus preached that God’s kingdom was at hand. Along the way, He healed the sick, expelled demons and raised the dead. The prophet Isaiah in today’s first reading proclaimed that miracles such as these would take place when the Messiah arrived to establish God’s kingdom. And so, it was clear to anyone who witnessed Him that Jesus had an authority unlike any prophet who had come before Him. He was the Messiah they had hoped for.

John the Baptist was chosen and sent by God to prepare the way for the Messiah. He preached at the banks of the Jordan River calling the people to repent of their sins and to be baptized. It was shortly after Jesus’ baptism that John was imprisoned by King Herod. His time was quickly coming to an end. Yet he wanted to know from prison whether the One he had been preparing the way for had finally arrived. Was Jesus the Messiah?

What was Jesus’ response to the disciples John sent to Him? He simply recounted to them what they already had seen. The sick were being healed, the blind were being given their sight and the poor were having the good news preached to them. Jesus was the One Isaiah had foretold would come, and the One John had prepared the way for. He was the One who would bring an eternal Kingdom. By dying on the cross and rising from the dead, He would win the ultimate victory by conquering death itself.

Over two thousand years after the birth of Jesus, many in our world still await a Messiah. They want someone who will come and save them. They are imprisoned in ignorance, in abusive situations, in poverty or in their own sinful choices. They are looking to us to answer this question for them: “Is Jesus the One we are waiting for? Is Jesus the One who can save us?”

How are we to answer them? What can we point to in our lives to show that God is at work in the world freeing us from sin, changing lives and bringing peace?

They are not searching just for intellectual arguments. They know that the world cannot offer them what they truly desire, but they are also not yet convinced that Jesus is the answer. They want to see how He has changed our lives. They want to see what difference a life lived in relationship with God makes. Will they be able to see that by looking at us?

Each of us through baptism and confirmation has received the gift of the Holy Spirit. This Spirit is the same Spirit which empowered Jesus to preach the good news to the poor and to perform miracles. It is the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead. Because we have the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, Jesus can say in today’s gospel that the least in His kingdom is greater than John the Baptist. John the Baptist never understood that Jesus would die for his sins. He never read the New Testament.  He never received the Eucharist as we do. And so, we have a power at work in our lives that even He could not understand.

Like the priests, prophets and kings of the Old Testament, we have received an anointing. It is now time for us to put that power of God to work in service of others so that the world can see for itself what difference a life lived for Jesus makes. Only by seeing our lives transformed by the peace which only God can give will the world come to know that Jesus alone provides the answers that the people of today are seeking.

Where do we begin? We begin right here and right now with the people around us. It is by showing kindness everyday to the people we bump into that the transformation can start. If I can hold a door open for someone or say a kind word to a teenager, then I will have an open heart for the beggar who asks me for change or the hitchhiker who needs a lift to the gas station. Our acts of mercy will leave people wondering what motivates us to be so kind. Through our goodness, they will come to know Jesus who is the source of all goodness. And knowing Him, they will have grasped the answer to the longing of their hearts.

Friday, December 9, 2016

The Good News of Peace And Reconciliation

If you were to sum up the Christian message in just a few words, what would they be? If someone asked you to explain in a nutshell what we believe as followers of Jesus, what would you say?

Would you describe Christianity as a system of ethics? Would you talk about the Church’s structure of bishops, priests and deacons? Would you call Christianity simply a way to connect to the divine?

While there is some truth to all those statements, they only partially describe what Christianity is. In its essence, Christianity is about nothing else than the man, Jesus Christ. As a Church we exist solely to proclaim to the world that God became man in Jesus Christ to forgive our sins and to restore our relationship to the Father. Everything else - the Church’s moral teaching, its hierarchical structure, its charities - exists for no other reason than to help us bring Jesus Christ into the world and to make Him known.

That is why the Church’s message is called “good news”. It is the joyful proclamation that God loves us, that He knows us by name, that He sees our struggles, sufferings and hardships, and that He has come to save us. The essence of the Christian message, then, is that “God so loved the world that He sent His only Son not to condemn the world but to save it.” And that salvation shows itself in the forgiveness of sins.

The first man to proclaim this good news was John the Baptist. Saint Matthew tells us that he was sent by God to proclaim the coming of the Messiah. His job was to prepare the people for Christ’s coming by offering a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Moved by his proclamation, the people came out in droves to accept baptism and confess their sins.

Baptism is the first sacrament that Jesus left us for the forgiveness of sins. Most of us would have been baptized as babies so we were too young to commit any actual sins. Instead, we would have been forgiven of the guilt of original sin which we inherited from Adam and Eve. Nonetheless, it is Jesus’ first offer to us to join His heavenly family.

Though baptism takes away the guilt of original sin, it does not totally take away its effects. Even after baptism, we are able to be tempted and to fall into bad choices. Since we can only be baptized once, Jesus left us another sacrament for the forgiveness of sins - the Sacrament of Reconciliation or “Confession”.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation has been called the “Second Baptism”. While we can only be baptized once, we can turn to the Sacrament of Confession over and over again as often as necessary to be returned to the purity we enjoyed on the day of our baptism. What a wonderful gift God has given us in this beautiful sacrament!
As with all God’s gifts, we have to be careful to treat it with reverence and respect. It is a common misperception that all you have to do to be forgiven is confess your sins and then you can go back to sinning again. Nothing can be further from the truth. For the Sacrament of Reconciliation to have a real saving effect in our lives, we must show true sorrow for our sins and resolve never to commit them again. As John the Baptist warns the Pharisees in today’s gospel, “Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.” Just so, we who seek forgiveness for our sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation must perform some action to show that we are sorry them.

That action is called “penance”. A penance is some good work we perform to demonstrate that we are sorry for having offended God and that we are resolved to lead a good life from now on. Very often, after confession, the priest will ask us to perform a penance for just this reason. Frequently the penance is prayers - whether it be a number of Our Fathers or Hail Marys - on behalf of the people we have harmed through our sins or to ask God for strength against temptation in the future. Another noble work is to offer up the difficulties of our day to God as a way of showing sorrow for the difficulties our sins have created for our brothers and sisters. Penances such as prayer and good works give us a first good step toward living a new life. We should always be willing to undertake sacrifices joyfully whenever we have the opportunity so that we can live out the freedom from sin that Jesus won for us on the cross.

For many of us, the most difficult part of the Sacrament of Reconciliation is having to tell another person our sins. We fear what the priest will think of us and wonder what he will say when he hears all the wrong we have done. It is very natural to think this way because we live most of our lives trying to show our best self to others. When it comes time to take off the mask and show the real person underneath, it can be terrifying.

However we must always remember that the priest is there to stand in for Jesus. When we confess our sins, we are confessing them directly to Jesus. We are letting Him know how sorry we are for hurting Him and we hear from Him that He forgives us. Pope Francis in talking about confessions said: “Confessing our sins is not going to a psychiatrist, or to a torture chamber. Some say: ‘Ah, I confess directly to God. It’s easy, But it’s like confessing by email, no?' God is far away, I say things and there’s no face-to-face contact.” The Sacrament of Reconciliation allows us through the priest to hear the voice of God’s compassion reassuring us: “Go in peace, your sins have been forgiven.”

That is the heart of the Christian message - that we are forgiven and that we are called to spend eternity with God in heaven. We experience it in a beautiful way through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. As we prepare for the birthday of our Savior, let us make time to go to confession and experience the freedom from sin that He was born to bring us.