Sunday, December 31, 2017

Families That Evangelize

In the years between the first preaching of the apostles and the reign of Emperor Constantine when the practice of Christianity was legalized, the Catholic Church experienced explosive growth. In fact, historians estimate that Christians went from numbering about seven thousand at the time of the apostles to thirty-three million by the beginning of the fourth century. Such a rate of growth is especially notable given how widespread persecution of Christians was.

Of course, as believers we give all the glory to God and credit the work of the Holy Spirit for the expansion of the Catholic Church throughout the Roman Empire. However, historians who have studied this time in the Church’s history - many of whom are not believers -  point to some other historically verifiable factors to account for it.

Interestingly, they do not attribute it to sound planning by Church leaders, to compelling preaching by priest nor to meaningful Sunday Masses. Rather, they credit such rapid growth in those first centuries to ordinary families witnessing to their faith in Jesus Christ in their homes and communities.

When we look at pagan society in those first centuries of the Church, we can understand why Christians stood out. In Roman culture, human life was cheap. People thought nothing of leaving babies to die if they thought they couldn’t care for them - especially if those babies were female. Children were frequently abused both physically and sexually.

Marriage was also held in low esteem. Even when women and men bothered to get married, they were rarely faithful to one another. Women were often abused physically by their husbands and divorce was common.

The elderly did not fare much better than women or children. Once they were no longer able to contribute financially to the family, they were often turned out of their houses. Since there were no hospitals, the sick were frequently abandoned by their families and left to die in the street.

In contrast, Christian families welcomed every child whether male or female. It was not uncommon for believers to take into their homes babies who were abandoned by their parents and left to die in the streets.

Unlike pagan families in which adultery was common and women were subject to abuse, Christian men and women treated one another as partners and took seriously the vows of Holy Matrimony to love each other faithfully and exclusively.

The first Christians were renowned not only for the love they showed within their homes but for the charity they practiced to those in need. They typically invited the poor into their homes. When someone fell ill, they would nurse them back to health rather than abandon them.

The witness of Christian families in which the vows of marriage were honored, children were welcomed and the poor were fed was such a departure from the cultural norm that people could not help but notice. As a result, women were attracted to the Church because they found in it a refuge from the harsh treatment they suffered in society. The poor and sick also sought baptism because of the care they received at the hand of Christians. They all wanted to hear about this Jesus who commands us to love one another.

And so, we are here today because of the witness of faith of untold numbers of families who lived their marriage vows faithfully, raised children to believe in Jesus and reached out to serve the poor.

In many ways, society has advanced from those early pagan days. Sadly, however, some conditions have not changed. Though we are not killing infant girls at birth, we are aborting unborn babies by the millions. Despite numerous government programs, rampant homelessness and poverty continue to plague our cities. And though there is no shortage of hospitals and nursing homes, the sick and elderly are routinely pushed aside and deemed too inconvenient.

The witness of faithful Christian families is needed as much now as it was in those first centuries of the Catholic Church. It is up to us now to spread the good news of God’s love not just by our words but by our actions. It is up to us to make our homes places where God is honored, where children are welcomed and where the poor find help.

Today’s Feast of the Holy Family reminds us that God calls all of us to be part of a family. His desire is that our homes be places that radiate faith and love. To be sure, no family is perfect. But even imperfect families can teach us about forgiveness and reconciliation. Even if we have failed for whatever reason to live our marriage vows faithfully or raise our children well, God can still use us to show others that He is the Lord of second chances.

Many people might not go to church regularly. They may never read the Bible. However, if we live good lives and foster loving, charitable homes, the society around us will not fail to notice. And, desiring that spark of faith for themselves, they’ll ask us to tell them more about Jesus Christ who commands us to love one another. Only in this way will our Church continue to experience explosive growth into the future.  

Saturday, December 30, 2017

The Healing Family

Since becoming the bishop of Rome, there has been no stronger advocate for families than our beloved Holy Father, Pope Francis. Whether it regards a living wage for working people, the values of a society that places possessions over people or the pressures that cause families to break up, his words always strike a chord with us who strive to follow the example of Jesus. His loving manner and his tender gestures have touched hearts all around the world and are no doubt helping people to see the wisdom of Jesus’ teaching on the importance of married love and family life.

This past October, Pope Francis invited people from all over the world to gather in Rome and discuss the situation of families in the modern world. This gathering, known as a synod, sought, in particular, to address the problems of how to proclaim the good news of marriage to a world that has stopped believing that love can last forever. Like Jesus, Pope Francis always keeps close to his heart those who feel disconnected from the Church. To those who find themselves divorced or abandoned by a spouse, he wanted to show the loving concern that we should have in welcoming every person no matter where they may be along the journey of faith.

To announce this extraordinary gathering at the Vatican, Pope Francis wrote a letter to the families of the world. In it, he directed the following words to us, “This...Assembly is dedicated in a special way to you, to your vocation and mission in the Church and in society; to the challenges of marriage, of family life, of the education of children; and the role of the family in the life of the Church.”

Unfortunately, much of the reporting about this gathering focused on some controversial statements and alleged infighting among bishops. However, the real focus of the event was the family and its crucial role in society and the Church.

Family is at the heart of every human life. Every person came from a family. It was in our family that we learned to speak, that we learned to relate to other people and that we came to understand ourselves. No matter how old we are, much of our behavior and attitudes still stem from that early formation we received from our parents, grandparents, siblings and cousins. The family is truly the most basic building block of society. Without it, there would be no civilization. And so, the healthier families are, the healthier society and the Church will be.

It goes without saying that it is love that makes a family. Love brings a man and woman together. Love makes them decide to have children. It is love that drives parents to endure difficult work schedules, to go without sleep to take care of sick children and to sacrifice themselves for each other’s good. That type of self-giving love,  rooted in blood ties, is what makes a family different from any other group in society. And it is the fact that children come from them that makes it so indispensable to the common good.

But there is another element that is crucial to the success and growth of families - faith. It is only through a deep, abiding trust in God that a man can give himself totally and without conditions to his bride. It is only through belief in the love of God that a woman can forsake all others to cling to her husband. It is only through faith that a man and woman can see their children as gifts of God to be cared for and nurtured. Because we are human, we will often fail in our love for one another. Our human selfishness and fears so often cause us to lash out and to hurt one another. It takes faith to find the power to forgive, to overcome our selfishness and to live in peace with one another.

In his letter to families, Pope Francis writes the following words about today’s gospel reading:
                        It is a beautiful image; two young parents and two elderly people, brought
                        together by Jesus. He is the one who brings together and unites generations!
                        He is the inexhaustible font of that love which overcomes every occasion
                        of self-absorption, solitude, and sadness. In your journey as a family, you
                        share so many beautiful moments: meals, rest, housework, leisure, prayer,
                        trips and pilgrimages, and times of mutual support....Nevertheless, if there
                        is no love then there is no joy, and authentic love comes to us from Jesus.

Today, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family. Mary and Joseph were joined together by God into a loving family to nurture and care for the child, Jesus. It was in this family that Jesus grew to be strong and filled with wisdom, as Saint Luke tells us. What made the Holy Family “holy” was the presence of Jesus. If our families are also to be holy, then we must welcome Jesus into our homes. We do this through prayer as a family, through Sunday Mass, through good works, through our hospitality and through our kindness to one another. From the love of Jesus there flows joy and peace. Forgiveness becomes possible and relationships are healed.

If you feel there is something missing in your family, then turn to Jesus. Welcome Him first into your heart and then into your home. Practice the words of Saint Paul in today’s second reading: “Put on...heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience”. Then real change can begin.

So often families suffer because each member waits for the other to change. Parents think that it is only when children become more obedient that the home will be happier. Children think that if only their parents would really listen to them that their relationship would get better. However, none of us has power to change anyone else. If we are waiting for someone else to change, we will be waiting a long time. We can only change ourselves. Let this be the day that we each make a decision to do whatever is necessary to improve our family life, no matter what situation we may find ourselves in. Then we will experience the peace that only Christ can give and that every family yearns for.

Friday, December 29, 2017

A Family That Is Holy And Real

Jesus was human in every way that we are. Like each of us, he needed food to nourish his body. He needed a good night's sleep for his work as a carpenter. He needed tunics to clothe his body and a roof to cover his head. Like all human beings, Jesus sought out other people to be his friends. He knew the joy of playing games with other boys and felt the pain of being left out or ridiculed.

And, like all of us, Jesus needed a family.

God chose Mary and Joseph to be Jesus' mother and father. He gave them the responsibility of teaching Jesus how to speak, how to read the Bible and how to pray. At Joseph's side, he learned the carpenter's trade and how to be a man.

Though the gospels don't tell us anything about them, we can imagine that Jesus had a larger family of grandparents who spoiled him and cousins who came over to play with him. On holidays, we can imagine Jesus, Mary and Joseph getting together with their family to eat, share stories and play games.

Under the care and supervision of this family, Jesus was able to grow in wisdom, strength and grace as Saint Luke tells us in the gospel.

Except that their son happened to be the Son of God, the Holy Family of Nazareth was just like any other family. Like all families, the Holy Family of Nazareth faced many trials and difficulties. Despite traditional images of them, they did not always lead a tranquil life. Jesus was born homeless and into poverty. Shortly after his birth, they had to flee their country under the threat of execution to live as refugees in Egypt. It was a family born into tremendous exterior pressures.

Families today know pressures as well. For economic reasons, both parents frequently have to work outside of the home making meals together on a regular basis difficult. The price of real estate makes longer commutes necessary further limiting time with the family. And those are just some of the pressures on traditional, two parent families. We haven't mentioned single family homes where these pressures are doubled. And then there are "blended" families where stepparents and stepchildren are constantly testing the boundaries of their relationship adding to the tension within the home.

The status of the family today causes a lot of hand wringing, especially in the Church. There are fewer and fewer traditional families. We are right as Christians and as good citizens to promote the welfare of the traditional, two parent family. Children born in such families are no doubt better off economically and psychologically. The family is the cornerstone of the Church and of society. Our world is only as strong as the families which make it up. At the same time, we must recognize that in today's society when bodies mature more rapidly and adolescence lasts well into the 20's, people are going to make mistakes resulting in out-of-wedlock births and divorce.

A wise spiritual director once said that God is not found in the "ideal", but in the "real". The traditional family is an important ideal. However, God is not found in ideal families or in ideal people, but in real families and in real people. As painful as our past may have been and as much as we may wish we could go back and fix our mistakes, God doesn't give us the option of turning back the clock. God is spending His grace on us in our real lives and in our real families as we find ourselves today. God's grace happens in families that are "blended" and those that need to be mended.

Once we realize that families, as long as they are made of human beings, can never be perfect, then it has important implications for our lives as individuals and as a Church.

First, as individuals each of us can look back on our lives and find fault with our parents. It could be that they were never around or that they were never supportive. It could be that they were abusive in some way. Those scars can stay with us a long time. We know how resentments and grudges can ruin families. Can each of us today bring our hearts before the Lord and ask for the grace to forgive our parents or any other family member who ever hurt us? Can we leave our resentments at the foot of the altar and ask God to relieve us of that burden? Can we recognize that our parents were probably doing the best they could and let go of the anger we have been shouldering all these years? Once we are able to do that, then we can live together in "heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience" as Saint Paul calls us to.

Secondly, for us as a parish, we have to recognize the pressures that families face and ask ourselves, how can we be a more family-friendly community? Are the times we schedule for catechism and worship burdensome to families? In our worship and our hospitality, are we sensitive to the different types of families in our parish and careful not to stigmatize anyone, especially children? What can we as a parish community do to support families with all the challenges they face?

Families are never perfect, even when they are the ideal, traditional family. They are all marked by joy and pain, mistakes and good choices. The Holy Family - Jesus, Mary and Joseph - knew the pressures of family life. The difference was that they experienced God's presence even in those difficulties. Even with all the challenges of daily life in today's society, we can experience God's presence with us and teach our children to recognize Him as well. Then we have fulfilled our mission as a family, no matter what our family may look like.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Child-Like Christmas Faith

It was a beautiful, crisp Christmas morning as the parishioners gathered to celebrate the birth of Jesus. After Mass, everyone was filled with the joy of the day as they wished each other a Merry Christmas at the front of the church. 

Then, as they headed toward the parking lot, someone noticed that the statue of the baby Jesus was missing from the manger scene which the youth group set up every year on the front lawn of the church. Their first thought was that someone must have stolen the statue as some sort of prank.  The joy they had been feeling was replaced with shock, disappointment and anger.

Just as the pastor began to head into the rectory to call the police, someone noticed a boy walking down the street pulling a little red wagon with the statue of the baby Jesus in it. As he made his way toward the church, the pastor and some of the parishioners gathered to see what he was up to. Pulling his wagon up to the manger scene, he tenderly picked the statue up and placed it back in its bed of straw.

The pastor asked the boy why he had taken the baby Jesus out of the manger scene. He replied that what he had wanted most for Christmas that year was a little red wagon. And so, he promised that if Santa brought it to him, he would give Jesus the first ride in it.

Jesus tells us that we must have faith like a child to enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Matt 18:3). It takes a child-like faith to grasp the mystery and wonder of this Christmas day when the eternal God became a baby. It takes a child-like faith to believe in a God who loved us so much that He came to live among us in the humblest way possible - not in a castle but in a stable. It takes a child-like faith to not only believe that such a God loves us but to love Him in return.

We can learn something from the child-like faith of the boy in today’s story. Though he was excited to get the red wagon as a gift, he never forgot his promise to Jesus. As caught up as he was in all the gifts he had received, he did not lose sight of the greatest gift of all - Jesus who was born for us this day. He remembered that all that he had was a blessing and so he did not forget the one who had blessed him.

It is a sad reality of our times that while our wealth is increasing our memory is decreasing. Though we have goods in abundance, we have forgotten the One who is good. In our arrogance, we begin to believe that we have earned all these blessings and deserve them. In so doing, our gratitude and our faith diminish.

This is a day for us to have our child-like faith in Jesus renewed. He was born this day to make visible for us the love of God. He came as light to dispel the darkness of hatred, despair and arrogance. As Saint John assures us in today’s gospel: “the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.” He came as a baby not to conquer and dominate us but so that we could love Him. He was born to a poor, homeless family so that shepherds as well as kings could approach Him. If we are to embrace such a God who manifests Himself not in displays of grandeur and power but in humility and simplicity, we must have faith like a child.

It also takes the faith of a child to keep ourselves focused on God in the blizzard of activity that surrounds the holiday season. It is so easy to lose sight of why we are celebrating in the first place when we are going from here to there, exchanging presents and stressing over how we will get everything done. And at the end of the day when we are relaxing in our warm, comfortable homes with our bellies full, it takes a child-like faith to raise up a prayer of gratitude to our Heavenly Father who blessed us with so many good things.

Finally, it takes the faith of a child to remember all those who do not have as much as we do. Not every family in this parish is celebrating today. Some have lost loved ones in the past year and their grief is even more profound today. And, despite all our wealth, there are still many poor and homeless people among us. Not every child has a red wagon to pull Jesus around the block in.

If we remember that Jesus is ultimately the source of all our blessings, we will not forget those who lack such blessings. If, with child-like faith, we bow down to worship our Lord who was poor and homeless, we will not fail to see His face in the poor and homeless among us. Pondering how the Holy Family had to flee to Egypt to escape King Herod, we will not fail to welcome the immigrants and refugees among us who themselves have had to flee poverty, crime and persecution.

The God who came to us as a baby in Bethlehem comes to us today in the form of bread and wine. As we receive Him today let us ask Him to give us a child-like faith. Let us commit ourselves to bringing the light of that faith into a dark world so that all people may see the source of their blessings, Jesus Christ who was born on this day. 

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

A God Who Is Close

How delightful it is to see so many people gathered here today. It is a joy to be part of this celebration of the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. I want to extend a warm welcome to all of you. Whether you are able to worship with us every Sunday during the year or whether you are visiting us for this holy day, I want to extend to everyone the blessings of this joyous celebration.

Part of the joy of this Christmas day is that it beckons us to stop what we are doing and reach out to others. It draws us to gather with our family members and it draws us to this holy place to pray. Christmas evokes in us a desire to remember and reconnect. In today’s world, we often feel uprooted. Work and other commitments can scatter families across long distances. The support systems that once nourished our sense of community and belonging are not always within reach. In the hustle and bustle of life, we can be distracted from our own sense of loneliness and loss. However, throughout this season, we feel the tug of our longing for tradition, stability and community.

There is another longing in each human heart which can often get lost in a world caught up with status, possessions and power. It is the longing for friendship with God. We can become distracted from that deep rooted desire within us by keeping busy or filling ourselves with material goods or other pursuits. However, nothing can fill the God shaped hole within us except God Himself. And so, this Christmas day is a beautiful gift for us. It is a time not only to reconnect with family and friends but to reconnect with our God. That longing is what brings us all to this holy place today.

Many times we fail to recognize our need for God because of the image we have of Him. Some of us view Him as a stern judge policing our every decision and punishing our every failing. Others of us imagine God as a Being far removed from the world He created and unable to sympathize with our suffering. These images of God often stem from our disillusionment with life. Hurts and disappointments left us feeling as though God did not answer our prayers for help. We were left feeling as though God did not care or even notice us. From there it becomes impossible to believe that we would need Him much less long for Him.

This feast of Christmas shatters any illusions we might have of a God who is aloof, who keeps His distance from us or who is unconcerned with our suffering and pain. By appearing among us in the most vulnerable way imaginable - as a baby totally dependent on others - He shows His willingness to experience the human condition as we do. He literally “gets under our skin” to feel intimacy, joy and tenderness as we experience them. In so doing, He is also willing to feel cold, hunger, discomfort, rejection and suffering.

Jesus Christ is God’s hand stretched out in friendship to us. He is God’s arms spread wide, welcoming us and drawing us to Himself. This baby is our Heavenly Father’s love letter to us, His revelation of His earnest desire to share this world with us - not from a safe distance but up close and personal.

In Jesus, we discover that just as we long for friendship with God, He longs for friendship with us. He was born in a stable so that not only wise men from the East could have access to Him but also lowly shepherds. Throughout His life, He did not wait for people to come to Him but He traveled from town to town seeking out the sick and the outcast. Though sinless Himself, He loved sinners and brought them the good news that God had forgiven them. That love and concern continues throughout the world today through the ministry of the Church which He established to bring the good news that friendship with God is possible through the child born this day, Jesus Christ.

Whether we recognize it or not, what draws each of us here today is that longing for friendship with God. The good news is that, no matter where we are in our journey, friendship with God is possible. No one is so lost that God cannot find Him. No one has sinned so greatly that God cannot forgive her. Jesus was not only born for sinners but He also died for them. He assured us that there is more rejoicing in heaven over the one sinner who repents than over the ninety-nine who have no need to repent. All we need do is turn to Him and ask Him to enter our hearts. As He satisfies our longings for love, truth and meaning, we can finally begin to experience some peace and enter into the joy of this Christmas Day.

In Jesus Christ, born this day, our God draws near to us, not to condemn us but to befriend us. We can really know Him and enter into a relationship with Him. He can change us in ways that we cannot begin to imagine. If we allow Him to lead us, veritable miracles will take place in our lives. The worries and anxieties that once consumed us and seemed so important will begin to lose their power over us as we glimpse our ultimate meaning in Jesus Christ and His love. Nothing will seem impossible for us as we tap into the power of faith in the Son of God.

Saint John assures us in today’s gospel that “to those who did accept him he gave the power to become children of God.” Let us take this day, then, to reconnect not only with our family and friends but with the God who created us. Let us welcome the child born this day into our hearts. Let us experience God no longer as a stern judge or distant being but as a loving Father, intimately involved with every aspect of our lives who longs for friendship with us and who asks for nothing except that we love Him in return. Then this Christmas Day will be like no other we have ever experienced. 

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Jesus Came To Bring Us God

From the bottom of my heart, I want to wish all of you a blessed Christmas.

This day is always filled with a joy that runs deep within our spirits. That joy is an echo of the song of the angels proclaiming to the shepherds that Jesus, the Saviour is born. It rises up from the depth of our soul. Jesus is born! The good news inspires us to gather here this morning and celebrate the gift of God made known to us in this newborn King.

Christmas day has inspired some of the most beautiful music ever written. Most of us know all these carols by heart and have been humming them to ourselves throughout these past weeks. We look forward to singing them at parties or when we gather for Mass. For many of us, Christmas hymns rank among our favorite songs. It is not just because those songs bring back memories of our childhood or conjure up images of holiday bliss, but because they speak to a core truth of human existence. When we were in the dark, Jesus came to bring us light. When we were lost, Jesus came to find us. When we were enslaved to sin, Jesus came to set us free. That is the true meaning of this feast. That is the true reason we gather here today. It is the cause of our joy.

Pope Benedict XVI in his book, Jesus of Nazareth, asked a question that most of us may have asked from time to time. What difference did Jesus’ make? Since His birth there is still suffering and sin. He was not able yet to put an end to wars or to violence. What did Jesus come to bring, then? Our Holy Father gives a simple yet profound answer, “Jesus came to bring us God.” As our second reading from the letter to the Hebrews puts it, Jesus is the exact representation of the Father’s being. Whoever sees Jesus, sees God. Whoever listens to Jesus, listens to God.

Because of the birth of Jesus, God is never far from us. He is at our side in good times and in bad times. It is true that we continue to suffer. However, now God suffers with us. It is true that we continue to fall into temptation. But now our Heavenly Father graciously forgives us through the blood of His Son. It is true that all of us will one day die, but we can hold onto the hope of eternal life held out to us through Jesus’ death and resurrection. The human heart desires nothing less than God Himself. Now a real friendship with God is possible for each of us because of the miracle of this Christmas day.

How, then, can we experience the joy of Christmas every day throughout the year? How can the blessings of Jesus’ birth be ours when the decorations come down and the dark winter drags our spirits down? We experience the gift of Jesus all year long simply by going to Mass. Whenever we gather to celebrate the Eucharist, Jesus Himself is present in our midst. It is His voice we hear when the Scriptures are proclaimed. He Himself is teaching us and imparting His wisdom to us, just as He did to His disciples. In a most remarkable way, we receive Jesus in the gift of His Body and Blood. At Mass, the bread and wine become truly the Body and Blood of Christ. It is no mere symbol or representation but the real Body and Blood of Jesus. The One whom the shepherds left their fields to see and whom the wise men traveled far to behold comes to us in the miracle of the Eucharist. Right here the blessing of Christmas is made real every Sunday, indeed every day.

That means that no matter how inspiring the preaching is, no matter how holy the priest or deacon is, no matter how well the choir sings, we receive the same awesome gift at every Mass. Why would we ever want to miss out on it? What could fill us with more grace and blessings than going to Mass would? Why would we want to settle for less?

The good news is simply this, “God sent His only Son into the world that whoever believes in Him may not die but have eternal life.” God loves each and every one of us. And He wants us to know how much He loves us. He could think of no better way of showing His love than by sending His only Son to share our broken human condition and, eventually, to die. God loves us not because of anything we have done or could do. God loves us simply because He is love itself. There is nothing we can do to make Him love us more or to make Him love us less. All this He has revealed to us through His Son whose birth we celebrate today.

There is a reason that we were all called here today just as there was a reason that the shepherds were called to the manger and the wise man were drawn to Bethlehem by the star. God wants to speak to our hearts. He wants to urge us to stop striving after what cannot fully satisfy us. He wants to plead with us to stop trying to make it on our own. He wants to reassure us that we do not have to struggle alone. This day, our Heavenly Father wants us to turn to His Son, the One He sent to save us. He wants us to find in Him true and lasting joy. And He wants us to share that joy with others. That is the meaning of this Christmas day. That is what makes this day and every day blessed. Jesus, our Saviour, is with us. Let heaven and nature sing!

The Light That Neither Dims Nor Fades

God created the world out of nothing through the power of his word. He spoke and it came to be. He said, "Let there be light", and there was light. He caused the mountains to rise up from the sea. He filled the sea with fish and the land with animals. Finally, by the power of his word, he created man and woman to be the crowning achievement of his great work. He created in us hearts to hear his word and mouths to proclaim it. 

When he called Israel out from among the nations to be a people peculiarly his own, he sent them prophets to proclaim his word among them. Such was the prophet Isaiah who speaks to us in today's first reading. He proclaimed to the people of Israel - and to us today - the good news of peace and salvation from God. Through the prophets, God promised Israel a mighty savior who would forgive them their sins and lead them in the ways of peace. Not only would this great Messiah lead Israel to freedom, but all the nations would witness the great power of God at work through this Savior.

When Isaiah first spoke these words, it was unclear what his meaning was. Who would this great king be? How would he lead Israel to freedom and peace? We who gather here this morning know exactly what Isaiah meant. We are celebrating this great mystery today.  The boy born this day to Mary and Joseph fulfills all the promises and prophecies of the Old Testament. Jesus is the Savior of the World.

In the second reading from the letter to the Hebrews we read: "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..." God who so powerfully created the world by his word, and then called the nation of Israel into being by his word, now speaks one last time in the person of Jesus. Jesus is the Word of God. Jesus is the Word made Flesh dwelling among us.

What does the birth of Jesus tells us about this mighty God?

Very simply, God wants us to know him. He sent Jesus, a man like us, so that we could hear from his very mouth how much he loves us and how he longs for our friendship. Jesus is Truth and Love. Whoever hears him, hears the Father. Whoever sees him, sees the Father. We do not need to look anywhere else to find God but in the person of Jesus. 

When Pope John Paul II made his first trip to the United States, he preached a beautiful homily to the rain-soaked crowds who had gathered in the Boston Common. In short, he said that all those who want to know the truth should turn to Jesus. He is the Truth. All those who seek meaning in their lives should turn to Jesus. He is the source of all meaning. All those who seek love should turn to Jesus. He is the love of God made flesh among us. These words of the pope make clear to us the meaning of Christmas: Jesus is born to bring God into our world and into our lives.  

And so, this child born today is a lifeline to all those who are lost and don't know how to find their way. This child is God's hand stretched out to all those who looked for success, happiness and fulfillment in what the world offers, but couldn't find it. Jesus is God's peace extended to all those who have become bitter or enraged by life's unfairness. This child is hope born to those who have grown weary and have given up on ever finding meaning and purpose in their lives.

Whatever it is our hearts ache for - whether it be love, peace, truth or meaning - all of it can be found in the person of Jesus.

This has been a very difficult year for most of us. Many people are out of work. We feel poorer and less secure these days. If anything, we have learned that the security and happiness money promises to give us is an illusion. The future can look dark.  However, in the darkness of these days, hope is born for us.  If Jesus is our light, we can never lose our way, and the darkness of despair can never totally consume us. Jesus is the Light of the World.

For those of us who have already welcomed this child into our hearts and made him the center of our lives, we should rejoice! We have come to know the meaning and purpose of our lives. We know the truth and are given the power to live in the love of God. It is now up to us not only to celebrate it but to share it with everyone we meet. This light cannot remain hidden. We must bring it into our homes, into our places of work and into our classrooms.

For those of us who are still searching, God is offering us another opportunity to welcome him into our lives. God never grows tired of stretching his hand out to us when we are lost or confused. Whatever it is that we are struggling with, whatever it is that is keeping us from experiencing the fullness of joy, God has the answer for it. We need only turn to the baby born this day, take him into our arms and promise to love him. When the first step of our searching becomes love rather than doubt, then we are back on the path to truth. When love rather than knowledge is our driving force, then everything suddenly becomes a little clearer.

God wants to move in with us. He wants to be in our lives. Like any baby, he simply wants our love and attention. Who would deny a baby affection and care? Who wouldn't want to share their homes and their lives with a newborn child?

Just such a child is born for us today. He is Jesus!

Monday, December 25, 2017

God's Love Made Visible

When we are young, the thought of  getting married one day can seem daunting. We fear that we will lose our freedom if we commit ourselves to spending our lives with just one person.

Many young people ask themselves:

Will I still be able to stay involved in all the activities I enjoy? What will I have to give up?

How will we know that we have found the right man or woman? What if someone better comes along? After several years, won’t we get bored with each other? Is it possible to remain faithful to one person for the rest of my life?

And how will I know that the person I choose to marry will be faithful to me? What guarantees are there that I will truly be happy?

When we focus on all the risks involved in committing ourselves to one person for the rest of our lives and all the sacrifices required to raise a family, it can seem overwhelming and even impossible.

Then, we fall in love. We meet that special person whom we find attractive and fun to be with. We find ourselves totally fascinated with our beloved. We want to know everything about him or her. Hours pass by without our even realizing it because being with our loved one feels so natural. For maybe the first time in our lives, we can be ourselves and know that we are accepted as we are. Any other activities we might have enjoyed in the past now seem irrelevant because nothing else compares to spending time with the one we love.

Once we fall in love, the thought of spending our lives with one person no longer seems frightening. In fact, we can no longer imagine how we can continue to exist without our loved one by our side. We actually want to commit ourselves to this beautiful person who has come to mean the world to us. Building a home together is no longer something we dread but an adventure we look forward to. In the throes of romance, what once seemed daunting and impossible now becomes desirable. What we once shied away from we now commit ourselves to with all our heart. Why? Because we have found the one our heart desires. Our love conquers our fear.

You might be asking yourself, What does this have to do with Christmas?

Well, we often look at religion the same way a person who is not in love looks at marriage. From the outside, it just seems to be a bunch of rules and regulations designed to limit my freedom. Aren’t there better things I can do with my Sunday morning than spend an hour in church? And who can make any sense of the Bible? What relevance can a book that was written thousands of years ago have to my life in the twenty-first century? It all just seems like a bunch of hoops to jump through for no reason.

Religion can seem like nothing more than empty rituals and restrictive rules. Then, we fall in love with Jesus.

It could be that we heard a passage from the Bible which made sense of a personal struggle. It could be that we were sitting quietly and had a strong sense of being in God’s presence. It could be that we woke up one day realizing how empty our lives were and asked Jesus to change us.

Once we realized how much God loved us, everything changed. Going to church was no longer something we did out of fear or obligation. Rather we wanted to celebrate Jesus’ death and resurrection and receive Him in the Eucharist. The Bible no longer was just some book written thousands of years ago with no relevance to our lives today. Rather we realized that it is the  word of God and, reading it with the eyes of faith and love, it finally began to make sense to us. And the rules were no longer hoops to jump through. Rather we found true freedom in turning away from sin and making choices that were good and holy.

On Christmas, we celebrate the birth of Jesus. He is God’s love come down from Heaven. He is a love that we can see and experience for ourselves. Jesus did not come to earth to bring more rules or take away our freedom. He came so that we could know just how much God loves us and so that we could love Him in return. And like a young man who finds the woman he desires to give his heart to, we want nothing more than to live for Jesus once we experience His love for us.

 Christmas has become one of the busiest times of the year. Though it may be difficult, we should each take a few minutes either today or tomorrow to stop and be silent. We should ponder God who became a baby so that we could love Him. If our hearts are as cold as a stable in Bethlehem, let us ask Jesus to fill them with His warmth. If our souls are as dark as midnight in December, let us ask Jesus to fill us with the same light of the star that brightened the sky at His birth. If there is any prayer that our Lord will answer it is the prayer of  humble people who simply want to experience His love.

Then this Christmas will be the kind of holiday we have always dreamed of - a Christmas in which we experience love itself filling our hearts and brightening our souls. Christ will be born in our hearts, our fears will give way to that love and our lives will never be the same. 

Sunday, December 24, 2017

The Grace Of God Has Appeared

Tonight, the grace of God has appeared.

In the child, Jesus, whose birth we celebrate, God Himself comes down to earth. This child whom we call “The Prince of Peace” is God stooping down to us in our loneliness and  lowliness. We could not find our way to Him so He came down to us.

This feast of Christmas shatters any illusions we might have of a God who is aloof, who keeps His distance from us or who is unconcerned with our suffering and pain. By appearing among us in the most vulnerable way imaginable - as a baby totally dependent on others - He shows His willingness to experience the human condition as we do. He literally “gets under our skin” to feel intimacy, joy and tenderness as we experience it. In so doing, He is also willing to feel cold, hunger, discomfort, rejection and suffering.

Jesus Christ is God’s hand stretched out in friendship to us. He is God’s arms spread wide, welcoming us and drawing us to Himself. This baby is our Heavenly Father’s love letter to us, His revelation of His earnest desire to share this world with us - not from a safe distance but up close and personal.

In the light of so great a mystery it is right for us to rejoice. We should all put our daily routine on pause to celebrate with family and friends this Christmas night when the light of God breaks like the dawn. It is only right that we make merry on this night when we commemorate the birth of our Saviour.

At the same time, we must remember that God waits for a response from us. Will we accept the offer of friendship He makes to us today? Will we take the hand He stretches out to us and allow Him to lift us up out of our weakness and sin? Will we live “justly, devoutly and temperately” in this life? Will we reorient our lives no longer setting our hearts only on this world and its fleeting pleasures but looking forward in joyful hope for the coming of the Lord? Only then can the grace of God which appears this night make a real and lasting difference in our lives and in our world.

The song of the angels, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests”, rings out through the centuries to this festive night. It calls us to rejoice in God’s promise fulfilled in the baby Jesus. It beckons us to seek Him out. For the shepherds who first heard that joyful announcement, the glory of God was hidden in a baby resting in His mother’s lap under the watchful eye of Saint Joseph. For us who gather here tonight to hear the good news proclaimed anew, God’s glory will be hidden in other ways. He is hidden in the person sitting next to you. He is hidden in the person you least admire or respect. He is hidden in the person we find it easy to ignore and overlook. Will we follow the shepherds lead and rush out to find Christ in our neighbor? Will it take a multitude of heavenly host to wake us up to the glory of God in everyone we meet?
What will make this Christmas special? What will make it unlike any other we have ever celebrated? What can we do to make the real and lasting joy of this holy day shine throughout the year? We can simply give our heart to Jesus. He willingly made Himself small so that He could fit into our hearts. We can welcome Him there to be born once again in us and to make of our souls His manger. It is as simple as turning to Him and saying, “Lord, come into my heart.” If we ask Him sincerely, He will answer our prayer. Then we will experience our darkness being scattered by His light, our cold hearts being warmed by His love and our tired souls being strengthened by His grace. If we do so, then this Christmas will always be remembered as the day when our lives changed forever.

Filled with the joy of this beautiful feast, I wish all of you a merry and joyous Christmas. I pray that it not only be a pleasant and restful day for you and your families, but that it bring a real change of heart. I pray that our celebration tonight opens our eyes to our Savior cold, suffering and lonely in the poor among us. I pray that it brings us the joy that comes not from having a few days off from school or work but from having Jesus alive in our hearts. Finally, I pray that, just as Jesus came down to earth to spread the love of the Father, we may spread the love of God wherever we go. That is the meaning of this Christmas day. That is the glory which makes its appearance on earth all because of the birth of a small child.

A Christmas Truce

The twentieth century opened with one of the bloodiest conflicts in human history - World War I. Advances in science and technology made the slaughter of human lives possible on a massive scale. Airplanes could now drop bombs creating widespread destruction, and mustard gas burned the skin off soldiers.

Nowhere was the fighting fiercer than on the front lines along the Western front. British and German troops hunkered down in trenches exchanging gunfire and lobbing grenades. When the artillery failed to kill the troops, dysentery and dehydration succeeded in finishing them off.

However, on Christmas day of 1914 at Ypres, Belgium, the hounds of war were called off for a brief time. To celebrate the holiday, German soldiers began decorating their trenches with lights and singing carols. The British troops responded by singing carols of their own and shouting Christmas greetings to their German counterparts. In a show of holiday spirit, they agreed to stop the shooting to allow each other to leave their trenches to collect and bury the corpses of their dead comrades. In the process, the British and German troops began talking. They exchanged gifts and, in some locations, even held joint Christmas services.

Sadly, these friendly exchanges were not enough to bring an end to the brutal war. The fighting eventually resumed as fiercely as it had before. But for a brief time the soldiers came to see each other not as enemies but as friends. They recognized their common humanity. They saw that they all had families they were anxious to return to and a future full of dreams they hoped to pursue. For a fleeting time, they put down their weapons to experience peace.

How is it that such an event could have taken place during such a brutal war? How is it that men who only one day earlier had tried to kill one another could cross over the barbed wire and embrace each other as brothers? It is only possible through Jesus. It is not a coincidence that this truce took place on Christmas day. As the soldiers decorated their trenches and sang Christmas carols their hearts became filled with the love of God, a love that does not see race, nationality or social status. It was that love of God that gave them the courage to cross the battle lines and turn enemies into friends. Only Jesus, who could gather indigent shepherds and wealthy, world-wise Magi together in a stable in Bethlehem, can bring peace to a world rent by conflict and division.

This night we gather to celebrate the gift which Jesus, the Prince of Peace, was born to bring to earth. As Isaiah prophesied, a child is born for us. This baby, born in a stable, is the world’s only hope. Before Jesus, the world was covered with darkness. Each nation had its own idols. Each kingdom struggled to gain dominion over other kingdoms and to do away with other peoples altogether. Now that the Savior of the World has been born, people of all nations have come to recognize the one true God and Father of all. We can put down our weapons and cool our hostility as we come to see through our differences to the image and likeness of God within each of us.

A great light shines this night to a world that has too long been covered in darkness. All of us desire peace, but we do not know how to find it. We have tried every thing from treaties to alliances to negotiations to try to find peace, but it has always eluded us. Tonight God reveals to us that only in Jesus can our world ever know peace. Only Jesus can remove the hate, prejudice and selfishness which are the root of conflict and violence. Only when the world comes to know Jesus can we ever experience real and lasting peace.

On this night we celebrate that what was thought to be impossible became a reality. The virgin gave birth to a Son. God became man. Angels appeared to shepherds in a field. Wise men from the East were drawn to Bethlehem by a star. Tonight we rejoice because with God all things are possible. The Heavenly Father who gave his Son not only to be born but to die for us can do all things. The light that has shone upon us through the birth of Jesus will illuminate for us the way to peace both for ourselves personally, for our nation and for our world. All we need is the courage to follow that light, and the impossible will become real.

There are many corners of our world that this light has not yet reached. There are many people who turn away from the light because they prefer darkness. We need to bring the light that is within us to them so that they can know the peace of Christ which their hearts have yearned for but which has eluded them. As the angels announced the good news to the shepherds, we must announce to all those we meet that our Savior is born and that He may be found by all who wish to know Him. As the star led the Wise Men across the desert to Bethlehem, so we must lead others to where they may find the Messiah who was born to save them. We who believe and have been touched by Jesus are now the light of the world bringing hope and peace. The torch has been passed on to us and we must go out lighting the torches of all those whom God places in our path.

The world can know true and lasting peace because it is what God wants for us. And nothing is impossible with God. Come to Bethlehem and see.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

In The Still Of The Night

It would have been a night very much like tonight - dark, cold and quiet.

A child was born. But he had no home. There was no place for him to stay. So his mother and father took shelter in a stable among cows, donkeys and lambs.

No doctors or nurses attended him. There were no sterile instruments to cut his umbilical cord. No anesthetics to soothe Mary's labor pains. No bottles of formula to fill his empty belly. We can only imagine Joseph's concern as he watched on, doing what he could to ease Mary's discomfort. We can only imagine their anxiety as they delivered alone their first-born son, the only Son of God, our brother.

However, God would not allow the appearance of his Son on earth to go unnoticed, without anyone to worship him. Certainly Joseph and Mary sat in awe as they held God made flesh in their arms. But just as he has gathered us here in the middle of the night, God sent angels to nearby shepherds watching their flocks at night. They were alone keeping watch when the angels announced to them tidings of great joy. At first, the appearance of the angels and their strange message gripped them with fear. Then, as the news began to sink in that they were the first to learn of the birth of their Savior, they made haste to find the place where he was staying. 

Where were they to find the newborn King of the Jews? The angels gave them two clues. First, he was to be found in David's city, Bethlehem. Second, he would be lying in a manger. 

David was the storied king of Israel's past. He was also born in Bethlehem. Jesus would inherit David's throne as prophesied by Isaiah to establish a rule which would never end. 

The word, "Bethlehem", means "house of bread". This child would not only rule over his people, but he would be their food. He would meet the deep pang of every human heart - friendship with God. For this reason, his resting place was a manger, where straw and hay are placed for the beasts of the stable to feed on. Just so, Jesus would be food for the lowliest among us. 

It is also significant that our Almighty God appears among us as a baby. When we hold a baby in our arms, something happens to us. We are moved by the child's innocence, warmth and beauty. We want nothing else but to love and protect the baby. In Jesus, God comes among us as one who is small, vulnerable and beautiful asking nothing else than that we love him. All the demands of the Christian life and all the teachings of the Church have no other purpose than to show us how to the love the God who is born to us in a manger.

We gather here at this late hour to hear the glad tidings pronounced to us once again: "A child is born to us; a son is given to us!" We receive the news with joy for it is truly good news of a God who lives among us. But where are we to find such a God this evening? He is not where we would expect. He is with the homeless woman protecting herself from the cold with only a cardboard box.  He is with the child who is too poor to have presents. He is with the single mother who has to leave her children with others as she works third shift. He is with the elderly man who has no other friend tonight except the television. Jesus was born as just such an outcast and outsider.

When we leave this church tonight, we will be different because Christ is born anew in our hearts. We cannot meet Jesus, we cannot take him into our arms, and fail to be changed by him. Let us, then, not only worship him there in the stable, but pick him up and take him with us into the dark places of the world. Let us not only feed ourselves with the bread of life but take food to others. The Savior of the world was born not to leave the world as he found it but to transform it through love. 

A Pencil In God's Hand

During the years that she served the poor, Saint Teresa of Calcutta become an icon of radical Christian discipleship. Though people constantly praised her for her work, she always sought to draw attention away from herself toward Jesus. Once, when a reporter asked her to describe her ministry, she told him that she was merely a pencil in the hand of God.

Later, in a book titled,  The Joy of Loving: A Guide To Daily Living, Saint Teresa expanded her answer: “I am a little pencil in God's hands. He does the thinking. He does the writing. He does everything and sometimes it is really hard because it is a broken pencil and He has to sharpen it a little more.”

In everything she did, she wanted it to be clear that it was God’s work and no one else’s. Ultimately, it was God who deserved all the credit and not her.

Saint Teresa’s attitude is a perfect reflection of Mary’s attitude in today’s gospel.

When the angel reveals to her that she will be the mother of Jesus, Mary simply replies: “I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”

Note that Gabriel does not ask Mary to do anything. God is the one who has chosen her. God will be the one to see to it that she conceives a child. And God will be the one to make her child great. Mary simply needs to say “yes” and to allow God to do His work through her. As Saint Teresa of Calcutta would put it, Mary simply needs to be the pencil with which God writes down His great plan of salvation.

When we talk about religion, we often fall into the trap of describing it as something that we do. We observe rules, go to Church, teach catechism, live an upright life and so on. To some extent, all that activity is important. However, Christianity is not primarily about what we do but what God does in and through us.

It all begins with our very existence. None of us chose to be born. Our life is a free gift from God. And none of us figured out for ourselves that God loved us enough to send Jesus to die for our sins and rise again to give us the promise of everlasting life. Rather, we heard the good news through the preaching of the Church which Jesus established. And even our belief in the gospel is a gift of grace. It is through faith,  which is a free gift of God’s love, that we can believe in Jesus and entrust our lives to Him.

Ultimately, like Mary and like Saint Teresa of Calcutta, we must see ourselves merely as pencils in His hand, allowing Him to write out His saving plan through us.

That does not mean that we sit around and wait for God to move us as if we were puppets. We continue to live our daily lives just as they are. We continue to dream, to strive, to imagine, to yearn. However, all the while we are open to what God wants to do through us.

For some of us, it will mean doing some great work for the Lord as Saint Teresa did in Calcutta. However, God will work through most of us in small and hidden ways. It may be by going out of our way to give someone a ride to the doctor. It may be by volunteering at a soup kitchen once a week. Simply by responding in a kind and loving manner to everyone God puts in our path, we will be showing forth the face of Christ and doing great good.

As Saint Teresa said, we are broken pencils that need to be sharpened every now and then. Often, we are afraid of what God might ask of us. Or we think that our plan is better than God’s plan.

That is where prayer comes in. Through prayer, we learn to see the world as God sees it. By putting ourselves in His presence every day, we begin to recognize the face of God in every person we meet, especially the needy. By getting into the habit of making daily sacrifices,  we train ourselves to put aside our own interests to serve the needs of others. And by receiving the Sacraments of Confession and Communion frequently, we find the strength to give without counting the cost.

God chooses those who are small in the eyes of the world to do His great work. This is certainly true of Mary who was just a young girl from a backwater town. It is also true of many of the saints, including Saint Teresa of Calcutta, who changed the world by simply allowing God to work through them.

None of us, then, is too small or insignificant to have God use us to do great things. If anything, we are probably not small and insignificant enough. If we want to be pencils in His hands, we need to abandon ourselves to Him daily in prayer asking for the strength to forget ourselves so that we can serve others.

Tomorrow, we will celebrate the great feast of Christmas. Through Jesus Christ, born of Mary, God will change human history forever. To this day, it is God who is guiding the course of events leading to the consummation of His great plan of salvation. We want to contribute to that plan - like Mary and Saint Teresa of Calcutta - by allowing Him to use us in whatever way He sees fit. Then we will see Him do great things in and through us for nothing is impossible with God.

Friday, December 22, 2017

The Fourth Candle

As we light the fourth candle on the Advent wreath, we realize how near the end of our Advent journey is. In just a few short days we will be celebrating the birth of our Savior. Joy and anticipation fill us as the day draws near.

Advent is a season of patient waiting for the Lord who has promised to appear in our midst. It is a time to remember how God has revealed Himself in the past through the birth of Jesus Christ. It is also a time of celebration and gratitude for the ways God reveals Himself to us in the present through the insight we gain from His word, through the inspiration we receive from other believers and through the sacraments which heal and empower us. Finally, Advent is a season of anticipation as we look forward in hope to the glorious Second Coming of our Lord who will reveal Himself definitively to all people dispelling any possible doubt that He is the Savior of the World. These attitudes of remembrance, celebration and anticipation sum up the meaning of the Advent season.

Our Lady, the Blessed Virgin Mary, characterizes for us more than any other person in the Christmas drama what our Advent preparation should be, particularly as it comes to an end. She is the one who waits perfectly for the will of God to be revealed. We see in today’s gospel how she listens in wonder at the angel Gabriel’s declaration that she, the one “full of grace”, was chosen above all women to be the mother of the Savior. She does not ask what she has done to deserve such an honor. She does not ask what will be required of her in the future. She simply says “yes” to what God wants to do through her. “Be it done unto me according to thy word.” Mary’s focus is not on herself and what she might accomplish but on God and the great work He wanted to fulfill in and through her.

And so Mary, carrying the Savior of the World within her, serves as the shining image of the Advent Season. As she waits in joyful anticipation for the birth of her Son, she ponders the mystery of God that she has become caught up in. She marvels at why God would choose her, a humble girl from a remote part of Israel, to play such an important role in the world’s salvation. Her special place, however, does not fill her with pride because she understands that it is all God’s work. As she will explain to her cousin Elizabeth, “The Lord who is mighty has done great things for me and holy is His name.”

Mary, carrying Jesus within her, teaches us about the need to wait patiently for the Lord. When a woman is pregnant, there is no way to rush the birth of her child along. All she can do is wait patiently, giving the child all the time she needs to develop in her womb. Only when the baby is given that time will she eventually be born. There is nothing a mother can do to shorten her pregnancy to six or seven months. No matter how anxious she may be to hold her child in her arms, the only thing she can do is wait.

Mary teaches us this important lesson of the spiritual life - We have to give God time to work in our lives. No matter how anxious we may be to see progress in our spirituality or renewal in the Church, it can only come through the gentle work of God’s Spirit. We want to see instant results, but God works slowly and surely. No matter what we may be struggling with, what burdens are weighing us down, what sorrows are breaking our hearts, God promises to strengthen, heal and deliver us if we trust Him and wait patiently. We cannot rush God. We can only wait in joyful expectation for His work to come to term in ways that may surprise us but will never let us down.

Mary also teaches us that God does great things in small, imperceptible ways. When Mary said “yes” to being the mother of Jesus, it was the most important word ever spoken in human history up to that time, yet only the angel Gabriel heart it. Though it marked a turning point in human history, it appeared in no papers of the time nor was it recorded by any historian other than Saint Luke. What God did in Mary was thunderous and earth shaking, but it did not register on the Richter scale. God was working in a small way, through an ordinary girl, to change the course of history.

In just such a way, God is using ordinary people who are willing to say “yes” to Him day in and day out to build His Kingdom. It happens in the home of the man who quietly empties the dishwasher to give his wife one less chore to do. It happens in the school boy who stands up for a classmate who is being picked on. It happens in the hospital when a sick person offers up her sufferings for the conversion of sinners. It happens when a teenager decides to turn off his computer and read the Bible instead. None of these actions seems noteworthy or heroic. They will mostly go unnoticed by others. But it is through just such daily acts of ordinary generosity and kindness that God changes the world.

Mary teaches us, then, to say “yes” daily to the Lord no matter how small the task may be or how unnoticed our sacrifices may go. In our day-to-day attempts to love one another, God is transforming hearts. There is no way to measure the effect. There is no way to chart the progress of individuals or the Church. Each of us, following Mary’s example, has to trust God, saying “yes” when it is easy and when it is difficult. Each of us has to wait for God to act just as Mary did in a stable in Bethlehem and throughout her life of faith. 

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Teach Us Wisdom....Teach Us Love

According to a long-standing tradition, Mary was only fifteen years old when the angel Gabriel announced to her that she would be the Mother of God. Imagine God choosing someone so young to take on such a great responsibility of bearing the Son of God. What an incredible woman Mary must have been. She must have been wise and mature beyond her years to be called to such an exalted role.

Besides her wisdom and holiness, this young girl’s most important virtue was her humility. Though she had questions for the angel, she accepted what he said and was willing to give herself over to God’s plan. She did not negotiate with Gabriel. She did not ask, “If I do this for God, what is He going to do for me.” Rather she put aside her own will to say yes to God’s will.

Just as Mary taught Jesus how to walk and how to speak, she would have taught Him how to pray. She would have taught Him to have a great love for God’s word and for His temple in Jerusalem. But, most of all, she would have taught Him to seek God’s will in all things and to say yes of whatever His Heavenly Father would ask of Him.

Mary was a good teacher, because we see throughout Jesus’ life a willingness to embrace God’s will. When He teaches the disciples to pray, He includes the words, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” And when He is lying prostrate in the garden overcome with anguish at the thought of dying for a sinful humanity, He prays as His mother taught Him: “Not my will but your will be done.”

If Mary can teach Jesus how to seek out and do God’s will, she can also teach us. Not only did Mary say yes to being the mother of the Savior, she also said yes to being our Mother at the foot of the cross when Jesus pointed to Saint John and said, “Behold your Son.” Jesus has entrusted us to the care of His own Mother. Now that her work on earth is complete, in heaven she watches over us and prays for us. She wants nothing else than to take us by the hand and lead her to her Son.

One powerful way that Mary teaches us to say yes to God’s will is through the rosary. When we pray the rosary, we are meditating on the mysteries of God’s plan of salvation. We are pondering the events of Jesus’ life and are inspired by His love and generosity. As we pray along with Mary, we come to see how those mysteries are at work in our own lives. We come to understand that just as in the first joyful mystery Mary is called to embrace God’s plan, so we are called to put our own plans aside to follow Jesus. We see in the fourth sorrowful mystery that just as Jesus embraced His cross, so our burdens and difficulties can be a means of salvation for us and the world if we embrace them with faith and offer them up to God in love. As Blessed John Paul II said so beautifully, the rosary is Mary’s school teaching us how to love and follow her Son.

As the new year approaches, one resolution we should make is to pray the rosary every day. If we could gather our whole family each night for this powerful prayer, even better. Our Lady promises tremendous blessings and graces to us when we devote ourselves to this beautiful prayer. She assures us that she will obtain for us from her Son whatever we may ask of her. She promises that we will find the strength to turn away from all sin and to burn with greater love for our Heavenly Father. And she promises that at the hour of our death she will ask her Son to have mercy on us. Along with receiving the sacraments and studying the scriptures, praying the rosary is a powerful way to grow in holiness and to learn from Mary how to say yes to God’s will.

Often people are discouraged from praying the rosary because they find themselves getting distracted as they pray. Instead of focusing on the mysteries or on the prayers, their minds start to drift off. This is very natural. Even Saint Therese of Lisieux complained that she struggled to fight off distractions when she prayed the rosary. However, we should never allow our human weakness to discourage us from praying. God accepts our prayers no matter how feeble they may seem to us. When a two year old starts saying words for the first time, even though they are mispronounced, we laugh and encourage the child. Just so, when we pray to our Heavenly Father, He takes delight in it just as we would in that small child who is just learning how to talk. And just as that child will eventually learn how to speak correctly by practicing, so we will grow in our ability to pray by praying more. Every day we will make some progress in our ability to focus on the prayers and the mysteries, even though at times we may fail to see it. It is when prayer is difficult that we will make the most progress. And we can always pray with confidence because Mary promises to bring those prayers, no matter how feeble,  to the throne of her Son.

Because Mary said yes to God’s will, we will celebrate the birth of Jesus this week. We have been preparing through these past four weeks to make a place for Him in our hearts and homes and to receive Him with joy. Because, like Mary, Jesus said yes to God’s plan, we have the great blessing this day of receiving His body which He gave for us and His blood which He poured out for the forgiveness of our sins. Now God is waiting for our yes. He wants to do great things in and through us. Let us ask Mary to teach us how to entrust ourselves to God’s will so that we can experience all the blessings He has prepared for us.