Homily for Sunday, January 11, 2015

Readings for Today

Christmas. Epiphany. Baptism of the Lord.  There can be a temptation to focus only on our own baptisms on this Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. While not trying to minimize the great day that was our own baptism, today is really another day that is about knowing who Jesus is. It is a Christological day today, as we learn again about the identity of Jesus.

Perhaps it is for this reason that the Baptism of the Lord is considered part of the Christmas season. We hear today, just as the angels announced at Christmas, and the magi proclaimed for the Epiphany, that Jesus is Lord. Today we do not know if anyone other than Jesus heard this, but we do know that the evangelist recorded it for us. And as such, we are privy to the words of the Spirit.

“You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” The Son of God. Jesus is identified clearly for who He is. Not only is Jesus human, once again we are reminded that God has become human, that the Incarnation is true and real. But perhaps most important to us is exactly what we learn about Jesus that is not mentioned here.

But let us begin by what we do get today. The first reading from Isaiah certainly reinforces the Messianic overtones. This passage from Isaiah, together with those in chapters 49, 50 and 52 are known as “servant” passages, which the early Church equated with the Christ. These passages help us to understand what it will mean to be the Messiah. It will help us to see what we should expect from the Messiah. It is hear the identity of Jesus is foreshadowed. And in the gospel it is made clear.

When we think of the reading choices today, what we see is the type of relationships the Messiah desires. We do not hear of a vengeful God, but rather one who is that gentle one who works for justice, who invites the thirsty to quench their thirst, who asks all to recognize that what he offers is far more than can be found anywhere else. It is a servant who teaches us about a loving God whose love is far more than we can imagine.

But it is also about what we do not hear about today, namely that immediately after today’s gospel, Jesus is led by the Spirit into the desert. Think about this for a moment. Jesus is led, not of his own accord, but by the Spirit into the desert. I am reminded here that it was Mary who pondered these things in her heart. In other words, to comprehend the actions of the Spirit, it is necessary to reflect in the desert. Jesus is driven by the Spirit, and in the action of the Spirit we too learn what it is we must do.

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Whenever God acts in his life in miraculous ways, it is Jesus who retreats to that quiet place. He did not forget today’s lesson given by the Spirit. And neither should we. Just as Jesus is led, driven, into this deep relationship with the Spirit, so too are we. We must allow ourselves to be led, to be driven, to that silent place where we not only encounter God, but we are able to affirm what we experience.

What is it that we are called to affirm? First, we are called to be thankful. We are called to develop that eucharistic spirit that is indeed the call to thanksgiving for all that God has done. Second, we are reminded that silence is indeed where our faith is strengthened, for it is in silence that the distractions are removed so that we can focus more clearly on God in our lives. Thirdly, when we are open to the silent reflection where the Spirit leads us, we are able to see not only those times when we cooperated with the grace of God, but also those times when we too must repent for the sins we have committed, so that our relationship with God leads us to become more fully the person we have been created to be.

In a way, we are called, by the baptism we have received, to recognize our own relationship with the Christ. We are called to join ourselves to a community of people who seek Jesus, and believe in him so that they can follow him. It is the grace of God that is made real through others that our Church, our parishes, our local church, calls us to experience. Every time someone is baptized, we hear again the affirmation of the Spirit given to Jesus, that we too are in a profound relationship with God that leads us more fully to the person we were created to be because of the love of God.

Homily for Thursday, December 27, 2012

Readings for Today

I have had the experience lately of seeing former students of mine share pictures of their children. Some are pictures of newborn infants, while others are pictures of children who are growing up quite quickly. What is the most powerful for me is seeing the change that these dramatic events have caused in students I first met in school. So many of them have gone from being immature, self-centered individuals, to mature parents who take opinions they would never have defended in high school.

What is most exciting to me, are those pictures that show not only joy filled children the joy filled parents. For many of them, as happy as their wedding day was, there is a certain sense of even deeper fulfillment as they raise their family. The easy lesson is that true love must be shared. We simply cannot hang on to love only for ourselves. Otherwise it remains incomplete.

This is the message of John whose feast we celebrate today. The telling of the story, the safeguarding of the events, makes the joy of John and others complete. The great mystery of faith is not made complete until it is shared with others. So immense was the joy of the early followers of Jesus, they simply could not keep it to themselves. It simply had to be shared.

Yet again, two days after the celebration of the baby Jesus, our readings draw us to the resurrection. The octave of Easter, the eight days we celebrate from December 25 until January 1, our eight days, each of which is an extension of Christmas. In fact, rather than thinking of Christmas as eight days, it is rather, one day that lasts for eight.

Yet with the exception of the readings we heard Christmas Day and Christmas Eve which describe the baby Jesus, the readings we’ve heard since have focused on the resurrected Christ. This is because we cannot have one event in isolation. Incarnation only makes sense in the context of the suffering and resurrection of Jesus. It is the Paschal Mystery we celebrate during this great octave of Easter. It is the Paschal Mystery we celebrate in every sacrament of the Church.

To be sure, the incarnation is miraculous. The enfleshed experience of God with us is amazing. But what is more amazing for persons of faith, for Catholic sacraments, is the Paschal Mystery: the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The Paschal Mystery is always at the center of Catholic worship. But this Catholic worship is never meant for an individual, for just as John tells us in the first reading, we share what we have seen and what we have heard so that our joy may be complete.

Christmas Day, December 25, 2012

Today’s Readings

One of the more interesting chapters in my life was when I chaperoned some high school students to France. It was the first, and the last time I would chaperone high school students anywhere. Among the many interesting things that we saw, one visit in particular stands out in my mind. Many people are familiar with the caves of Lascaux, because of the multicolored drawings on the walls, made thousands of years ago.While it is not possible to see the actual Caves of Lascaux today (we came to realize that too many humans breeding out carbon dioxide turn the walls black), visitors can see an exact replica near the site, made as much as possible, to be an exact replica.  There are lesser known caves not too far away, with drawings even older.  It was at these caves at Rouffinac where our story takes place.

I knew we were in for some excitement, when, sitting in the back of the train that was about to take us into the caves, the French guide made the following statement. “Now limestone is a very soft rock. In fact you can push your finger right through it. Don’t do it.” Now if the goal is to keep high school students from pushing their fingers into the rock, I knew that this strategy was probably not the most effective. Each of us has had the experience, I think, where we want to do something simply because we are told not to do so. I felt it was important to add my words to the words of the French guide. “Now let us remember, that the drawings we are about to see on the inside of this cave, have been here for TEN THOUSAND YEARS!  We will not be known as the group that ruined the caves at Rouffinac.  If so much as a finger leaves this train, so help me I will CUT OFF YOUR ARM!”

Okay, perhaps I’m exaggerating a bit. But truth be told, I felt I should make a strong effort to impress upon the students the importance of respect for work that was tens of thousands of years old. And so into the cave we went. After a while, the train came to a stop, and the French guide all excited opened his arms wide and said “Look, there it is”. Just like the students, I was a little confused. This stretch of wall that we were being encouraged to look at by an excited travel guide did not appear to be any different than any of the other walls we had seen up to this point. And then, delighted in his own little joke, the guide pulled out a very small penlight flashlights and held parallel to the wall. What became clear were etchings on the wall that told the story.

But actually, the most exciting part of the tour was yet to come. Continuing on our journey, we stopped at another place, where the guide turned out all of the lights. For the first time in my life, I had the experience of pitch black. It was so dark, that holding my hands in front of my face, I could not see them. My first thought, were myriads of adolescent fingers poking holes in the limestone walls. But I was caught up in something I had never quite realized before. You can have light, or darkness, but not both. But we typically refer to as darkness, is simply a period where there is very low light. Light and darkness are mutually exclusive.

Such is the power of the commemoration of the Nativity of Jesus Christ we celebrate today. The people, walking in darkness, have seen a great light. At a time of year, where darkness seems the most powerful, we celebrate the arrival of the light of Christ. We too realize one cannot have light and darkness. We walked as children of the light or as children of darkness. But not both.

Let us walk as children of the light, for indeed, there is much darkness around us. We have children killing children in large American cities like Chicago. We have ongoing violence throughout the Arab world and in other places where people escape, just to live. We have too many people in our country and around the world who do not have the basic needs of their lives met. We have too many communities who seek to make sense of the senseless, who try to heal from the broken events of the darkness.  For us, it may be the darkness of loneliness, illness, mourning, loss, hurtful experiences, a lost job, significant expenses that we are not sure to meet.  And in our own personal lives, sometimes we can feel overwhelmed by the darkness.

In our lives, we can find ourselves confronted with a terminal illness in ourselves or in someone we love, Beacon Hill swallowed by the darkness. Struggling in a relationship with the spouse or a son or daughter or someone we don’t even know very well, can make us feel like the darkness wins but regardless, what we celebrate today is that light has overcome the darkness. We celebrate Christ is our light. The celebrate their profound act of love, God becomes one like us, one with us, Emmanuelle. And so, we walked as people of the light, being reminded again of the closeness of our God and God’s profound love.

Homily for Monday, December 17, 2012

Today’s Readings

Today marks a shift in the readings. Up until this point during the season of Advent we have been focused on the second coming of Jesus. Starting today, we shift gears in the readings to focus on the commemoration of the birthday of Jesus. in other words, we are now seeking to remember more specifically the celebration of Christmas.  And so, today we seek to understand the reason for the long genealogy of Jesus present in today’s gospel.

Matthew and Luke, the two evangelists that have genealogies in their Gospels, have different purposes for accounting and recollecting the family history of Jesus.  For Matthew, whose gospel we heard today, the point that he is trying to make, concerns connecting Jesus to the beginning of time. From the first moments of the fall, God intends a remedy for sin. From the first moments of the fall, which occurred because of our deliberate rejection of God, God moves quickly to remind us of his powerful love, not just evident when we do well, but also gently calling us back to mercy and forgiveness when we do not.

The other interesting concept of the genealogy presented to us in the gospel of Matthew is that when we look at Jesus relatives, we discover they are not all that much different than our own. The list we hear today we learn that Jesus in his family had wonderful role models to look up to, infamous relatives who might best be avoided, and the vast majority who fell somewhere in between. Is not too much unlike our own family.

The purpose in writing the genealogy in the gospel, really is not that much different from the purpose of our celebrating those great holidays, and the holy days, that help us to remember the profound events of God during salvation history. But more importantly, these events serve as a striking reminder that just as God has done throughout the ages, so to God does today.