Homily for Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Today’s Readings

It may seem harsh that so close to the commemoration of the birth of Jesus, we are hearing about the martyrdom of Stephen. The scene of Christmas yesterday was a small newborn baby and his joy-filled parents. It was a scene where shepherds came with great curiosity, and Angels appeared and sang. It is a scene we have witnessed over and over again in countless manger sets of every variety and size.

Today’s reading takes us to the end of Jesus’ life. Stephen is the first martyr described in the post-resurrection period. I would suggest that these two days are juxtaposed precisely to remind us the reason for the coming of Christ into our world. Jesus came for our salvation. We celebrate the God who loved us so much he dies for our sins. The little baby will grow up. The little baby will seek constantly to do the will and the work of the father. And the little baby will grow up to be a person who makes demands upon his followers.

St. Stephen’s feast which we celebrate today is a person who understand the demands of faith. The Acts of the Apostles describe Stephen as that first deacon along with others who met the needs of the poor in the community. But by his following the way of life that Jesus came to bring to each one of us, Stephen is called to give his own life.

We are called to remember that the incarnation was the beginning on earth of the great plan of salvation developed by God. Through his ministry here on earth, we have learned better how to care for one another. Through his ministry here on earth, we have learned better what it means to worship God and to live a life of authenticity. So it is right that placed before us are the events of yesterday, the birth of a little baby, and the events of today, the martyrdom of Stephen, that reminds us that our ultimate destination, and the ultimate purpose of the incarnation, our eternal union with God.

Homily for Monday, December 24, 2012

Readings for Today

Have you ever had the experience were you were convinced your life was moving in a particular direction, only to discover that you should be headed was in the opposite direction? I have. More than one time in my life the next chapter I envisioned for myself, was not exactly what occurred. Such is the case in today’s first reading. It seems logical, wise and perhaps even generous that David seeks to build the temple to house the Ark of the Covenant. And originally the prophet, Nathan, seems to extend his blessing to David’s endeavor. But they got it wrong.

Perhaps part of the challenge concerns the reality we all too often face in our own lives. It certainly can be a temptation in ministry. We think we are building for God some great house. We put our effort, our mind, and our energy, into making something where we believe God will dwell. Truth is, over and over again, we are reminded that it is not us were called to build something for God, but rather is God who constantly build something in us.

David is not much different than most powerful leaders. In his youth, and at various times during his reign, he was an agent for good, bringing unity and peace, being attentive to the presence of God in his life and the lives of the subjects. But David had his flaws. One might argue that flaws are inevitable when success comes too easily. Perhaps this was the challenge for David. He not only had sex with a woman who was not his wife, he arranged to have her husband killed in battle.

Ultimately, David’s greatness does not come from what he did, but what he recognized. While David had many successes, his ultimate salvation was the recognition but so much had depended on God. When David saw the solution on his own terms, usually resulted in suffering, not only for David, but perhaps more importantly for others.

The great lesson for us on this Eve of Christmas is to recognize that we do not build God a house. It is to recognize the task of our lives is to cooperate with God’s grace. It is not to suggest that we do not have a role in the acceptance of our vocation. Of course we do. God has created us as free human beings. But the lesson is clear. We are called to recognize that in all things God is primary. God creates us. God calls us. God gives us the grace that leads us to him.

Homily for Friday, December 21, 2012

Today’s Readings

The first reading has had an interesting history. Well, the whole book has.  The Song of Songs compares the love of God, to the closest experience most human beings have of that love. It compares our relationship with God, to the relationship of husband and wife. The first reading describes an exciting relationship of two people madly in love with each other, eagerly racing toward the other, enthusiastically seeking a relationship that makes them complete.

Even for the Jewish people, Song of Songs was almost too much. It did not easily make it into the canon of sacred Scripture. I am glad it did. Because it reminds us how important it is to be eager in our relationship with God. It reminds us how we need to seek to be enthusiastic for that relationship which completes us, which fulfills us, and which is most often expressed in the way in which we care for one another.

The reading is filled with excitement. Weeping, bounding, setting like a seal on one’s heart. The images portrayed in the Song of Songs were tangible and real, easily understandable to two people in love. And as we consider the birth of Jesus, perhaps the closest way of understanding God’s love for us, is to consider the birth of a new baby for parents. They may not be leaping or bounding, especially after a few nights of little sleep, but their love for their newborn child is beyond words. It’s quite remarkable when one considers it. A new, fragile, human life that is loved even before it is known.

The excitement of parents at the birth of their son or daughter gives us a small glimpse of the joy and excitement that God has everything he creates. For while it is many things, the incarnation is about creation. About a God so madly in love with us, he is compelled to create, he is compelled to share his divine life with those made in his own image and likeness.

Perhaps we don’t leap or bound because we fully do not comprehend the absolute power of the word made flesh. Perhaps we do not fully understand the depth of God’s love for each one of us. But perhaps most of all, none of this really matters. Because we are never the ones who leap or bound first. It is always God who takes the initiative, who is so excited to see us. It is in fact God who seeks to be incarnated in each one of us who seek to do his will.

Homily for Thursday, December 20, 2012

Today’s Readings

Another day, another tremendous sign from God. What if one doesn’t want a sign? What if I avoid the openness that leads to experiencing a sign, because I do not like the implications for my own life? Such was the case with Ahaz in the first reading. At first , it may seem that Ahaz is being especially devotional. He will not test God by demanding a sign. But understanding the situation more completely, we realize Ahaz does not want the sign, because it will represent the need for Ahaz to make different choices in his own life.

Have you had the experience of being afraid to pray that you might know and do God’s will? Are there times when you consider that the will of the Father of Jesus was to let his Son die on the Cross? Every time we pray the Our Father, we pray that God’s will be done. But if you’re like me there are too many times when the only criteria in discerning the will of God is really about discerning my own will.

Mary could have given into such a temptation in today’s gospel. She is asked to bear God’s son, even though she will not have intercourse. She is asked to say yes to God, without fully understanding the implications of her answer. She is asked to become the earthly tabernacle that holds Jesus, without realizing the cost of this in her life.

But not surprisingly, she does not understand how this could even be possible. She certainly cannot know all of the hardship that will come into her life because of her ultimate yes to God. There is a reason that one of the titles of Mary is Our Lady of Sorrows. Her life was hard, and she spent much of her life trying to understand the son of hers. But in the end Mary gives a complete and total answer to God: yes.

One way of looking at Advent is to examine the characters of Advent.  We see those individuals who are outstanding role models, and another set remind us that life is not always as clean as it appears. We do not have a God that does not respect our freedom. This ultimate respect for human freedom is what makes Mary’s answer to the question of the Angel all that more remarkable. She could have said no. But she did not.

The commemoration of the birth of Jesus is not simply about characters on stage. It is a powerful reminder to you and to me that Jesus came for a specific purpose. Jesus came to save us. The great incarnation of Jesus, that great act where God comes one with us, the incarnation we begin to realize in a way beyond even our wildest imaginings just how much God loves us.

Homily for Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Today’s Readings

Two miraculous births. Two women who faced the ultimate embarrassment in their lives: not having children. During their time in history, children were seen as the way in which people live on beyond their own lives. They live the legacy of their children and the memory of others. To be barren, to be without children, was seen as a terrible disgrace. As is true with many sad events human existence, the situation was such that people without children were seen as morally inferior.

So imagine the tremendous joy and excitement when the Angel appears to announce the end of their childless days. More significant than the end of their childless days, was the reality that these births would give rise to children destined to change history. The parallels between the first reading in the gospel are easy to understand. Both Sampson and John the Baptist are born into circumstances where their mothers will see to it they lived a special type of life. They will refrain from certain foods and drinks, and their appearance will be governed by divine law.

Perhaps most important, both will show forth the glory of God in their lives. Samson’s great strength will bring glory to Israel. John the Baptist’s great fidelity will cost him his life.  Both Samson and John give witness to a power that is not completely their own. The simple act of cutting  hair leaves Samson weak. The encounter with Jesus in the Jordan River, requires a humility on the part of John that reminds him he is not in charge of his mission .

While both readings occur in very dramatic circumstances the spectacular appearances of God through the Angel, each one of us is the result of a miraculous birth. This is so because each one of us is made in the image and likeness of God. While we may not have the tremendous strength of Samson, or the wisdom and eloquence of John the Baptist, we do have all that matters: the grace of God.

Homily for Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Today’s Readings

God is with us. Have you really spent any time to think about the beauty of that statement? God is with us. It can be easy for us to take for granted this basic truth of our faith. God is with us. In just a few days we will commemorate the tremendous gift of God become human. The Word made flesh. God is with us.

But do we fully comprehend the beauty of our God who is close to us? Understandably, as in the first reading, people who have experienced difficult situations, circumstances, or events in their lives have a hard time believing that God is with us. Those who suffer because of domestic violence or abuse may have a hard time believing that God is with us. Those parts of the world that are wracked by violence because of war, or even in our own country because of gun violence, and other types of violence, may question whether or not God is really with us.

In fact we know the problem of evil is a barrier that many cannot overcome believing in God. How could an all loving God permit evil? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why doesn’t God step in and prevent senseless tragedies? How can it be that God is with us when so many of these horrible things are still occurring?

The truth is very complex, and even the answers traditionally given do not always satisfy. But what today’s readings assure us of is the fact that God is indeed with us. It is not the case that we are spared from every difficulty of life. We know for instance that many of the things that occur in our lives that are in fact people come because of our own hands. We fight too much, share too little, and harm too often. We commit evil actions against one another.

The truth when encountering today’s readings is that God is indeed with us. God stands with us. God extends to us the gift of new life. God becomes one in our messy existence. Even though we do not always treat each other well God remains always with us, by our side, forgiving, loving, and caring for us.

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.

Homily for Saturday, December 15, 2012

Today’s Readings

Wouldn’t it be exciting to see Elijah go up to the heavens in fire?  Wouldn’t it be great if we could have the experience similar to Hollywood special effects?  It can be easy to think that if we only had such experiences our faith we be so easy.  But would it?

it simply is not easy to explain our world. We find time and again that people try. In a religious perspective, there are those who are so sure of their faith, there is no room for doubt. In a scientific sense, there are such certainty that religion is simply about a fairytale, but circumstances that do not lend themselves to an answer that can be gained through the senses, are often avoided. And the rest of us find that we are somewhere in the middle, believing some things, and wondering about others.

While it might seem for each one of us, that a dramatic experience the presence of God would make our lives easier, the reality is that we might find ourselves all too much like the brothers of the rich man who denied Lazarus the care he was  due, and asked Jesus to send a personal messenger to save at least his brother. But in the end, Jesus, who knows our hearts so well, says that even one who is risen from the dead would not be enough of an eyewitness to guarantee belief.

The challenging word is guarantee. We are always seeking to guarantee our lives. We do not like to be taken. So whether it is the latest product that’s available in one of the superstores, or whether it is in our faith where we see dramatic miracles to settle all questions, we are reminded that most of the time, we encounter God in the everyday and the ordinary.

Just a couple of days ago, we encountered this truth in remembering Our Lady of Guadalupe and Juan Diego. Today we are reminded of the importance of discernment. We seek out to discover the deep meaning and truth is present in our lives. We accept, as God chooses to give, the revelation and presence that is helpful to each one of us. Moreover, we seek humility to realize that doubt is simply the other side of faith. We stopped realize that so many great saints had a period of time where they doubted the presence of God.

As we seek and search for the presence of God in our lives, to be light to one another. While it may be hard to set aside those things which practice from prayer, we do know this tremendous confidence that God cares for us, God loves us, and God constantly pours out before us new opportunities to grow in grace.

Homily for Friday, December 14, 2012

Today’s Readings

It is not difficult to see that the season of Advent provides us with an interesting tension. On the one hand in the world of the season of Advent, the world of our faith in the world of our church, we are called to take a step back, to reflect, to pray. In the world in which we live, we are called to get ready for Christmas. We go shopping, we go to parties, we write Christmas cards, for we are all about the busyness of the season. Today’s celebration of St. John of the Cross reminds us that like Mary in the Gospels, the sister of Martha who listened to the words of Jesus instead of doing the necessary work of hospitality, we too choose the better part when we listen to the words of Christ.

Today’s gospel calls us to go even deeper. It reminds us of the importance not only of making time for God, but examining closely our priorities and our motives to discover meaning and purpose and direction in our lives. Failure to do so, at least for some of us, can mean that we move from thing to thing, from new piece of technology to new piece of technology, from new fashion to new fashion, from the rat race that causes us to see more and more stuff, means that we can move around together many things, without ever really being satisfied.

In fact, without a deep grounding in the gospel of Jesus, we can be like people who do not know whether they are sad or happy. We can be like people who see various examples of lives well lived in sadness and happiness, and judge them of our own insufficiency.

If there is a good news in this Advent season, and of course there are many, it is that in spite of this restlessness we have the ability to rest in God. If there is a message of the season of Advent, is that conversion is always possible. Again and again, we are told, God reaches out to us in covenant to help us to see the good news of his presence, and the salvation belongs to offer.

As we are focused on the example St. John of the Cross, that Carmelite father who with St. Teresa of Avila, reminded the Carmelites of their tremendous contemplative roots, and called them back to realize the great gift of silence. Those of us who share a different vocation, may not have the luxury of a Carmelites in sitting in silence with the presence of God. But the truth is, we have the same ability to access the presence of God in our own lives, and in so doing helping the world to regain hope that his incarnation brings.

Homily for Thursday, December 13, 2012

Today’s Readings

Once again today we are reminded of the power of the lowly. Jesus extols the tremendous person that is John the Baptizer. But in praising John the Baptizer, Jesus focuses the attention of each one of us on our own baptism, on her own unique mission, the one given to us by God.

A careful look at the life of John the Baptizer demonstrates John understood in a profound way the universal call each of us receives from God. How easy it would have been for him, with so many crowds gathering around him, so many people enamored by his call to conversion, to become someone he was not. How easy it would have been, for him to taken upon himself the mantle of Messiah.

But John understands who he is. John understands the source of his dignity, and the source of the effectiveness of his words in the hearts of others. Put simply, John understands that he is not God. In Jesus reminds us that this very same human dignity is given to each one of us. Jesus reminds us that our words to can have tremendous power for conversion if uttered in the Spirit.

It can be hard to believe in our inherent dignity when we hear the strong words of the first reading. In it, the people of God are referred to as a maggot and a worm. It is a reminder to us that even when we do not live up to the promise and hope for human dignity, even when we are not at our best, God still loves us and seeks to become a part of our lives. We continue to celebrate the season of Advent, but us hope that we might be open to God’s continued presence in the lives of each one of us.