25 December 2016Christmas

Homily from Father James Gilhooley
A Cycle - Luke 2:11-14

The owl asked the dove, "What does a snowflake weigh?" "Nothing," said the dove. "Well," the owl replied, "let me tell you what happened to me one Christmas. I was perched on the branch of an evergreen when it began to snow heavily. I began to count the snowflakes falling on my branch. The number was 3,742,356. When the next snowflake, which you claim weighs nothing, fell on the branch, it broke off and fell to the ground." The owl flew off. The dove reflected for a time. Finally she said, "No one can do everything, but, like that last snowflake, everyone can do something.

Perhaps it's just my voice that is needed to bring about peace among my family." I can be that last snowflake. The regrettable part of Christmas, as someone has remarked, is that there is so little of it. It takes us four weeks to prepare for Christmas day. Yet in twenty-four hours it is history. But, while we still have it, we rush to church to mark the birth of the Colossus who is Christ - this hero no one could ever invent. (Robert Griffin) Much of our world finds it impossible to believe in the birth of the God-Man, but that same world is most loath to turn its back on the birth either. Many people want some share of its magic no matter how tiny their portion might be. Others feel themselves too sophisticated to accept the simple lines of the oft-told Christmas Gospel, but there is a force in them which will not allow them to let it go entirely. Almost everyone wishes to believe with a passion that the last words God spoke to His Son immediately before His birth were, "Be sure to give everyone down there my love." (Unknown) But the Christmas story is deserving serious study by the fact that it is so unbelievable. If you wished to spin a tale about the Creator that would fool people, you would hardly dress your God in diapers and have Him sleeping fitfully in a crudely crafted trough - all the time bothered by flies and tics.

You would not be that stupid. (Griffin) If you really wanted to deceive, would you be so obtuse as to think that your scam victims would accept your inference that the oak was already growing that would be axed down to make the cross? Would you expect them to allow that God would permit His only Child to be whipped and spat upon, stripped naked before jeering and lustful eyes, and then be crucified? (Ibid) When this scarred and wounded globe is scheduled to spin about for its last time, people will still be discovering fresh points to make regarding this most extraordinary of births. There is a depth to the story of the birth of Jesus, it has been said, which no one of us will ever exhaust. It is a tale that will never have an ending. New pages are forever being written. The busy pens never stop.

This feast reminds each of us that God lit up a star to break through the darkness. Each year at this time, He reminds us it is better to light a star than to curse the darkness. (Ibid) What will be our gift to Him? What good news can you bring to the world around you today? No one can do everything, but each of us can do something. Perhaps, as the dove has taught us, it is just your voice that is needed to bring peace among your family or friends. Let that beau geste be your gift to the colossus who is Christ - this hero you could never invent. You may say, "I have tried to be a peacemaker, but I have failed. So, I do nothing." Michael Jordan, the 20th century Babe Ruth of basketball, replies to you. "I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my basketball career. I've lost more than 300 games, and 26 times I've missed the game-winning shot. Throughout my career I've failed and failed again. I kept trying. That's why I succeed." At this season where gifts hold sway in our thinking, it is so refreshing to believe that I myself am a gift. To this world, God sends me. In this world, I have a mission to complete, a task to fulfill. And this is only possible if I make a total response to God's spirit within me. (James Tahaney) If you wish to give yourself, says the monk, here's your gift list: the gift of listening, the gift of an embrace, the gift of laughter, the gift of a letter, the gift of a compliment, the gift of a kindness.
Homily from Father Joseph Pellegrino
The Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord, Christmas: Divine Starlight Merry Christmas, everyone.
This is a beautiful time of the year. It is a time to celebrate family and friends, it is a time of warmth, a time of peace. Like most of you, I like driving at night through the subdivisions looking at Christmas lights. Although many people are trying to eliminate the religious significance of Christmas, the very existence of all the lights points to Jesus Christ. He is the Light of the World. The Christmas colors of green and red point to the hope in the Lord attained through the sacrifice of his life. Both the ancient Jews of the East and the pagan Romans of the West celebrated light at this time of year. The Jews celebrated the restoration of the Temple from the Syrians by lighting a candle on the Menorah for each day of the celebration now called Hanukkah.

The pagan Romans celebrated the sun-god Apollo's conquest of night on the Winter solstice. Christians outdid these feasts by celebrating the Nativity of the Lord. We are people of light, but we are also people who find light in a world of darkness. John Shea tells the wonderful story of how he took a group of children on a camping trip when he was a young man. I did the same thing many times when I was a Salesian of St. John Bosco. Being with children in the woods at night is always an experience to remember . . . or try to forget. In Shea's account, the children woke up in the middle of the night when the fire went out. It was a cloudy, moonless night. The total darkness evidently scared those who were used to some sort of light, perhaps a nightlight, when they went to sleep. Shea was awakened by one of the children crying and then the rest calling for help. He told them all to be still, stay where they were and just wait for a little while. As if on cue, the clouds must have been blown away, because the stars came out. With their eyes adjusted to being in pitch black, the stars absolutely lit up campsite.

The children ran around the campsite and to the nearby stream. They laughed as only children at play laugh. They laughed at the experience of seeing a world lit up by Starlight. This is the light that we, People of Light, experience. Jesus Christ, the Light of the World has come, but the world is still in darkness. Those who are attune to the Light of the Lord, though, those who are capable of being guided by His light, we, are people of Starlight. We need to adjust our eyes to the Lord's starlight. This is all poetic, but how do we attain the focus we need in a world of chaos, confusion, in a world of darkness? The answer is Jesus. For a Christian, the answer to all questions about life is Jesus. We look at his life. Born in poverty. Hunted as an infant. Mocked as an adult and crucified for loving others, he brought kindness and peace to those who allowed him into their lives. He would not allow darkness to overcome him.

He would not become cynical. He would not succumb to hatred. He would not let selfishness determine his choices. He lived to love. He would not give up on love or give up on anyone for that matter. His love turned the darkness of the Good Thief crucified next to him into light. The former criminal was attune to the presence of God's love, his eyes were adjusted to Divine Starlight. Many people will be visiting each of us during the Christmas celebrations. Let's be frank, we really do not want to see some of these people. They will conveniently forget their nastiness over the years and walk into our homes saying “Merry Christmas.” They will act as though nothing negative has transpired. We are upset, not just because we were hurt, but because they have hurt someone we love.

We have a golden opportunity here, though. We can turn the typical Christmas phoniness into an experience of the Lord if we make the determination right now to love them, to be kind to them and not to be concerned with whether or not we will be hurt once more. If we are sincere, they just might catch a glimpse of starlight in muddle of Christmas sentimentality. That is how the Tremendous Lover would act. That is how we act as people of Divine Starlight. To be people of Divine Starlight our focus must be on Jesus. This is deeper than the old WWJD, What would Jesus do? Instead of WWJD, I want to give you new letters, a new thought. Instead of WWJD, what would Jesus do? we should be concerned with WWJBL. What Would Jesus be Like?

When he sacrificed so much of himself for others, when he dropped everything to heal a man's dying servant, to raise a widow's son, to restore dignity to a prostitute and integrity to a thieving tax collector, when he gave and gave until he had not more life to give, he did all in a loving way, a kind way. There is no evidence of him ever being mean, cold or nasty. That is what Jesus was like.

That's how we who call ourselves Christians must be. In fact, the greatest compliment that anyone could ever say to any of us is “When I am with you, I know what Jesus must be like.” When we try to be like the Lord, we will see the Divine starlight in the middle of the darkness. When we are like the Lord, we will be the Divine starlight in the middle of a dark world. For many, Christmas is a time of sadness, a time of more intense darkness. Some of us have lost loved ones and miss them intensely during the holidays. What would Jesus be like if he was there, with the grieving spouse, the stricken parent? Would he say, “Get over it, move on with life.” I don't think so. What would Jesus be like? Well, he wept at Lazarus' tomb, didn't he. He would cry, and hug, and love and not be concerned with the words he said, just with being present supporting and loving those whose grief is intensified at Christmas. If we can be loving in this way, if we can be like the Lord in this way, then we will be Divine starlight in the middle of a dark world. For some Christmas is a time of deep sadness because their lives have not followed the plan they set out for themselves and their children. Marriages have failed, careers have been disrupted by sickness or sudden unemployment, families have been wounded by addictions, and good people have suffered. What would Jesus be like if he were to spend time with these people, in their families?

Would he be prying, “What really happened?” accusatory, “Couldn't you have done more?” or would he be supportive of the new direction taken, marveling at the sacrifices made, happy for the strength of love that has withstood unforeseen changes in life. When we are loving instead of judgmental, we are being like the Lord. We will be Divine starlight in the middle of a dark world. Some are convinced that the darkness they feel at Christmas or throughout the year for that matter is self-inflicted. How many girls suffer at Christmastime because they were persuaded by those older than them or supposedly wiser than them to terminate a pregnancy? Absolution might remove the sin, but it does nothing for the pain. Some of these girls are in your families. Some of these girls are here right now. What would Jesus be like for these victims of an immoral society? He would be warm, loving, and He would become a baby for them to hold and rock. And in fact, He did. He did become a baby not just for these suffering girls, but for all of us, and particularly for all who hurt. He became a baby for us to hold and rock and love and gaze at and wonder at and realize that, perhaps, after all, all is well in this dark old world of ours. When we hold Him, when we treasure the Presence of God as one of us, the Gift of Christmas, we begin to see clearly. And the Divine Starlight shines through the darkness.
Homily from Father Phil Bloom
* Available in Spanish - see Spanish Homilies
Long Walk - Part of Gift (December 25, 2016)

Message: If say, "Long walk - part of the gift" then this is the longest walk. Merry Christmas! We don't need Donald Trump's permission to say it: Merry Christmas! I know people find themselves in different places. Tonight I ask you to consider a reason for gratitude - personal, deep, eternal gratitude. We see the reason represented in the manger: God gives us his all! You might ask: Why did God go to so much trouble? He made an incredible descent. Imagine if you or I were to awake and find we had become a ground worm. It would be unpleasant - to say the least. However in comparison to the maker of the universe becoming human - it would be almost nothing. Why did God accept such humiliation? I do not know the answer, but I believe it has something to do with the nature of a gift.

What makes a gift valuable often involves the thought and effort that goes into it. The American preacher Norman Vincent Peale tells the story about a young woman working as a missionary teacher in Africa. One Christmas Eve a little boy proudly brings her a crudely wrapped gift. The teacher is surprised. This little boy is poor. What could he possibly give? The teacher unwraps the present and within the crumpled brown paper finds an exquisite seashell. The missionary, knowing that the only place to find such shells is many rugged miles away, expresses her enthusiastic appreciation. "Dear boy," she says, "you’ve traveled so far to bring me such a wonderful present." At first the child appears surprised by her reaction, but his eyes brighten and he smiles widely. "Oh, teacher," he says, "long walk part of gift." Norman Vincent Peale then tells about his wife and him preparing their church for Christmas.

It seems everything goes wrong, people are in sour moods. They want to throw up their hands. Silence follows, they look at each and say simultaneously, "Long walk - part of gift." God wants to give you and me a gift - the greatest gift imaginable: his very self. He went to the trouble of creating the universe - billions of galaxies each with billions of stars. And our own planet with beautiful rivers, mountains and animals. And he has given us fellow humans in dazzling variety. Even though history shows we have not received these gifts gratefully, still God persists. He makes the long journey to become one of us - accepting, even embracing, our anguish and suffering. Why? (pause - look directly) Long walk - part of gift. This Christmas I want to give you a gift. I can't say I walked to the ocean to bring it. Loving parishioners did go to some length to gift wrap each copy: a book called "Resisting Happiness." The subtitle says, "A true story about why we sabotage ourselves, feel overwhelmed, set aside dreams, and lack the courage to simply be ourselves...and how to start choosing happiness again." Besides the print edition you can get this book in electronic or audio format. I have enough copies to give one per family. I only ask that you read it or give it to a family member, friend or coworker. I am convinced that if he reads the first 30 pages, he will continue and it will bring him back to the Catholic faith - or deepen it.

If you do not take a copy, I won't be offended. I know lots of people don't read books. That's OK. There's a gift, though, that I hope you will not refuse: the one I mentioned at the beginning of the homily, the gift shown in the Nativity scene. Other gifts will fade and perish. This one alone will last. If we say, "Long walk - part of the gift" then this is the longest walk. Like any gift the appropriate response is to say, "thank you." As Matthew Kelly says (read from his book): "Gratitude should always be our first response for the blessings in our lives. Our second response should be to live a life worthy of the blessings we have received." Gratitude, saying "thank you" is not only the appropriate response to a gift, but it can radically transform our lives. I conclude this Christmas homily with Matthew Kelly's words on why we need gratitude: "Without gratitude what was extraordinary yesterday becomes ordinary today. Without gratitude a sense of entitlement takes over and begins to rot our soul. Without gratitude we get old and grumpy, or even young and grumpy. Gratitude keeps us young. It anchors us to the present moment. It reminds us what matters most and what matters least, and fills us with the resolve to carry out the great mission God has entrusted to us." Amen.
Homily from Father Andrew M. Greeley

Homily from Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe,Pa
Saint Vincent Archabbey
Christmas, Classic Luke 2: 1-14

Gospel Summary In the gospel passage for Mass at midnight we hear the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke. It is a story of faith so simple that even a child can grasp it. Yet, even after 2000 years, it is a mystery so profound that the richness of its meaning remains inexhaustible. We are reminded again of God's providential care that makes all history sacred history. The powerful rulers of the world, whether an Egyptian pharaoh or a Roman emperor, may have their armies and issue their decrees, but through the odd coincidences of history, God's own purposes are ultimately achieved. As foretold by the prophet, Mary gives birth to a savior, who is Christ and Lord, in Bethlehem, the city of David. Caesar Augustus, regarded by Romans as a god who would bring peace and salvation to the world, is now only an unwitting instrument in the divine plan to bring God's peace and salvation through this child born of a young Jewish woman. Mary is the faithful, willing agent of God's loving purpose.

After giving birth to her son, with love she wraps him in swaddling clothes and lays him in a manger. In the gospel passage for Mass at dawn (Lk 2:15-20), Luke continues the love story of Christmas. Now Mary and Joseph share the divine gift of love that they have received by welcoming shepherds—like tax collectors and prostitutes, members of a despised class in their society. The shepherds, like us who also have heard the good news, are now able to sing a new carol with the angels of the heavenly liturgy, glorifying and praising God for the gift of Jesus' presence among us. The meaning of Luke's Christmas story is completed by the prologue of John's gospel, the passage for Mass during the day (Jn 1:1-18). Christ is born of Mary so that he might be born and live in us. Those who accept the Word-become-flesh through faith become children of God, not by natural generation, but as a divine gift.

The meaning of Christmas and God's loving purpose will not be completely realized until the eternal fulfillment of Jesus' Last Supper prayer: "I pray...that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us..." (Jn 17:20-21). Life Implications Despite laments about the commercialism of the Christmas season, the universal instinct of people is correct: at the heart of the mystery of Christmas is giving and receiving gifts. We sense there is more to life than paying a wage or earning a wage. A gift is always a surprise and a joy because as a present of love, it is unearned. Our hearts indeed are restless until we receive love and give love. A gift is the sacramental, symbolic presence of a person.

If my gift of love is accepted, it is I who am accepted; if my gift of love is rejected, it is I who am rejected. One of the surprises of God's self-giving to us is that it seems to be so ordinary, and thus can easily be overlooked. The Word that is God's self-giving to us was to be found not in a royal palace, but in a manger as a helpless baby in need of a mother's love. Today at our Christ-Mass the Risen Lord gives himself to us as bread and wine. What could be more ordinary, and at the same moment so extraordinary a gift of love? It is through the most simple, ordinary means and in the most humble places that of the gift of love can be exchanged. I am aware that at least one prison chaplain will be using these reflections to prepare his Christmas homily for those in our society who truly are the least of the brothers and sisters of Jesus. They too must hear the good news that no one has the power to take away our worth and dignity because our worth and our dignity are a gift of God's love for us. Those who are not able to buy expensive things—prisoners, the sick, the poor. children—remind us that what truly matters is the gift of our loving presence, however ordinary the means of its incarnation. We do have to become gifts of bread and wine for each other because the Lord loves us and becomes bread and wine for us. Campion P. Gavaler, O.S.B.
Homily from Father Cusick
Meeting Christ in the Liturgy

Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS
Christmas Day Homily by Father Alex McAllister SDS

Time constantly moves us on and every year that goes by seems shorter than the last one. And here we are already at Christmas once again. We gather in this Church as we do each year to celebrate the great feast of the Nativity of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. It is a moment of great spiritual joy for us all; a wonderful opportunity to stop and pause for reflection as we celebrate one of the Church's most wonderful feasts. It is a kind of punctuation mark in the year giving us the opportunity to reflect on our faith and to take stock of our lives. As we do this we need to call to mind exactly what it is we are celebrating. It is nothing less than the entrance into the world of our Divine Saviour. This is a most extraordinary and unprecedented event. Jesus Christ, the Son of God who was intimately involved in the creation of the universe is sent into the world by the Father to save us from ourselves and from the sin to which we are so prone.

That the architect of the universe should enter into his own creation is unprecedented enough; but for him to take on human form and to live among us is even more extraordinary. It is therefore vitally important that we grasp the astonishing nature of what happened on that first Christmas Day. When it comes to Christmas most people take delight in the story and marvel at the tiny child lying in the manger who somehow represents innocence and therefore all other new born babes. They experience warm feelings of nostalgia and remember the wonder they experienced in the Christmases of their childhood. The Church in its liturgy invites us to recall the journey to Bethlehem and the fact that Mary and Joseph could find no other place than the dilapidated stable where Jesus could be born. It invites us to marvel at the singing of the angels and the appearance of the shepherds and the wise men. And it reminds us of the danger that the baby Jesus faced and then the hasty journey by the Holy Family into the refuge of Egypt. We are caught up in this wonderful story and in the legends that surround it and we tell them to our children and take delight in their own wonderment at the birth of Jesus. Often though we forget the cosmic nature of this unique event. Yes, the story is beautiful and entrancing and it is right that we take comfort from it. But more important is the fact that it marks the breaking in of God into his own creation.

What it is vital for us to understand is the vast scope of what God planned and the earth-shattering effect that it has on us all. God uniquely created us as beings with free will, with the ability to make real and important choices in life. These choices include making the most important choice of all which is the decision whether to love God or not. Each one of us knows that in our personal life all too often we have chosen to go our own way and to reject God. We have frequently decided to embrace sin rather than to do God's will. Sin as we know separates us from God, it pushes us away from our true destiny which is to enjoy life with God in heaven. Of course, after due reflection we frequently repent of our selfishness and in those moments we decide to choose once again to embrace God's love and forgiveness. The problem is that the effects of sin are long term. Sin damages us spiritually and it causes harm to the whole human race. This needs healing and it is to forgive the whole of humanity and to bring us this healing that the Christ Child came into the world on that first Christmas Day.

This is what we have to understand as we contemplate the scene in the Christmas Crib. That Jesus is the Son of God who adopted human form and who came into our world in order to submit himself to death by human hands. He did this so that in his resurrection he could turn everything to our advantage and so manifest his forgiveness of every human being. This is what Christmas means and it is of the utmost significance for the entire world. It is something that we celebrate and take joy in but it is also something that we know we must proclaim to all those who have not fully understood what it is really about. Our desire this Christmas is that the real significance of the feast permeates our whole lives and changes us. Our wish is that it makes us better people and turns us definitively away from sin. We also want the good effects it has on us to be transmitted to the rest of the human family.

Let us look once again at the stable in Bethlehem. We all know that birth of Jesus was first revealed to shepherds. The angels announced to those shepherds that the Saviour was born close by and invited them to go and worship him. It was no mistake that the birth of the Lord was revealed first of all to these shepherds rather than to the high and mighty lords, the aristocracy of the City of David. These shepherds were simple men, they were essentially people of no great significance, in other words quite ordinary people. They had no great learning and in the great scheme of things they were without power or influence. Yet God deliberately chooses to reveal this wonderful news first and foremost to them. God chooses them because he wants to demonstrate from the outset that Christ has come as a Saviour for all men and not merely for the elite. He comes to save every single person; the high and the low, the powerful and the weak. For Christ there are no distinctions of class or wealth, he is the Saviour of the whole of humanity. In fact, if there is any favouritism in him at all it is his fondness for the poor and the lowly. This is an important lesson for us as we celebrate the birth of Jesus. It tells us that we should not make distinctions between people.

Christ has saved us all; and if he does not make distinctions between people then as his followers neither should we. It is not easy to learn this lesson because our constant tendency is to separate ourselves from other people based on decisions we make about their class, wealth, learning, creed or all sorts of other things. But the lesson of today is that if Christ does not make these distinctions then it is not for us to do so either. The Fathers gathered here, and I, wish you great joy on this most Holy Night as together we celebrate in a liturgical way, through the solemn celebration of the Eucharist, the birth of the infant King of the Jews, the Son of God, our Divine Saviour. We ask God to pour out his blessings upon each one of you and also on your entire families. We ask God to keep you safe, to fill you with wonder at the incarnation of Christ and to give you strong faith and lasting hope in Jesus Christ, his Son, our Saviour.
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