24 December 20174 Advent

Homily from Father James Gilhooley
4 Advent
Fourth Sunday of Advent - B Cycle
Luke 1:26-38

An African girl gave her teacher a gift. The teacher said, "You walked miles to get this." The girl replied, "Walking is part of the gift.

People speak of Christmas in July. Yet, it was in August 1993 that The New York Times excitedly gave us a Christmas gift about the House of David. An Israeli archaeologist had just "discovered a fragment of a stone monument with inscriptions bearing the first known reference outside the Bible to King David and the ruling dynasty he founded." Why not research the family tree of Jesus whose birthday approaches? We will not have to dirty our hands in mud as the archaeologist did. Our information is in the Old Testament.

One does not require a massive brainpan to conclude that the awesome entry of God into the body of an itinerant preacher named Jesus of Nazareth was no hit and run accident. It was set from day one. For Him the long journey was part of the gift to us. His birth of a teen-ager named Mary was the end of the promise made by God in the Bible's first pages. The promise was given to spaceship earth. God addressed the serpent in Genesis 3:15, "I will put enmities between you and the woman...She shall crush your head and you will lie in wait for her heel." Centuries move on. The general promise of the Christ becomes more specific. It is placed in the care of the Semite people. They descended from Shem whose father was the famous Noah of the ark. The Semites developed into many nations - Israel, Arabia, Syria, and Jordan. Of these Semitic nations, God selected one to whom Jesus' promise was given. That nation was Israel. The promise was given to Abraham, its founder: "Through you shall all the nations of the earth be blessed." The Jews were the chosen people.

Abraham gingerly passed the promise to his son Isaac. That young man married and he gave it to Jacob, his son. He proved to be a most fertile fellow. With a little help from his wife, he had twelve boys. Mr and Mrs Jacob felt they were cheaper by the dozen. Each son would found one of the twelve tribes of Israel. To the tribe of Judah among the twelve was given the age-old promise of Christ. "The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the staff between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs."

If you are still counting, the promise of Our Lord has been given by this point to spaceship earth, then the Semite people, the Jewish nation, and the tribe of Judah. Within the tribe of Judah, the promise was carefully given to the family of David. The centuries passed in their happy and doleful fashion. Christ's long journey was coming to an end. A clue of this is found in the prophecy Isaiah, "A virgin shall conceive and bring forth a son. His name shall be called Emmanuel...God with us."

Then one special night the melancholy Roman emperor Caesar Augustus was finishing pasta with clam sauce and vino in his splendid palace along the polluted Tiber river in Rome. A gentleman called Quirinius was living it up as governor in Syria. Wonders of wonders, the global village that was earth was at peace. A peasant and his expectant wife were making a long journey to the town of Bethlehem. Or, as a poet put it, "The lady rode a donkey, the man walked, and the baby was in the lady." There Mary gave birth to Jesus. He was the promise made flesh, God become Man. The infinite had at last become finite. Say you were a lab technician and were allowed by Mary to take DNA from the Baby's finger.

You would discover He was a Semite out of the Jewish nation. Further, you would conclude He was of the tribe of Judah and, more exactly, of the family of David. Talking of His mother, we might all want to remember the line of Meister Eckhart. "We are all meant to be mothers of God. He is always waiting to be born." We ring down the curtain with the twenty-six hundred year old Jeremiah. "I will perform, saith the Lord, the good word I have spoken to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah...I will make the bud of justice to spring forth unto David...they shall call him the Lord our just one."

As a gift to Jesus, why not embrace Walt Whitman's advice?
"Love the earth, sun, and animals. Despise riches. Give alms to everyone. Stand up for the stupid and crazy. Devote your income and labor to others. Argue not about God."

Homily from Father Joseph Pellegrino
4 Advent
Fourth Sunday of Advent: The Word in Mary's Ear and Ours

I love art, all forms of art. I love music and opera and ballet. I love sculpture and architecture. I particularly love painting. My favorite place in the world that is not a church is the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. It is not that I don't like the other famous art museums, like the Louvre in Parish, the Uffizi in Florence, the Prado in Madrid, and, of course, the Vatican Museums. But I first fell in love with art at the Met. A few years ago I was roaming the Met with an audio guide stuck in my ear. I came upon a medieval painting of the scene depicted in today's Gospel, the scene we usually call the Annunciation. There must be at least fifty paintings of the Annunciation in the Met, all masterpieces. I do not know why, but I decided to punch in the numbers and listen to the commentary on this particular work of art. The narrator pointed out the various different technical elements of the painting and then spoke about the dove over Mary and the Angel's head.

The dove represented, of course, the Holy Spirit. Rays of light emanated from the dove and seemed to be entering into one of Mary's ears. In this painting, the narrator went on, the artist depicted the quaint theory that since Mary was a virgin and remained a virgin, the conception of Jesus took place through her ears leaving the rest of her body virginal. The narrator missed the artist's point. The artist's point was that Mary heard the Word of God. That was why the Holy Spirit was able to overshadow her. That was how the Word of God became flesh through her. Mary was given a choice. The world waited for her answer. She could have refused to allow God's plan to work through her. She could have agreed grudgingly to the plan, like Zechariah, John the Baptist's father did when the Angel Gabriel spoke to him in the Temple, or Mary could have rejected God's plan. But Mary was open to the Word of God.

She allowed to Word to enter her and transform her from a simple maiden to the mother of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, to the Queen of the Universe. She was open to the Word of God, and the Word of God used her to transform the world. The what of Jesus, what is he, is human and divine, two natures. But the who of Jesus, who is he, is always the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. Mary said "Yes!" to the Word in her ear and became the Mother of God. That same Word of God whispers into our ears, yours and mine. He calls us to continue the transformation of the world. He calls us to make the Savior real to those who long for his presence. Will we reject the Word and force Him to look for another ear? Will we obey grudgingly and limit His action through us?

Or will we make a decision for the Lord, and offer ourselves totally to God? We are here because we have chosen Jesus Christ. We recognize our humanity, our weakness, and we seek strength to remain faithful to this choice. Mary's great virtue was her obedience. Opposite Eve, Mary is the New Eve that brought new life, Divine Life, to the world. The Word of God calls us to nurture the presence of Christ within us. We are not pregnant like Mary became, but we still have the Living Jesus within us. Like an expectant mother, all of us care for this new and wonderful presence. We eat the food we need, the Eucharist, to allow this Presence to grow. We take the vitamins we need, Vitamin P, prayer, so we can stay united to the Living Love within us.

The Word of God whispers into our ears and calls upon us to bring this Divine Presence within us to others. We do this by standing up for our faith. We do this by searching out for those who need His Strength. So many people hurt at Christmas time. People who have lost loved ones need special attention. People who are wandering the world listlessly, from thing to thing, need special care. People who are sick and elderly and wondering if this will be their last Christmas, need the assurance that God's love will usher them an eternal Christmas. What a wonderful time we are living in. Not just Christmas time. We are living in the time of the Word of God. His Presence is within us. His Presence is around us. His presence is real. He is Real! The Word of God whispered into Mary's ear, and she conceived. The Word of God is shouting into our ears, and we are transforming the world with His Presence. Hail Mary, Full of Grace. Because you let God work within you, we have become the Masterpiece of His Hand.

Homily from Father Phil Bloom
* Available in Spanish - see Spanish Homilies
4 Advent
God's Thirst, Our Thirst Week 4: Nothing Impossible With God
(December 24, 2017)

Bottom line: Enjoy yourself and eat heartily this week, then dedicate three days of fasting and prayer for our children. We too want to hear those beautiful words, "Nothing will be impossible for God." During Advent I have referred to the Discipleship Reflections by Daniel Mueggenborg - our new auxiliary bishop. Regarding Mary's call to become the Mother of God he writes, "The Gospel is about God and not us." So important to keep in mind: the Bible and especially the Gospel is first about God, not about us. Bishop Mueggenborg continues, "It's about what God can do and not what we can do. Sometimes we can expect God to have certain criteria for those whom He chooses and works through. We can think that God will choose the holy ones, those with special talents or significant accomplishments, or even those who hold special offices. Mary had none of that but God chose her to be His instrument of salvation by becoming the mother His Son." This Advent we have focused on prayer as the encounter of God's thirst for us and our thirst for him. We see that above all in Mary.

God's thirst for our souls is so great that he humbled himself to become a tiny embryo in the womb of Mary. Once again to quote Bishop Mueggenborg, "Gabriel tells Mary, 'Nothing will be impossible for God.' Indeed, if God can enter into the human world as a child, be raised from the dead, and empower the Church with the Holy Spirit then nothing will be impossible for God." Last Sunday I celebrated 46 years of priesthood. When I think of all my stumbling, all the confusion and decline since the 60's, all my own weaknesses and times of discouragement, when I think about all this, I can only say, it's not about me, it's about God. Nothing will be impossible for God. Even though I am 71, I feel a new energy, a new hope. Many of you joined me last week in a day of fasting and prayer. We know that if we empty ourselves as Mary did, God can do the impossible. We are fasting and praying in face of what seems impossible.

Let me explain. God has blessed us with beautiful children - what a great gift they are! Still they face a terrible problem: Even though they have greater material abundance - and unlimited entertainment opportunities, especially through computers and cell phones - studies show our children and youth experience a greater level of disconnectedness, depression and sadness than children even 15 years ago. So let's pray and fast for our children. I ask you to begin the New Year by joining in a three-day fast. You can choose your own way of fasting - anything from nothing but water to abstinence from some favorite food. I recommend a Daniel Fast - a bowl of oatmeal in the morning then only vegetables and water the rest of the day.

Start on January 1 after the football games if you prefer and continue through January 4. Some may want to continue as Daniel did for a full 21 days. Personally I will save that for another year or perhaps for Lent. Mary fasted as did all faithful Jewish people. Fasting and prayer opens us to God - to thirst and hunger for him as he thirsts for us. Enjoy yourself and eat heartily this week, then dedicate three days of fasting and prayer for our children. We too want to hear those beautiful words, "Nothing will be impossible for God." Amen.

Homily from Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pa
Saint Vincent Archabbey
4 Advent
The Nativity of the Lord (Vigil Mass)
Lectionary 13

This year the last Sunday of Advent falls on Christmas Eve; to accommodate this coincidence I chose to reflect on the scripture readings for the Vigil Mass of Christmas, which takes place late in the afternoon or early in the evening of Christmas Eve. We first hear a proclamation from the prophecy of the Book of Isaiah, a prophet whose words are often read during Advent. In words filled with anticipation Isaiah indicates that the people of Israel were suffering, yet held great hope for the future. In fact, Isaiah says that their future exaltation will exceed their past greatness: "Nations shall behold your vindication, and all the kings your glory; you shall be called by a new name pronounced by the mouth of the Lord.” The prophet assures the people of Israel: "No more shall people call you 'Forsaken,’ or your land 'Desolate,’ but you shall be called 'My Delight,’ and your land 'Espoused’” (Isa 62:2, 4).

This promise of salvation from their enemies and glory in the sight of the nations is followed by an excerpt from Saint Paul’s preaching in the Acts of the Apostles. Paul was trying to share the Good News with some of his fellow Jews as he traveled through the region of Pisidia, which is part of modern day Turkey. He drew a connection for them between King David—a figure we hear much of in the Advent season—and Jesus Christ: "'I have found David, son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will carry out my every wish.’ From this man’s descendants God, according to his promise, has brought to Israel a savior, Jesus” (Acts 13:22). Paul tried to proclaim Christ to the Jews of Pisidia but received little response; this gave him the conviction that while never abandoning his fellow Jews (see Romans 11:25-29) he must turn his efforts toward the gentiles (see Acts 13:44-52).

Paul spent the rest of his life pursuing his goal of evangelizing the gentiles and bringing to them the message that they too can share in the salvation promised to Israel by Isaiah and all the prophets of old. This message that the gentiles can experience the very same vindication and glorification that the Jewish people have been promised is also discovered in the beautiful reading from the Gospel of Matthew, which offers us Jesus’ genealogy. There is a shorter form of this reading that is allowed to be read at mass but I hope you hear the entire passage, containing as it does the record of our Lord’s ancestry going back forty-two generations.

These generations are defined by many names that remind us of the long journey of the people of Israel with the Lord; this is perhaps best seen in the very opening verse of the Gospel, where Jesus is directly related to the figures of David and Abraham, quintessential representatives of the Jewish people: "The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matt 1:1). At the same time these many generations also contain some names that call to mind how the gentile nations had already been woven into God’s plan for the redemption of all his children: figures such as Rahab of Jericho, Ruth the Moabite, and Uriah the Hittite show us that even in the days of the Old Testament God was working out the salvation of all who believed in him, Jew or Gentile alike. As we celebrate the Nativity of Jesus in Bethlehem this Christmas, let our hearts rejoice that he whose name means "salvation” (see Matt 1:21) has indeed brought salvation for all his people, including us in his promise made through Isaiah: "No more shall people call you 'Forsaken’…but you shall be called 'My Delight!’” Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.

Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS
4 Advent
Fourth Sunday of Advent

We have now come to the last Sunday of Advent and we are in the immediate preparations for Christmas. Each year Christmas seems to come around quicker and quicker and it is as if Advent hardly lasts any time at all. Perhaps we have become over preoccupied with the practical preparations for Christmas, but we should be careful not to let ourselves to become so distracted that we neglect to prepare ourselves to celebrate this season in a truly spiritual way. Actually the Readings today help us to properly prepare for Christmas and on this last Sunday of Advent they are extremely interesting. The first reading is about King David who is the most famous of the Kings of Israel. We remember how his predecessor King Saul lost favour in the eyes of God and we recall how the Prophet Samuel then chose David, the youngest of Jesse's sons, and anointed him as Saul's successor. From that moment David grew from being an insignificant shepherd boy to a man of great stature. We recall how he killed the giant, Goliath, by hitting him on the forehead with a stone from his sling. As a result Saul made David commander of his armies and gave him his daughter Michal in marriage. We remember too David's famous friendship with Saul's son Jonathan. When both Saul and Jonathan died in battle David was then proclaimed King. He made Jerusalem his capital and took the Ark of the Covenant to reside there. As we heard in our first reading David had a great desire to build a temple for the Lord in Jerusalem; but the Prophet Nathan tells him that he is not to build a house for God to dwell in, but instead God would build a house for him. By this he means that he would grant David a great family of descendants; we call this the House of David.

We Christians have always considered ourselves to be part of David's house and line, not through direct biological lineage like the Jews but through a deep spiritual lineage. It remains very important that Jesus himself can directly trace his ancestors back to King David because it was firmly believed that the Messiah was to be a Son of David. Since we are the spiritual descendants of Jesus we regard ourselves as being spiritual descendants of King David too. According to the Jewish people the coming Messiah would incorporate many of the best characteristics of King David and his rule would unite the People of Israel and inaugurate a time of universal peace and brotherhood. Of course, we now see how the Kingdom of God as inaugurated by Jesus Christ goes far beyond anything the Jewish people could ever have conceived. Christ's is no purely earthly Kingdom but is rather one which unites heaven and earth as well as past, present and future. Ultimately the Kingdom of God is all the people of the earth from all the ages gathered in worship around God's throne. In the Gospel reading we are told the story of the Annunciation as given to us by Luke the Evangelist.

We hear the story of how the Angel Gabriel announces to Mary that she is to be the mother of the Son of God. We hear too how Mary agrees to this divine proposal in her most beautiful words, ‘I am the handmaid of the Lord, let what you have said be done to me.' The Church places these two readings from scripture before us today because there is a very strong link between them. It is understandable that David wants to build a temple for the Lord but he is told that this is not to be his task. It is a role eventually given to his son Solomon who constructs a fabulous temple in Jerusalem, but his Temple only lasts about four hundred years and was in fact completely demolished by Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon.

A second temple was built after the Jewish people returned from exile in Babylon, but this in turn was destroyed by the Romans in 70AD and was never rebuilt. The lesson we have to draw from these events is that these earthly temples, while being important places of worship in their day, were essentially material constructions. What we realise is that God cannot be housed in a world of his own creation. As an entirely spiritual entity God cannot be contained within four walls. God exists completely outside time and space; it is he who gives shelter to the world and not the world which gives shelter to God. This brings us to Mary and to the account of her Annunciation. After many generations it is she who eventually gives a home to the Son of God in her womb. This is a role for which she is specially chosen and prepared by God. It is she who becomes the real temple, the true dwelling place of God's only Son. As we have seen God exists entirely outside the material world and yet he chooses to enter the world and occupy the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary in order to achieve his purposes, namely our salvation.

Mary is prepared for this unique task through her Immaculate Conception so that she could be free from sin and worthy enough to carry Christ in her womb. Moreover, the special graces given to her enabled her to be preserved from sin throughout her life. We too become sharers in this great mystery because God sends his Spirit into our hearts and so lives within us. This is one of the ongoing results of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that occurred on the first Pentecost Day. As we were taught as children, this makes us Temples of the Holy Spirit.

This wonderful gift helps us each one of us to live grace filled lives and to be faithful to the message of Jesus Christ, our Lord. We see now how the two readings link up. We see why David was commanded not to build a temple; we see how Mary herself became the true temple and indeed we see too how we ourselves share in this great gift to the world. This is the last Sunday before Christmas and this year seems to flow into Christmas; nevertheless, it marks an important stage in our preparation for the Feast of the Nativity. It is a day on which we reflect on the great span of history involved in preparing for Christ's coming into our world. It is a day on which we come to a greater realisation of Mary's particular role in God's plan for the salvation of the world. It is a day which reminds us how deeply we too are involved in in this plan and how intimately we are connected to Christ and to his Mother Mary.

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