25 December 2017 Christmas

Homily from Father James Gilhooley
Feast of Christmas - B Cycle - John 1:1-18

A student asked a Christian professor how Confucius and Buddah would differ from Christ. He responded with a parable.
A woman fell into a deep hole. Try as she might, she could not climb out. Confucius looked in. He told her, "Poor woman, if you had paid attention to me, you would not have fallen in there in the first place." Then he made himself scarce. Buddah approached. He too spotted the woman. He said to himself, "If she can just manage to get out of that hole, I can give her genuine aid." He continued his journey. Along came Jesus. He spotted the woman. He was moved with pity. He jumped into the hole immediately to assist her out. This story illustrates the Incarnation. We gather here to celebrate the concern of God for each of us.

His willingness to parachute into enemy-occupied territory in human form for our sakes is illustrated by the birth of His Son today. (CS Lewis) The Incarnation moved a saint to say, "His birth makes me want to kiss the ground because His feet trod the same earth." It prompted Alexander Smith to write, "Christmas is a day that hold all time together. " St Irenaeus summed up this feast well when he wrote, "God became man so that man might become God." Pope Gregory XIII in 1584 brought together the Roman Martyrology.

In that celebrated book, much attention was paid to the proclamation of the birth of Him who "is the radiant light of God's glory and the perfect copy of His nature." This announcement attempts to locate the arrival of the King of kings in space and time. It underlines the Catholic affirmation that the Jesus, born in Bethlehem, is indeed the Ruler of time and the Lord of history. "In the five thousandth one hundred and ninety-ninth year of the creation from the time when God in the beginning made the heavens and the earth out of nothing. In the two thousandth nine hundred and fifty-seventh year after the flood. In the two thousandth and fifteenth year from the birth of Abraham. In the one thousandth five hundred and tenth year from Moses and the exodus of the people of Israel from Egypt. In the one thousandth and thirty-second year from the anointing of David king. In the sixty-fifth week according to the prophecy of Daniel.

In the one hundredth ninety-fourth Olympiad. In the seven hundredth and fifty-second year from the foundation of the city of Rome. In the forty-second year of the rule of Octavian Augustus, all the earth being at peace, in the sixth age of the world: Jesus Christ, the eternal God and Son of the eternal Father, willing to consecrate the world by His most merciful coming, being conceived by the Holy Spirit and nine months having passed since His conception, was born in Bethlehem of Judah of the Virgin Mary, being made man. THIS IS THE BIRTHDAY OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST ACCORDING TO THE FLESH." Some dolefully say that they would better have appreciated the birth of Christ had they lived twenty centuries ago. Dorothy Day says that is rubbish.

Furthermore says Dorothy, "Nor will those who live at the end of the world have been born too late." Dorothy Day would endorse the thought of Morton Kelsey: "I am very glad Jesus was born in a stable because my soul is very much like a stable filled with strange and unsatisfactory longings, with guilt and animal-like impulses...tormented by anxiety, inadequacy, and pain. If Christ could be born in such a place, He can be born in me also. I am not excluded." A second Dorothy this one named Smith adds an addendum. She opined that "Christmas is a gift that we cannot keep until we give it to someone else.

Christ is always with us, always asking for room in our hearts and the hearts of others." John Betjeman stresses the same point: "No love that in a family dwells, no caroling in frosty air, nor all the steeple-shaking bells, can with this single truth compare, that God was man in Palestine, and lives today in Bread and Wine." I wish everyone a Christmas filled with joy and a life as gentle as only a four year old can picture it. Do remember though the sound advice of a sage. It's easy to think Christmas. It's easy to believe Christmas, but it's hard to act Christmas. So, care deeply. Give freely. Think kindly. Act gently and be at peace with the world. But remember peace is much more than a season. It is a state of mind and a way of life. 

Homily from Father Joseph Pellegrino
The Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord--Christmas: Holy Mush

Merry Christmas to you from the family of St. Ignatius of Antioch in Tarpon Springs, Florida.
I want to begin by telling you about an incident that happened recently regarding one of our wonderful young ladies, a young girl who at the time was in her first year of college, so about 19 years old. Now I am very proud of this girl, as are everyone who knows her. She has had more difficult times than anyone should ever have, including an uncaring father and the death of her brother. But she is not a survivor. She is a conqueror. She is extremely determined. If she says this is the way something is going to be, you had better not get in her way. Her attitude has served her well, because no one tells her what to do or sways her from living her faith.

A few months ago she came down from college to be the godmother for her nephew's baptism. I saw a new side of her. This tough girl was all "Oooos and Ahhhs and Goo-goos" with the baby. So I said to her, "I never saw you turn into mush before." And she responded, "But he's a baby!" Babies do that. They turn us into mush. They draw all sorts of love out of us. Perhaps that is one of the reasons that the Holy Spirit inspired Matthew and Luke to tell the stories of Jesus' birth. Obviously, the Spirit wanted to make it very clear that the world was being transformed by the presence of God become Man. The Spirit asserted in both gospels that the child's mother is Mary but his father is God. The gospels present Joseph as a foster father or, perhaps better, an adoptive father.

Once Joseph named the child, that is, adopted the child, all that was Joseph, his complete ancestry, was poured out upon the child. Jesus was of the line of David due to his adoption by Joseph. The Spirit also used the infancy narratives, the stories in Matthew and Luke, to proclaim that Jesus came for all people. Kings from foreign lands in the Gospel of Matthew and Shepherd from the hills overlooking Bethlehem in the Gospel of Luke come to worship the child. All people, no matter what their position in society, no matter what nation they belong to, all are called to worship the child. Certainly there are these and other theological reasons for presenting the infancy narratives. But there is also an emotional reason. When we contemplate the birth of Our Lord, and focus on a baby in a manger, not just a baby, but the most perfect baby ever born, we also turn to mush. And that's a good thing. Love is drawn out of us. And so we come to Church on Christmas, and we sing Silent Night and the other carols not just because we like the melodies, but because we want to express our love for the Newborn Jesus. Christmas carols are hymns of love.

"Glory to God in the highest and peace to people of good will," the angels call out. In the Hebrew scriptures, the Old Testament, a multitude of angels is found in the visions of Isaiah and Daniel. In these visions the angels are gathered around the throne of God. Later on, in Christian Scriptures, the New Testament, the Book of Revelation also presents the heavenly host around the throne of God. The only time that a multitude of angels appears where the throne of God is not found is on that hill overlooking Bethlehem. The shepherds are told to seek out the throne of God. They are to find the infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. The manger is His throne. And the angels sing "Glory to God in the highest, and peace to people of Good will." The angels proclaim that the transformation of the world has begun. The presence of God is in the world in a way that people can see, and hear, and feel and touch, as St. John would proclaim in his First Letter. People now share an intimate presence of God through Jesus Christ. "I write this so that your joy may be complete," St. John says.

It is right for us to sing, "Joy to the world." Jesus came to bring joy. But where is this joy to be found? It is found in our freedom as daughters and sons of God. Over and over again we read about this freedom. For example in the Cantle of Zechariah a new father, Zechariah, sang after the birth of his son, John the Baptist: "Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel. He has come to His people and set them free....This is the oath he swore to our Father Abraham, to set us free from the hands of our enemies, free to worship him without fear, free to be holy and righteous in his sight all the days of our lives." He draws love out of us. We respond. He gives us the gift of freedom. We are given freedom from our anger, for how can we live in His Presence and be angry with anyone?

We are given freedom from succumbing to our temptations. The temptations will always be there, but so will Jesus. We are given freedom from our addictions. He gives us the power to get through each day. We are given freedom from being swayed by the judgment of others. We are no longer enslaved by what everyone else is saying and doing. We are given the freedom to love. This is our joy. When we focus our lives on Jesus, we each become the person that God created us to be. Together we become the People of God. Yes, there will still be trials and temptations and crises in our lives and in our families. Plenty of them. And yes, the world will continue to horrify us with accounts of deeds so terrible that our stomachs turn. But we are not devastated. Nor are we caught up in the hatred. How can we be? We are beyond all this. We are in the world, but not of the world. We belong to God. We are united to Jesus Christ. He has come as one of us to rescue us. He has set us free from evil.

What we celebrate today is the birth of the Prince of Freedom, the birth of the Prince of Peace. There are no words capable of expressing our love for our new-born Savior. We look at this child and turn into mush. Joy to the world!

Homily from Father Phil Bloom
* Available in Spanish - see Spanish Homilies
Exchange of Gifts
(December 25, 2017)

Bottom line: This year we are exploring the meaning of prayer - which in reality is an exchange of gifts. God will go to extremes to get our attention. Merry Christmas! Christmas is about an exchange of gifts. God takes on our humanity so we can take part in his divinity. A lady named Diane Rayner tells a story that illustrates the exchange of gifts. Of all places it happened in Redmond, Washington, but years before Bill Gates and Microsoft arrived. Diane with her three children had moved into a trailer home in the forested area of Redmond.

The youngest, Marty, who was 8, had the quaint habit of tilting his head like a puppy. The reason was Marty was deaf in his left ear. Marty and his friend Kenny had become inspeparable: Playing in the horse pasture with its winding stream, the caught frogs and snakes and searched for hidden treasure like arrowheads. As summer turned to a raining Puget Sound winter Diane noticed Marty putting aside his small allowance. Shortly before Christmas he came home triumphantly holding something in his hand. "It's for Kenny," he beamed. "Want to see it?" When he opened his hand Diane recognized a pocket compass, perfect for exploring. "It's a lovely gift!" she said. Then a disturbing thought came over her.

She told him that Kenny's mom would not allow it. They were desperately poor and she would not permit her son to receive a gift they could not return in kind. Crestfallen Marty began to brood. The next day he said to his mom, "But what if it is a secret? They never found out who gave it?" Reluctantly she agreed. That Christmas Eve - a typical rainy one - Marty carefully made his way over the pasture to Kenny's ramshackle home. Placing the wrapped compass on the porch, he rang the bell and dashed across the yard. Suddenly he ran into an electric fence. The shock sent him reeling. He lay stunned on the muddy ground, gasping for breath. Confused, frightened he made the grueling trip home.

When his mom saw him covered with mud, a red mark on his cheek, she asked what happened. "I forgot about the fence," she said, "and it knocked me down." Diane helped Marty out of his wet clothes and made him some hot cocoa. Diane spent the night unhappy and puzzled. "It seemed such a cruel thing to happen to a little boy," she writes, "doing what the Lord wants us all to do, giving to others and giving in secret at that." On Christmas morning the rain stopped and the son shone. Kenny came to show Marty his good fortune. As they talked about plans for future exploring, it was plain Kenny did not suspect Marty at all.

Then Diane noticed Marty was not tilting his head. When classes resumed the school nurse confirmed what Diane already knew. "Marty now has complete hearing in both ears." "It remains a mystery," she says. The doctors suspect, of course, that the shock from the electric fence was somehow responsible. "Perhaps," says Diane, "whatever the reason I remain thankful to God for the good exchange of gifts that was made that night." (Pause, deep breath) This year we are exploring the meaning of prayer - which in reality is an exchange of gifts.

An early Christian writer says, "Prayer is the encounter of God's thirst for us with our thirst for him." God will go to extremes to get our attention, so we will open our hearts, open our ears. We see the extreme at Christmas. As John says, "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God...And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us." Amen.

Homily from Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pa
Saint Vincent Archabbey
The Nativity of the Lord (Daytime Mass)
Lectionary 16

"O God, who wonderfully created the dignity of human nature and still more wonderfully restored it; grant, we pray, that we may share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” With these profound words the Church opens its celebration of the Nativity of the Lord on Christmas day. Prayed at Christmas from ancient times, perhaps as far back as the fifth century, this opening or "collect” prayer touches upon one of the most fundamental mysteries of our Christian faith: the incarnation.

The incarnation describes God's loving act of condescending to become human in the person of Jesus Christ, so that he might work out our salvation and "restore our dignity” as one of us, not infringing upon our human freedom but ennobling it and restoring it to an even greater honor than it had in the beginning, and even giving us the possibility of sharing by adoption in the divinity which Christ enjoys by nature.

This is what is meant by the words of the prayer "that we may share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” All throughout the history of humanity peoples the world over have naturally pined for someone or something to rescue them from the trials and travails of life. We see expressions of this desire in the most ancient art and the most ancient writings known to man. When God began to gradually reveal himself to his chosen people Israel they hearkened to the words of the prophets and found in them inspiration that such deliverance would indeed come, and it would come not by means of nature or the silly false gods that the Israelites' neighbors created but by the Lord. We witness their joy over this hope of salvation in the first reading today: "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings glad tidings, announcing peace, bearing good news, announcing salvation, and saying to Zion, ‘Your God is King!'” (Isa 52:7).

Later, in the period of Christian revelation, the inspired author of the Epistle to the Hebrews taught us that in Jesus Christ we behold the perfection of God's revelation to all his children—those of Israel and those of the nations. We hear: "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” (Heb 1:1-2a). This means that in Jesus Christ we finally meet the one who brings the deliverance that humanity has been longing for, no longer in shadows and expectations but in reality. Finally, in the Gospel at mass on Christmas day we hear the mystical words of the Prologue of the Gospel of John: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1).

Saint John assures us that the child born of Mary and laid in a manger is the eternal Son of God, the infant of Bethlehem who is the perfect image of humanity and the perfect revelation of divinity, and who ushers in a new era of salvation for God's holy people. The awesome consequence of this is that through the incarnation we who have been hoping for liberation from all that binds us might now "share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” On this feast of the Nativity of our Lord let us join in making the words of the opening prayer at mass on Christmas day a reality, so that we can shout with the Psalmist "All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God!” (Ps 98:3b).
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.

Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS
Christmas Day

Christmas is one of the most loved feast days in the Church. Even in our ever more secular society it is a feast still celebrated by most of the population. People, whether of other faiths or of none, find themselves able to find meaning in it. Perhaps the reason for this is because it is a feast which is associated so much with peace, or maybe because the exchange of gifts within the family provides an opportunity to demonstrate our love for each other, or it could be because the focus is on a new born baby and this stirs our hearts with thoughts of innocence, or possibly it is simply because people everywhere like nice decorations and cheerful music at a cold time of the year. Of course, we Christians can go along with all of these sentiments but we know that we also celebrate something much more; what we are doing is celebrating the birth of our Divine Saviour. You see, we Christians know that we are sunk in sin.

We know that as human beings we are essentially selfish and over concerned with ourselves and our own comforts often at the expense of other people. We Christians know that people always prefer to do what they want and not what God wants. Realising our fallen nature, we Christians know that what the world needs more than anything is a Saviour. We know that mankind needs to be redeemed from its sins and brought back into harmony and right relationship with God. And we also know that right from the beginning God has his own plan to achieve just this. Most people do not believe any of this; but it has been revealed to us that this is how things actually are and that God has a plan for us. And this plan involves sending us his Son to show us how to live our lives in harmony with God’s wishes and to give his life as a sacrifice for our sins so that the royal road to heaven can be opened up for all of us.

This Saviour is, of course, Jesus Christ whose birth we celebrate today. We might worry about time but God does not. We are always thinking about days and dates and when things happen. But God doesn’t worry about these things. God takes his time; our salvation has been in process for a very long time indeed. God first revealed himself to Abraham about four thousand years ago. During the following two thousand years all sorts of things happened to Abraham’s descendants; among many other things they were taken into slavery in Egypt and then journeyed through the Sinai desert for forty years before entering the Promised Land. Later on, they were taken into captivity once again, this time to Babylon and they were only able to return to Israel seventy years later.

During all this time God sent Prophets to his people to inform them of his will and to inspire them to remain faithful and grow in spiritual insight. Unfortunately, the message of the Prophets was largely rejected and the Temple Priesthood became corrupted. But eventually God decided that the time was ripe and he sent us a Saviour in the form of his Son Jesus. It is this event we celebrate today. Jesus came into our world as an infant; like any other baby child he was innocent and vulnerable and utterly dependent on Mary and Joseph for sustenance and protection. Almost immediately his life was in danger, necessitating the Flight into Egypt. But eventually the family returned to their home in Nazareth and he grew into maturity there until the time came for him to begin his ministry of teaching and healing. Today we see the Christmas Crib. It is a simple scene with a mother and father with their new born child surrounded by the animals and the dumbstruck shepherds. Angels hover over the roof to remind us that what we see is no domestic scene but rather heaven breaking through into our world.

When we look at the Crib we realise that what we are seeing is something that can only be called the hinge point of history, the moment when heaven and earth were joined and the Son of God entered our world. It is a moment of utmost simplicity, indeed of poverty, but at the same time it is a moment of great glory and wonder. God could have sent his Son into our world in any number of different ways. He could have arrived with fanfare and trumpet surrounded by armies of angels, which is the sort of arrival that the religious authorities expected. But our God is a wise God and he sends his Son into our world to be born in a stable of a young virgin and to grow up in a poor village in an obscure backwater of the Roman Empire. His arrival goes unnoticed except for a few shepherds, in some days Wise Men from the East will arrive to pay Jesus homage but no one pays them much attention. This is all quite deliberate because it demonstrates from the beginning just what kind of Messiah this is. We call Jesus king, but he is as unlike an earthly king as it is possible to be. He is someone who spends his time with the poor, he heals the sick, he feeds the hungry, he gives sight to the blind, he cures lepers, he raises the dead and he preaches a Gospel of love.

But most of all, he forgives sins. For indeed this is why he came, to forgive the sins of all mankind and to open up for us the way of salvation. And he invites each one of us to repent, to experience his forgiveness and to join him on the royal road that leads to heaven. This is what we are celebrating today. The most unique and significant birth that there ever was, the beginning of our salvation, the event that changed the world. The only feast that eclipses Christmas is Easter when we mark the resurrection and the arrival of our salvation. So, on this holy day we celebrate, we pray, we sing, we feast, we rejoice. But above all we thank God that he sent us his Son to be our Saviour. May God bless you all. Happy Christmas.

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