20 December 20204 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: Behold!

The end of Advent has us in a state of eager expectation. Christmas is only a few days away. There is not much time left to prepare for the wonder about to take place. The Fourth week of Advent is not a week at all, just a few days, a few days for us to reflect one last time on the events leading to the celebration of the Nativity of the Lord. The Eternal Word of God is about to become one with us and one of us. 

Today’s Gospel takes us to that most familiar scene. There is Mary, usually depicted as praying with a book by her prie-dieu. The Angel appears, Gabriel, and Mary is rightly astonished. He does not call her Mary. He says, “Hail, Full of Grace.” We say, “Hail Mary, full of grace,” but the angel just says, “Hail Full of Grace.” Mary wonders, why would he call her that? What does this mean? The angel assures her that she is the favored one, she has found favor with God. She is to be a mother, the mother of Jesus, the Son of the Most High. Of course, any woman would wonder how this is going to happen. Even more, a virgin, perhaps 16 years old or younger, betrothed to a man whom mostly likely she had merely met, that being the extent of their relationship. The angel explains that the Holy Spirit will come upon her and the power of the Most High will overshadow her. He tells her about her kinswoman, Elizabeth, who has conceived in her old age.

Then the angel waits. The world waits. All are waiting for Mary’s response. Will she allow salvation to begin within her? Will God’s special presence come upon earth? Will He become one of us? The world waits in eager expectation. And Mary humbly responds, “Behold.” That word Behold is used again. The angel began his explanation for his presence with that word, “Behold” ...you will conceive and so forth. Behold. He used that word a second time when he told Mary about Elizabeth, “Behold Elizabeth your kinswoman has conceived.” Behold. 

The word Behold means Witness the power, and wonder at the glory of God. Behold. Now Mary uses that word. “Behold, I am the handmaiden of the Lord, be it done unto me according to your word.” Mary’s Behold follows the meaning of the angel’s Behold. She says, “Behold the power, the wonder and the Glory of God will take place within me.”

And the Word Becomes Flesh. It is at the Annunciation, at Mary’s “Behold,” when the Holy Spirit comes upon her and the Power of the Most High overshadows her. It is then that a baby is formed within her. This is not just a zygote that eventually become an embryo which soon becomes a fetus. This is a baby. In fact, every pregnancy begins with a baby. Mary’s baby is different though. Her baby is the Word Become Flesh. God became One of us within Mary at the Annunciation. Later in the great story of salvation, under the cross, Mary would become a mother again, our mother.

The world waited for her answer. Finally she said, “Behold.”

“Hail, full of Grace,” Gabriel’s greeting could be directed to each of us after our baptism. At our baptism, we received the Life of God. At our baptism, we received the grace of God. Did we receive the Grace of God to the extent that Mary receive Grace? No, we were not conceived totally united to God as Mary was at her conception. We were not immaculately conceived. It was after our conception and after our birth, and for some after a number of years that we were brought to the Church and received God’s grace.

We were given the Grace of God. In a way we also were overshadowed by the Holy Spirit so that we, like Mary, can fulfill the mission the Lord has for each of us. This mission is certainly not as momentous as Mary’s, infinitely less, but it is still a mission from God. Our mission is to proclaim to the world that the spiritual has become physical, that God is One of Us and One With Us, that the evil one has been conquered, and the ransom price for human beings has been paid with the Body and Blood of the Christ. We are called to tell the world that those who believe that Jesus is the Christ will have life in his name.

The world waits. It waits for our answer. Will we accept the mission God has for each of us? Will we spread the Kingdom of Justice, the Kingdom of Peace, the Kingdom of Love? Will we have the humility and the courage to join Mary and say, “Behold.”

Homily from Father Phil Bloom
* Available in Spanish - see Spanish Homilies
4 Advent

God Always Fulfills his Promise

(December 20, 2020)

Bottom line: Confident that God always fulfills his promise we join Mary in saying, "May it be done to me according to your word"..

This may surprise some of you but one of my best retreats was under the direction of Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez. Since he had fame as the "father of liberation theology" I was braced for social analysis. Instead he focused on the Bible and spirituality. He began by making this observation: You can understand the Bible between two poles: promise and fulfillment. God makes promises and then he fulfills them. God is different from us. We make promises but often don't fulfill them. God, on the other hand, always fulfills his promises.

We see this promise and fulfillment in today's readings. God makes an extraordinary promise to King David. "Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me; your throne shall stand firm forever." Our Psalm reiterates this promise "I have sworn to David my servant: Forever will I confirm your posterity and establish your throne for all generations". 

The house of David is a royal dynasty. From history we know that dynasties are fragile. Consider the House of Tudor which included King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth. It lasted a little over a century. In our country we have quasi-dynasties like the Kennedy's and Bush's. The Bible would refer to them as the House of Kennedy and the House of Bush. Dynasties generally do not fare well. The House of David had a rocky history but its rule lasted more than four centuries. And then came the Babylonians. They brought that rule to a terrible end.

So what can we say about God's promise to David? Well, as we see today, God not only fulfills the promise, but super-fulfills it. After long preparation, at just the right time, God sends an angel to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph of the House of David. The angel says to the Virgin Mary, "Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus." This refers to virginal conception of Jesus. Then Gabriel says, "He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father". 

God keeps his promise, often in extraordinary and surprising ways. St. Paul speaks about "the mystery kept secret for long ages but now manifested through the prophetic writings and, according to the command of the eternal God, made known to all nations..."

This is the mystery we celebrate in just a few days. God always keeps his promise. He often does it in ways that go beyond our expectations. We are now accompanying Mary and Joseph on the road to Bethlehem - the City of David. We greet Mary with the words of the angel, "Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you." Confident that God always fulfills his promise we join Mary in saying, "May it be done to me according to your word". Amen

Homily from Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pa
Saint Vincent Archabbey
4 Advent

Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS
4 Advent

When looking at the Sunday Readings and trying to understand what they are about one very useful rule of thumb is that there is generally a connection between the First Reading and the Gospel. This gives a good indication as to what direction to take.

The First Reading this Sunday is from the Book of Samuel. King David full of zeal and enthusiasm wants to build a temple fit for the Lord and he asks the Prophet Nathan for guidance. Nathan is initially positive but then has a vision in which he is told that it is not David who is to build the Temple but his son Solomon.

David has already done great things but the Lord wants to remind him that all that has been achieved is God’s doing. It is not David who provides a home for the Lord but the Lord who provides a home for David and for the people of Israel. Indeed, there is a wonderful pun involved here. David does not build a house for the Lord but instead the Lord provides a house for David —what he provides him with is a great family of descendents: the House of David. And we ourselves are indeed spiritual descendents of David; we are therefore part of his great House.

But even when the Temple is eventually built it is not going to be a permanent structure; after all, it was destroyed twice. The Temple was a place of sacrifice to the Lord and it contained the Holy of Holies where God was said to dwell. The whole idea of the Temple as a place to contain the Lord is, in a sense, quite extraordinary. It is, of course, impossible to contain the uncontainable. But we humans cannot seem to comprehend God unless we are able to pin him down to a specific time and place.

Our human limitations cannot easily cope with a God who is always and everywhere. It is much easier for us to compartmentalise and to confine God to the tabernacle, to the Church. We can get on with our lives and turn to him on Sundays or other special times when we come to Church. In this way we find that God does not cramp our style as we live out our daily life.

But if we are to think about God as he really is, it is quite a different story. For God is with us at every moment, in every thought and word and deed. His presence is one of total intimacy; he is closer to us that we are to ourselves. Wonderful as this may sound some find this a bit worrying, a bit difficult, and altogether too much to cope with. We might feel that God is crowding us a bit and that there is no private area we can call our own.

It might be natural to think like this if we were talking about any other kind of relationship. But this is a relationship of love. And yet it is not to be merely equated with the sort of love we humans feel; no, this is a relationship of love with God himself. It is love raised to a far higher level that we could ever think of for ourselves.

This is mind-blowing stuff! By refusing to limit God to specific times and spaces and by opening ourselves up to him in his infinite goodness we are enabled to live on a completely different level from those around us. We find ourselves living on intimate terms with the High King of Heaven. He is ever-present to us, we are in constant conversation with him and we walk together on this wonderful journey we call life.

This marvellous relationship is exemplified in the Gospel account we are presented with today; the story of the Annunciation. Mary is so open to God and so close to him that God chooses to manifest himself in the shape of Jesus who is literally born in her.
Thus it is that the final decisive chapter in the story of our salvation is begun. The deep holiness of this simple girl, Mary of Nazareth, becomes the opportunity for Christ to make his appearance and to bring about the salvation of the whole human race.

It is magnificent and mysterious and it is an immensely satisfying sequence of events which is quite staggering in its scope. And it brings us to our knees when we take the time to contemplate what God has done.

On this last Sunday of Advent we begin more intensively to prepare for the celebration of Christmas. There are the many practical things to do: the buying of presents, the shopping for food and all the necessities of a great feast. But we do not forget that this great feast is in honour of the Lord and we take time to prepare ourselves spiritually as well.

We look at Mary and we see in her simplicity and in her obedience to God’s will a wonderful model for our own lives. We cannot imagine very clearly what went through her mind on that extraordinary day or on the subsequent days of her pregnancy and all that came afterwards. All we know is that she placed herself at God’s disposal; and that he found her to be a worthy vessel to carry his only begotten Son.

The mighty King David was not permitted to provide a home for the Lord. But his descendent, not the immensely wealthy Solomon, but the poor and simple Virgin Mary was chosen instead. She was not to build a Temple for God but to be the Temple of God.
We contemplate this great mystery and we stand in awe of what God brought into being and we pay honour and reverence to his handmaid Mary. And it is our prayer today that we may imitate her and be so open and welcoming to God that he may make his true home in us and that we will carry him to all those we encounter.

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