24 December 2015

Homily for Christmas Day: If God made his love visible and tangible, we should do the same

The Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ

25 December 2015

Mass During the Day

The Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace

Honolulu, Hawaii

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

In the prayer he composed for this Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, the Holy Father Pope Francis invites every man, woman, and child to ask the Lord Jesus Christ to “let us hear, as if addressed to each one of us, the words that you spoke to the Samaritan woman: ‘If you knew the gift of God’ (John 4:10)!”[1] What better time can be there be to renew this petition of the Lord than now, as we celebrate his Nativity and seek to look upon the gift of God himself?

Whenever we draw near to the manger of Our Lord, we cannot help but remember that God “does not limit himself merely to affirming his love, but he makes it visible and tangible;” he makes it capable of being known.[2]

In the Gospel assigned for this Christmas Mass During the Day, we heard from the Evangelist Saint John that “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). Elsewhere, the same Evangelist tells us, “God is love” (I John 4:8). We can therefore assert that the Word is Love. God is the Word – that is, the organizing principle creating and sustaining all that is – and God is Love – that is, the desire for the good of the beloved (cf. Hebrews 1:3).

But because love “can never be just an abstraction,” this Love, this Word, “became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).[3] The Word, Love, God, made himself a tiny infant, born in Bethlehem, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and placed in a manger (cf. Matthew 2:1; Luke 2:4 and 7). In the Child of Bethlehem, the Lord has revealed his true power by making himself small; in the Christ Child, he “has bared his holy arm in the sight of all the nations” (Isaiah 52:10).

Yes, Love made himself visible and tangible. How many people looked upon him with more than eyes of faith? How many people reached out and touched him? How many people heard the sound of his voice resound in their ears, knowing it to be the voice of God (cf. Hebrews 1:2)? Those who saw him, who touched him, and who heard him did not remain silent about their encounters with him and through their testimony, the faith has come to us (cf. John 1:7). Because Jesus the Christ is not some mythical figure but a real man, Saint Peter writes, “[W]e did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (II Peter1:16). Today, we, too, are witnesses of the majesty of his humility.

MSS M.917 and M.945, fols. 85r
Love was not content simply to be seen and touched. Rather, Love willingly submitted to the sufferings of the Cross. Love died according to his humanity. Love was placed in the tomb amidst great anguish and grief. And, yes, Love triumphed over sin and death and rose victorious from the grave. Love did all of this because he first took on our flesh and was born in Bethlehem, because he made himself visible and tangible. Love could not remain a mere abstraction, capable of being misunderstood or doubted; Love had to make himself known beyond the shadow of a doubt. Even now, the light of Love “shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).

As we look upon the Holy Infant – so full of tenderness and joy – how can we fail to see the wondrous expression of love made manifest in his Incarnation? In the humble wood of the manger, which he takes for his bed, how can we fail to see the ugly – and yet strikingly beautiful – wood of the Cross, which he takes for his throne? Today is not simply about the happiness accompanying the birth of a baby, but the coming of our reconciliation with God.

My brothers and sisters, if God could not allow his love for us to be just an abstraction, how can we allow our love for him to be just an abstraction? Should we not also make our love for him visible and tangible?

When he considered the shepherds to whom the angel of the Lord announced “good news of a great joy” (Luke 2:10), Saint Francis de Sales asked the same question in another way:
But as the shepherds doubtless did not go to see Him without bringing Him some little lambs, we must not go there emptyhanded, either. We must bring Him something. What can we bring to this Divine Shepherd more pleasing than the little lamb which is our love…?[4]
But, again, this love must look like something, it must be visible and tangible. What wife would be content if her husband only made his love for her known in abstractions without ever making it concrete? What husband would be content if his wife only made her love for him known in abstractions without ever making it concrete? Since the Church is the Bride of Christ, we must seek to make our love for him, the Bridegroom also concrete (cf. II Corinthians 11:2).

You have here in Hawaii a mele (song) that sings of someone who has carefully picked beautiful and fragrant flowers from all of the islands to make “a gift for Jesus, this never-fading lei … for Christmas Day.”[5] The refrain of the song sings of the intention for which the lei is made: “Me ke aloha, me ke aloha, me ke aloha nona” (With love, with love, with love for him).

All across the world, our brothers and sisters are making their own never-fading leis of love for Jesus Christ not with flowers, but by the manner of their lives; they are making their love for him visible and tangible in ways that should put us to shame, or at least move us to tears. Christians from Iraq to Syria to Libya to Nigeria to India - as well as a number of other countries - have given up their homes and businesses instead of renouncing their faith in Christ. Many others have witnessed the killing of their family and friends because they chose to save their lives rather than lose them (cf. Matthew 16:25). Others have themselves made such a concrete demonstration of their love and await us before the throne of God. Responding to the Lord who made a gift of himself to them, these men, women, and children have made a true gift of themselves to the Lord in return and will not rescind their love.

We, of course, by the grace of God, do not face the same persecution, but we can still make a never-fading lei of love for Jesus ourselves. We can do so by taking inspiration from their examples and imitating them when and how we can, in things both great and small.

In his Bull of Indiction for the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, Pope Francis invites us to “rediscover” the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. These should mark the life of every Christian and are necessary ways for us to make our love for Jesus both visible and tangible. As the Holy Father writes:
We cannot escape the Lord’s words to us, and they will serve as the criteria upon which we will be judged: whether we have fed the hungry and given drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger and clothed the naked, or spent time with the sick and those in prison (cf. Matthew 25:31-45). Moreover, we will be asked if we have helped others to escape the doubt that causes them to fall into despair and which is often a source of loneliness; if we have helped to overcome the ignorance in which millions of people live, especially children deprived of the necessary means to free them from the bonds of poverty; if we have been close to the lonely and afflicted; if we have forgiven those who have offended us and have rejected all forms of anger and hate that lead to violence; if we have the kind of patience God shows, who is so patient with us; and if we have commended our brothers and sisters to the Lord in prayer. In each of these “little ones,” Christ himself is present. His flesh becomes visible in the flesh of the tortured, the crushed, the scourged, the malnourished, and the exiled … to be acknowledged, touched, and cared for by us.[6]
We must announce to these little ones good news of great joy, as Father Damien and Mother Marianne did.

If each one of us here strives to make a gift of our lives to Jesus in this way, if we seek to make our love for him visible and tangible by carrying out the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, then we will truly know the gift of God and our hearts will be at peace and will sing for joy. Let us, then, ask the Child of Bethlehem who gave all his love for us, to teach us to sing for him, “Me ke aloha,” in everything we do. Amen.

[2] Pope Francis, Misericordiae Vultus, 9.

[3] Ibid., 9.

[4] Saint Francis de Sales, Sermon for Christmas Eve. In The Sermons of St. Francis de Sales for Advent and Christmas, Lewis S. Fiorelli, ed. (Charlotte, NC: TAN Books, 1987), 59.

[5] Frank Kawaikapuokalani Hewett, “Me Ke Aloha Nona.”

[6] Pope Francis, Misericordiae Vultus, 15.

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