31 December 2018

Homily - 30 December 2018 - The Feast of the Holy Family

The Feast of the Holy Family (C)

Dear brothers and sisters,

I do not know if you have yet had a chance to begin reading Matthew Kelly’s new book, The Biggest Lie in the History of Christianity or not, but he begins the book with an intriguing story of family life. A husband and father attempted to work from home preparing an important speech but kept being interrupted up his seven-year-old boy. In an effort to occupy the boy,

Picking up a magazine, he thumbed through the pages until he came to a large, brightly colored map of the world. He ripped the picture into dozens of pieces, and led his son into the living room. Then, tossing the pieces all over the floor, he announced, “Son, if you can put the map of the world together I will give you twenty dollars.”[1]

Naturally, the boy set to work.

To the great surprise of his father, the boy returned after only a few minutes had passed by, with the map of the world restored. The father asked the boy how he completed the task so quickly.

The boy smiled and said, “You know, Dad, I had no idea what the map of the world looked lie, but as I was picking up the pieces, I noticed that on the back there was a picture of a man.” The father smiled, and the boy continued. “So, I put a sheet of paper down, and I put the picture of the man together, because I knew what the man looked like. I placed another sheet of paper on top, then holding them tightly I turned them both over.” He smiled again and exclaimed, “I figured, if I got the man right, the world would be right.”[2]

As it is with the world, so it is with the family, not only with the man, but also with the woman; get them both right, and the family and the world will both be right.

While the secular society has already abandoned the celebration of the Lord’s Birth, we in the Church follow the example of Blessed Mary and, with her, keep all these things in our hearts, turning them over and asking what they mean (cf. Luke 2:51). So it is that today, on this sixth day of Christmas, we find ourselves contemplating what it means that the Lord chose to be born into a human family. How can we forget that

The first witnesses of Christ's birth, the shepherds, found themselves not only before the Infant Jesus but also a small family: mother, father, and newborn son [cf. Luke 2:16]. God had chosen to reveal himself by being born into a human family and the human family thus became an icon of God![3]

In our contemporary society, this new reality of the human family is far too often overlooked, even within Christian families. The family is an icon of God because the family is the first place where love is to be shared, received, and learned.

We can see here that the family is more than a practical human institution in which to raise children; it is that, of course, but it is so much more! Indeed, because

God is the Trinity, he is a communion of love; so is the family despite all the differences that exist between the Mystery of God and his human creature, an expression that reflects the unfathomable Mystery of God as Love.” In marriage the man and the woman, created in God's image, become "one flesh" (Gen 2:24), that is a communion of love that generates new life. The human family, in a certain sense, is an icon of the Trinity because of its interpersonal love and the fruitfulness of this love.[4]

In God’s plan for us, men are fathers and women are mothers because they are first husbands and wives; children come from this loving union and from it, in the love shared between husband and wife, the children see a reflection of the love of the Triune God. Because we so often ignore God’s will for the beginning of the family, the often family suffers in many ways.

One way in the which family suffers in our society today is through an inordinate focus on the self. It is of the utmost importance that husbands love their wives more than themselves. Likewise, it is of the utmost importance that wives love their husbands more than themselves. In this way, they both imitate the love of Christ Jesus. If a husband lives more for himself than for his wife, he cannot show her a proper reflection of the love of God. If a wife lives more for herself than for her husband, she cannot show him a proper reflection of the love of God.

A second way in which the family suffers in our society today is through a distorted order within the family. If you ask most parents today what their most important role is, they will likely say their most important role is being a father or a mother. This is not correct. Their most important role is being a husband or a wife, by which they become a father or a mother. This is why it is of the utmost importance that a husband and wife put their married relationship before their children. This is not to say that parents should neglect their children; children cannot be ignored, but they come from the relationship of the husband and wife. If the relationship between the husband and wife fails, so, too, does the family fail, and if the family fails, society also fails. If we get the family right, we will get the world right. The relationship between husband and wife must be nurtured and sustained if the children are to see in their parents an icon of God’s own love.

Such a task is daunting and is not easy, which is to say that it is a sharing in the Cross of Christ, a sharing in the deepest and most perfect love. We know that “love alone enables us to live, and love is always also suffering: it matures in suffering and provides the strength to suffer for good without taking oneself into account at the actual moment.”[5] Indeed, in Jesus Christ, “No longer is [love] self-seeking, a sinking in the intoxication of happiness; instead it seeks the good of the beloved: it becomes renunciation, and it is ready, and even willing, for sacrifice.”[6]

It is this form of love, a love that always seeks union with the Cross of Christ, that a husband must share with his wife, that a wife must share with her husband, and that children must learn from their parents. In an overly busy society, we need to rediscover this fundamental reality of the Christian life. If we do, then, “in the face of the overwhelming problems in our world, we can wake each day and joyfully share God’s truth, goodness, and beauty with everyone who crosses our paths.”[7] Amen.

[1] Matthew Kelly, The Biggest Lie in the History of Christianity: How Modern Culture Is Robbing Billions of People of Happiness (North Palm Beach, Florida: Wellspring: 2018), 2.
[2] Ibid., 2-3.
[3] Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus Address, 27 December 2009.
[5] Ibid., Address to the Clergy of Aosta, 25 July 2005.
[6] Ibid., Deus caritas est, 6.
[7] Matthew Kelly, The Biggest Lie in the History of Christianity, 43.

24 December 2018

Homily - Mass During the Night - 25 December 2018

The Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord
Mass During the Night

Dear brothers and sisters,

Did you notice it? We intoned tonight a great and celestial hymn which – with the exception of two occasions - we have not sung these past four weeks. Did you miss it? Did its lyrics cause your heart to leap with joy? This hymn, of course, is the Gloria, the text of which begins with the wondrous hymn sung by the angels over the shepherds’ field this night so many years ago and has been lovingly expanded by Mother Church in praise of God.

There is something profound in the song of that heavenly host which cried out in the darkness of the night, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14). Did you feel the light of heaven warm your heart this night as you joined your voice to the voices of the angels? Did you feel your heart lift as you sang, “Glory to God in the highest”?

In the words of the Gloria, we, reflecting on the mystery of the Birth of the only begotten Son of God who has now taken to himself a human face, offer to the Father “words of pure praise. Praise is not an easy activity for us: left to our own devices we lapse into thanksgiving to God for his blessings (which is certainly a good thing to do, but it is not quite synonymous with praise).”[1] Thanksgiving is concerned with what God has done for us; praise is concerned only with God in himself. Indeed, when we praise God the Church does so “for his own sake and gives him glory, quite beyond what he does, but simply because HE IS.”[2]

We sometimes grow weary of praising God through the text of the Gloria because we are too pragmatic, too practical, for our own good. The act of praise “takes us beyond the merely ‘useful,’ the utilitarian, we might say, into that realm where the calling back and forth in the great seraphic antiphons of what is true turns out to be the central activity of the universe.”[3] Yes, the praise of God is at the heart of all that exists.

Put differently, we need to learn not to grow tired of singing laudamus te, benedicimus te, adoramus te, glorificamus te, we need to learn how to delight in the repetitive “spilling of verbs … like water flowing over the sides of a fountain.”[4] If we learn this pleasure and join our hearts with the words that come forth from our tongues, then we can begin

to be taken out of the sinkhole of egoism into which our sin plunged us at the Fall and to begin to take our true place in the universal chorus, which includes all things, from the seraphim right on down to the North wind, the surf, the mountains and edelweiss and the song of the winter wren and the atoms – that chorus which exults in what is true, and which cries Gloria![5]

To unite our heart and mind and voice together as one in the Gloria – both individually and collectively – is to realize the very meaning and purpose of life, simple as it may seem. “God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life.”[6] If we learn to sing the Gloria in sincerity of heart, if we learn simply to praise God for who he is, then, with all of creation, we will indeed be glad, rejoice, be joyful, and exult; we will like the angels who, seeing God’s effusive love, joyfully exclaim, “Glory to God in the highest” (cf. Psalm 96:11-13; Matthew 22:30)!

But what is it about the Birth of the Child of Mary that caused the angels to erupt in praise of God? Why did they break forth into this chorus of praise of the Almighty Father when the shepherds did not? The angels sang their hymn because they saw what the shepherds did not see. The shepherds saw the face of a child; the angels saw the Face of God. It is safe to say that “the shepherds did not see what the angels saw. Nor do we share the vision which the angels know… We see one thing, a small child; we believe another, God made man.”[7]

Here, then, is but one aspect of the unfathomable mystery of Christmas:

Faith, not vision, makes us sing the angels’ song: “Glory to God in the highest.” It is a song of blind people who have not seen, but have heard the good news and understood. There is a gentle peace in the singing of that song. It is the peace that comes from giving glory to God, of reaching beyond where thought and word can take us – into God’s world.[8]

Approaching the manger of Bethlehem and looking upon the Face of the Holy Child, we see “the appearance of the glory of our great God and savior Jesus Christ who gave himself for us to deliver us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for himself a people as his own, eager to do what is good” (Titus 2:13-14). When we look upon the Holy Infant, we look upon the very glory of God made flesh; how can we not rejoice in this mystery and let loose an exultant, “Gloria!”?

Tonight we come to “adore him, meaning, literally, we seek his face, we long to look upon him with awe.”[9] We seek to unite our voices with those of the angels in their great of hymn of praise, to share “in the blessed happiness of the pure of heart who love God in faith before seeing him in glory.”[10]

We do not simply give God thanks, but we thank him for his glory. That touches upon a mystery of love. We do more than say that God is glorious. We revel in his glory. We see that the glory of God is a great gift to us, because he has made us to enjoy that glory, as one delights to behold what is most beautiful and holy.[11]

What can be more beautiful, what can be more holy, than the only begotten Son of God? He has made us to see his glory, to look upon his Face!

J.R.R. Tolkien recognized this inner impulse of the human toward the praise of God, toward that praise of God which also gives joy to the human heart. This is why he gave this advice to his son: “If you don’t do so already, make a habit of the ‘praises,’” among which he included the Gloria. “I use them much (in Latin),” he said. “If you learn these by heart you never need for words of joy.”[12]

Tonight, then, let us together turn towards the Lord and lift our voices in his praise. Let us consciously join in the song of heaven and let our hearts be moved with joy. If we do, then “Gloria, Gloria we will sing / That God on earth is come.”[13] In Jesus of Nazareth, in the Child of Bethlehem, we discover his glory, the Face of God, the Face of Love, and “the further we penetrate into the splendor of divine love, the more beautiful it is to pursue our search, so that,” as Saint Augustine says, “amore crescente inquisitio crescat inventi – the greater love grows, the further we will seek the one who has been found.”[14] Amen.

[1] Thomas Howard, If Your Mind Wanders at Mass (Steubenville, Ohio: Franciscan University Press, 1995), 63.
[2] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2639.
[3] Thomas Howard, If Your Mind Wanders at Mass, 64.
[4] Anthony Esolen, The Beauty of the Word: A Running Commentary on the Roman Missal (New York: Magnificat, 2012), 212.
[5] Thomas Howard, If Your Mind Wanders at Mass, 65.
[6] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1.
[7] Basil Cardinal Hume, The Mystery of the Incarnation (Brewster, Massachusetts: Paraclete Press, 2000), 143.
[8] Ibid., 143.
[9] Anthony Esolen, The Beauty of the Word, 212.
[10] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2639.
[11] Anthony Esolen, The Beauty of the Word, 212-213.
[12] J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 54, To Christopher Tolkien, 8 January 1944.
[13] Ibid., “Noel.”
[14] Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus Address, 28 August 2005. Cf. Saint Augustine of Hippo, Exposition of Psalm 105.3.

23 December 2018

Homily - The Fourth Sunday of Advent - 23 December 2018

The Fourth Sunday of Advent (C)

Dear brothers and sisters,

Today, as we eagerly awaiting the celebration of the Lord’s Birth, we cry out to him, “Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and shall be saved” (Psalm 80:4). Can there be any greater desire within the human heart than to look upon the face of God? But how can we see his face? Where are we to look? We need simply look to Bethlehem.

Through his prophet Micah, the Lord God declared long ago that from Bethlehem “shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel; whose origin is from of old, from ancient times” (Micah 5:1). Which ruler can this be if not Jesus of Nazareth, the one to whom we cry out, “O shepherd of Israel, hearken, from your throne upon the cherubim, shine forth” (Psalm 80:2). Yes, it is he: the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, the only begotten Son of God, without beginning or end, who, by the power of the Holy Spirit, was incarnate in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This is why Elizabeth exclaims, “And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me” (Luke 1:43)?

Within the womb of his mother, the infant John the Baptist “leaped for joy” (Luke 1:44). He did so because he recognized in his kinsman the God who roused his power and came to save us (cf. Psalm 80:3). Though he could not yet speak, he needed to fulfill his mission and point the way to the Messiah.

In this leaping – which was something more than a normal kick -within his mother’s womb, Saint Augustine of Hippo noticed something very profound. He said:

We see instances of leaping not only in children but even in animals, although certainly not for any faith or religion or rational recognition of someone coming. But this case stands out as utterly uncommon and new, because it took place in a womb, and at the coming of her who was to bring forth the Savior of humankind. Therefore this leaping, this greeting, so to speak, offered to the mother of the Lord is miraculous. It is to be reckoned among the great signs. It was not effected by human means by the infant, but by divine means in the infant, as miracles are usually wrought.[1]

What makes this leaping of Saint John worthy to be ranked among the great signs?

To understand the importance of both Elizabeth’s words and the Baptist’s leaping, we need to recall that “the New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New.”[2] “When Luke’s account of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth is read in light of the Old Testament story of David bringing the Ark up to Jerusalem, several striking parallels emerge:[3]

The glory of the Lord and the cloud cover the Tabernacle (containing the Ark) and “overshadow” (episkiazo) them (cf. Exodus 40:34-35, cf. v. 3); The Holy Spirit comes upon Mary and the power of the Most High “overshadows” (episkiazo) her (cf. Luke 1:35).

David “arose and went” to the hill country of Judah to bring up “the ark of God” (cf. II Samuel 6:2); Mary “arose and went” into the hill country of Judah to visit Elizabeth (cf. Luke 1:39).

David admits his unworthiness to receive the Ark by exclaiming, “How can the ark of the LORD come to me?” (cf. II Samuel 6:9); Elizabeth admits her unworthiness to receive Mary by exclaiming: “And why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (cf. Luke 1:43).

David “leaped” before the Ark as it was brought in “with shouting” (cf. II Samuel 6:15-16); John “leaped” in Elizabeth’s womb at the sound of Mary’s voice and Elizabeth cried “with a loud shout” (cf. Luke 1:41-42).

The Ark remained in the hill country, in the house of Obed-Edom, “three months” (cf. II Samuel 6:11); Mary remained in the hill country, in Elizabeth’s house, “three months” (cf. Luke 1:56).

Considering these various similarities together, “the most plausible explanation is also the simplest: In both the annunciation and the visitation, Luke is depicting Mary as the new Ark.”[4]

The first Ark was the dwelling place of God on earth where he allowed his glory to seen in the great cloud (cf. Exodus 40:34). “There I will meet you,” said the Lord God to Moses, “and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are upon the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you of all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel” (cf. Exodus 25:22). Within the ark were placed the tablets of the Ten Commandments, some of the manna from the desert, and the rod of Aaron, the high priest (cf. Exodus 25:16; Exodus 16:34-35; Numbers 17:10). In a similar – and greater – way, the Holy Spirit descended upon the new ark, Mary of Nazareth, “the sacred vessel for the ‘Word’ made flesh, the ‘Bread of Life,’ and the true ‘high priest.’” (cf. John 1:14; John 6:51; Hebrews 4:14).[5] No longer do we need to look upon the glory of God in a cloud; now we can look upon the very Face of God to see his glory.

Is this not the great mystery which we will soon celebrate at Christmas, the tremendous mystery that in the Incarnation of Jesus of Nazareth the eternal God has taken upon himself a human Face? Truly, “if we now use the word ‘God,’ it is no longer a reality known only from afar. We know the Face of God: it is that of the Son, who came to bring the heavenly realities closer to us and to the earth.”[6] The Baptist leaped, and Elizabeth shouted, because they knew that in that Holy Child the strength of God had come to “give us new life” (cf. Micah 5:3; Psalm 80:19).

In these last days of Advent, it remains for us “not merely to be taken here and there in life; not to be satisfied with what everyone else thinks and says and does.” Rather, it remains for us “to probe God and to seek God. Not letting the question about God dissolve in souls; desiring what is greater, desiring to know him – his Face.”[7]

As we prepare, then, to look upon his Face in that of the Holy Child, “let us entrust our heart to Mary, Ark of the New and Eternal Covenant, so that she may make it worthy to receive God’s visit in the mystery of his Birth.”[8] “Let us ask Mary, Mother of God, to help us to welcome her Son, and, in him, true peace. Let us ask her to sharpen our perception so that we may recognize … the face of Christ, the heart of peace!”[9] Amen.

[1] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Letter i187.23.
[2] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 129.
[3] Brant Pitre, Jesus and the Jewish Roots of Mary: Unveiling the Mother of the Messiah (New York: Image, 2018), 57.
[4] Ibid., 59.
[5] Ibid., 63.
[6] Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience Address, 3 January 2007.
[7] Ibid., Homily, 1 April 2007.
[8] Ibid., Angelus Address, 23 December 2012.
[9] Ibid., Homily, 1 January 2007.