31 December 2020

Homily - The Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God - 1 January 2021

The Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God 

Dear brothers and sisters,

            As today we commemorate the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, we ought to remember that Our Lady was, mostly, a mother like any other. “At the beginning of a new year, we are invited, as it were, to attend her school, the school of the faithful disciple in the Lord, in order to learn from her to accept in faith and prayer the salvation God desires to pout out upon those who trust in his merciful love.”[1]

As all mothers do, the Mother of God experienced great joy at the Birth of her Son. And, as all mothers do, she worried about his future. Mary knew, as every mother knows, that 

Every child born into the world – every tiny, innocent, adorable little baby – however loved, however cared for, will grow up to face some kind of sorrow, and the inevitability of death. Of course no one wants to think about such things, especially when they look at a newborn baby; but pretending otherwise, not wanting to think otherwise, doesn’t make it any less true.[2] 

Mary must have contemplated her Son’s future, especially after hearing the words of Simeon, which we heard this past Sunday: “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted” (Luke 2:35). What did Simeon mean?

            During these days of Christmas, we do all that we can to keep everything joyful and cheery, especially in these days, and thinking about Mary’s sorrow, even with her joy, does not seem something we should be doing. 

Our images of Christmas joy, both secular and sacred, are all childlike wonder and picture-perfect families gathered round the tree. And this is nice, of course, for those who have children or happy families, but for those who don’t – those who have lost children or parents or others dear to them, those who face loneliness or exclusion, those who want but don’t have children, family, or home – it can be intensely painful. Not everyone can choose not to think about grief at Christmas; many people will find it intrudes upon them, whether they wish it or not.[3] 

The medievals, who often approached the world with greater honesty than we do, recognized this, and even knew it to be true of the Virgin Mother of God.

            We see this understanding in many medieval carols, in which, of course, we also find great mirth and gladness. The Franciscan friar, John of Grimestone, recorded many of these carols for us in the fourteenth century. One of these carols contains what are presented as deeply moving thoughts Mary sings in a lullaby to the Christ Child: 

Lullay, lullay, little boy, king of all things!

When I think of thy sad state, I hardly wish to sing;

But I may lament for sorrow, if love be in my heart,

For such pains as thou shalt suffer were never none so sharp.

Lullay, lullay, little child, no wonder that thou cry;

Thy body will grow pale and white, and then it shall grow dry.[4] 

Here already Mary is contemplating the death of her Son for us upon the Cross; she knows that her Son was born that man no more may die. She has a deep sorrow for him in her heart because, as she says, she always has a deep love for him in her heart; love and sorrow often go together, even at Christmas.

            Our Lady ends her mournful lullaby with this profound insight: “Lullay, lullay, little child, softly sleep and fast; / in sorrow endeth every love but thine, at the last.” Mary knows that while every other love will end, the love of her Holy Infant will endure; his love will never end. This is why she willingly her endured seven sorrows out of love for him and remained with him to the end (cf. Luke 2:35).

            Years later, from his Cross, “When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold your son’ (John 19:26)! That beloved disciple stood in for each of us, for we are all his beloved disciples if we remain near to him and to the Mother of God. What is more, in that moment, Jesus entrusted us to his mother. Mary, the Mother of God and our mother, will look after us, her children, with the same maternal love and care with which she looked after Jesus, if we remain near to her.

            As we enter into this new solar year with both concern and hope, let us entrust ourselves anew to the maternal care of our Mother. May she show us the Face of her Son, teach us to listen to him, and ask her Son to bless us with his peace. Amen.

[1] Pope Benedict XVI, Homily, 1 January 2006.

[2] Eleanor Parker, “‘Lullay, little child, rest thee a throwe,’” A Clerk of Oxford, 28 December 2014. Available at https://aclerkofoxford.blogspot.com/2014/12/lullay-little-child-rest-thee-throwe.html. Accessed 27 December 2020.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.


27 December 2020

Homily - Feast of the Holy Family 2020

 The Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph 

Dear brothers and sisters,

Up until a relatively short time ago, we, as a society, recognized the family as the most important institution to the building of a just and harmonious society. The family was seen as the place in which we learned fundamental values: how to love one another, how to forgive one another, and how to put others before oneself. The family was seen as a school of love and self-forgetfulness. This selflessness was learned from watching the example of a husband and wife whose principle task was to “establish between themselves a partnership of their whole life, … which of its own very nature is ordered to the well-being of the spouses and to the procreation and upbringing of children” (canon 1055 § 1).

We knew that for a happy and successful marriage, a husband must put the needs of his wife ahead of his own. We knew that for a happy and successful marriage, a wife must put the needs of her husband ahead of her own. We knew that for a happy and successful marriage, a husband and wife had to safeguard their relationship and look to it before anything else. We knew that parents needed to put the needs of their children ahead of their own and that children should honor and respect their parents, just as parents should honor and respect their children. We knew that if each member of the family looked to the example of Christ Jesus, family life would be beautiful, joyous, and lifegiving.

But something happened along the way and we decided it was acceptable and good to ignore centuries of wisdom. Rather than continuing to protect and safeguard the family because of its importance to the common good, we decided it was acceptable to redefine and to refashion the family because of our selfish desires.

We first decided that no longer should children be received and welcomed as gifts and blessings from God, but that we should instead be able to determine when and how many were accepted. When contraception was widely used and considered good, despite its clear violation of the law of nature and of God, husbands and wives decided they could separate the two aims of the marital act; they changed its primary focus from that of a complete gift of self to each other and turned it into the satisfaction of individual desires. No longer would marriage be about the mutual well-being and unity of the spouses that increased their love and made it fruitful; marriage would no longer be about each other, but about what others can do for me. From here, a second decision that children could be done away with if they were not wanted seemed an obvious – even if grotesque and deplorable - consequence.

Once marriage was no longer seen as the full sharing of life and love between the spouses, it was an easy jump to say that marriage was also no longer permanent. First we decided that marriages could be dissolved in difficult and tragic circumstances. Then, quite against the very clear words of the Lord Jesus, we decided that marriages could be ended for any reason, or even no reason at all, if one or both of the spouses wanted to end it. We continued to make marriage about individual wants and desires and not about the mutual sharing of life and love.

As these changes to the long-standing and accepted definition of marriage were made over the course of just a few decades, most Christians regrettably and scandalously went along with them and even welcomed them gladly. From this, as many rightly warned, the family received a very great wound from which it has not recovered. Family life began to fall apart and, with it, society, as well. These are not popular words today, but the truth is not always very popular.

Christians accepted these changes, and even pioneered them, because we largely forgot that

The Bible is full of families, births, love stories and family crises. This is true from its very first page, with the appearance of Adam and Eve’s family with all its burden of violence but also its enduring strength (cf. Gen 4) to its very last page, where we behold the wedding feast of the Bride and the Lamb (Rev 21:2, 9).[1]


We forgot that family life – and even life generally – is not necessarily meant to be easy, but rewarding. We forgot that marriage and the family is to be the school of love and selflessness. We forgot that the family is not about me, but about us.

It is a curious reality of the inner workings of the mind of God that he continually chooses to allow us – weak and sinful as we are - to be instruments of his grace.

The ability of human couples to beget life is the path along which the history of salvation progresses. Seen this way, the couple’s fruitful relationship becomes an image for understanding and describing the mystery of God himself, for in the Christian vision of the Trinity, God is contemplated as Father, Son and Spirit of love. The triune God is a communion of love, and the family is its living reflection. Saint John Paul II shed light on this when he said, “Our God in his deepest mystery is not solitude, but a family, for he has within himself fatherhood, sonship and the essence of the family, which is love. That love, in the divine family, is the Holy Spirit”. The family is thus not unrelated to God’s very being.[2]


We came to reshape marriage according to our own desires because we forgot that we are made in the image and likeness of God and that marriage is meant to reflect the inner life of God, to make his love the foundation of our lives.

This is, in part, why the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity chose to be born of a woman to take on our flesh at Bethlehem.

In the Gospel we do not find discourses on the family but an event which is worth more than any words:  God wanted to be born and to grow up in a human family. In this way he consecrated the family as the first and ordinary means of his encounter with humanity.[3]


The importance of the family is intimately involved with the mystery of Christmas and gives us good reason to ask how well our families reflect the love of the Triune God.

Husbands and wives, strive to love each other well and freely, not because of what your spouse gives you, or does for you, or brings to you, but simply for the sake of your spouse; love your spouse because of your spouse. If you do, you will imitate the love of God who loves us not because of what we can do for him, but because we are his. Follow the counsel of Saint Paul and

Put on, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection. And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body. And be thankful (Colossians 3:12-15).


Allow your marriage to be marked by gratitude, forgiveness, and love so that you may always reflect the merciful love of the Christ Child to a hurting world. Let your marriage always shine out as a beacon of hope to the suffering. Teach your children how to forgive one another and how to let go of grudges. Teach them, through your own example, the beauty of a life lived for God and for others. Teach them to trust in God and not in themselves. Teach them to open their hearts to God and to allow him to dwell in them richly.

If you do this, if you make your marriage a full sharing of life and love and a true and complete self-gift to your spouse, your marriage will be happy, successful, and, more importantly, a  reflection of God’s own love. You and your children, by the grace of God, will be able to begin slowly rebuilding and refashioning society by restoring a recognition of the beauty of marriage and of the family.

Standing today at the threshold of a new year, we can look forward in gloom or we can look forward in hope; we can look at the wound that we have inflicted on the family and on society, or we can look at the remedy. Some sixteen hundred years ago, Saint Augustine said, “Bad times! Troublesome times! This men are saying. Let our lives be good; and the times are good. We make our times; such as we are, such are the times.”[4]

Let families, then, be again schools of love and selflessness. Let them place the Child Jesus in the center of their hearts! Let us always give thanks to the Father for the gift of his Son and, like the prophetess Anna, speak of him to all who will listen, both in our words and in the manner of our lives (cf. Luke 2:38). Let us strive to conform our lives to him and so change the times in which we live that we may all come to dwell in the joy of the Father’s house. Amen.

[1] Pope Francis, Amoris Laetita, 8.

[2] Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia, 11. Pope Saint John Paul II, Homily at the Eucharistic Celebration in Pueblo de los Angeles, 28 January 1979.

[3] Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus Address, 31 December 2006.

[4] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 30.8.

25 December 2020

Homily for Christmas 2020

 The Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord

Dear brothers and sisters,

Paradoxically, despite the frustration and anxiety many feel outside this church right now, there seems to be a certain quiet – a good quiet – within this church because things are rather different this year, as you well know. We are smaller in number; we are more spread out; the ceremonies are simpler; and the music is less than in most years. Looked at wrongly, all of this could increase one’s frustration and anxiety, but looked at rightly, all of this can help us focus on why we have come or, rather, on why He has come.

One of those who would have helped us focus on the essential aspect of Christmas is Dorothy Day. She was one of the pioneers in what some call the social justice movement – I say some because “social justice” is but one aspect of being Catholic. She recognized the power of the Liturgy to transform the world by transforming us.

The Liturgy of the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord, the – the Liturgy of Christmas – has a particular power to transform the world by transforming us. Concerning Christmas, Dorothy Day is said to have said:

I’m so glad that Jesus was born in a stable, because my soul is so much like a stable. It is poor and in unsatisfactory condition because of guilt, falsehoods, inadequacies, and sin. Yet I believe that if Jesus can be born in a stable, maybe also he can be born in me. 

It is a beautiful thought, is it not?

We like to romanticize the Birth of the Christ-Child. We like to think that his Birth in a stable, surrounded by animals and hay, was charming. But, if we are honest, this was not the reality. Saint Bede the Venerable described the circumstances of the Savior’s Birth in more reasonable terms:

It should be noted that the sign given of the Savior’s birth is not a child enfolded in Tyrian purple, but one wrapped with rough pieces of cloth. He is not to be found in an ornate golden bed, but in a manger. The meaning of this is that he did not merely take upon himself our lowly mortality, but for our sakes took upon himself the clothing of the poor.[1]

Saint Jerome, who spent the last part of his life in a cave in Bethlehem, was a bit more colorful – and perhaps more realistic -in his description. He said,

He found no room in the Holy of Holies that shone with gold, precious stones, pure silk and silver. He is not born in the midst of gold and riches, but in the midst of dung, in a stable where our sins were filthier than the dung. He is born on a dunghill in order to lift up those who come from it: “From the dunghill he lifts up the poor” (Psalm 113:7).[2]

All of this is to say that Jesus chose to be born into the messiness and unpleasantness of our lives; he is not afraid of it. Rather, he desires to cleanse it, to redeem us, and to fill us with his peace.

          This is why that heavenly choir of angels sang to the shepherds, “Glory to God in the highest and peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14). The peace that comes from the Lord is not much like what we see in so many holiday shows and movies, nor is it what we sing about in so many holiday songs. After all, Jesus himself tells us, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid” (John 14:27).

The peace of Christ is not just people being kind and nice to each other; it may certainly include this, but it is not the warm and fuzzy feeling that many have come to associate with Christmas. Rather, the peace that comes from Christ is the peace that reconciles us to the Father and allows us to approach God without shame. This is why Saint Paul tells us that Jesus has made peace “by the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:20). Jesus fulfilled the words the angel said to Joseph, “he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew1:21). This is why the Holy Infant has come and, I pray, why we have come.

We should not be afraid to open the stables of our hearts to the Christ Child, for he can indeed be born in us. When he starts to have a look around within our stables, and begins to see our guilt, our falsehoods, our inadequacies, and our sins, we should not try to distract him but should allow him to reveal to us what he does. If we confess these to him we can tidy up our stables for him through his merciful love; with the help of his grace, we can put the stables of our hearts in satisfactory condition for him.

Far more than feasting and gathering and gifting, the real heart of Christmas involves us allowing the Child of Bethlehem to enter into the messiness and unpleasantness of our lives. Even as a Child, he calls out to us, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). But when he comes, he does not come in the midst of distractions or fervent activity; he comes in the quiet, he comes unexpectedly, he comes in the stillness.

This Christmas, when so many of our usual celebrations at Christmas are lessened or put aside altogether, we ought not become upset or troubled. Instead, we should seek to be grateful for the opportunity to quiet ourselves so the Lord can take up his abode in the stables of our hearts. This is my prayer for you and yours this Christmas, that we will all allow ourselves to be still and make room for the Christ Child. If we do, this can be the best Christmas we have known. Amen.

[1] Saint Bede the Venerable, Exposition on the Gospel of Luke, 1. In Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament Vol. III: Luke (Downer’s Grove, Illinois: Inter Varsity Press, 2003.

[2] Saint Jerome, On the Nativity of the Lord. In ibid.

23 December 2020

Homily - 20 December 2020 - On the Year of Saint Joseph

The Fourth Sunday of Advent (B)

On the Year of Saint Joseph


Dear brothers and sisters,

We heard a moment ago that the Blessed Virgin Mary was “betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David” (Luke 1:27). A few days ago, His Holiness Pope Francis declared a Year of Saint Joseph, beginning on December 8, 2020 and concluding on December 8, 2021. The purpose of this year, the Holy Father said, is “to increase our love for this great saint, to encourage us to implore his intercession and to imitate his virtues and his zeal.”[1] But what are the virtues of Saint Joseph and what is his zeal?

In his Apostolic Letter Patris Corde – With a Father’s Heart – in which he proclaimed the Year of Saint Joseph, Pope Francis, reflecting on the life of the foster father of Jesus and the Patron of the Universal Church – enumerated some of Joseph’s virtues: courage, faith, obedience, self-sacrifice, and love.

The courage of Saint Joseph is evident to anyone with even a cursory familiarity with the Christmas story. He takes “Mary, [his] wife,” into his home when she is pregnant with a Child that is not his (Matthew 1:20); he abandons his home in Nazareth and flees with his family to Egypt when the life of the Child is in danger (cf. Matthew 2:14); and afterwards, to protect his wife and Child, “he led a hidden life in the tiny and obscure village of Nazareth in Galilee, far from Bethlehem, his ancestral town, and from Jerusalem and the Temple.”[2]

The courage of Saint Joseph was rooted in the depths of his faith in God and in his will. 

Joseph, then, teaches us that faith in God includes believing that he can work even throughout our fears, our frailties and our weaknesses. He also teaches us that amid the tempests of life, we must never be afraid to let the Lord steer our course. At times, we want to be in complete control, yet God always sees the bigger picture.[3]

In all of this, no matter the difficulties we encounter, Saint Joseph shows us the way forward with courage and faith. Indeed, “the message conveyed to Joseph is overwhelming, and it demands extraordinarily courageous faith,” such as Joseph possessed.[4]

The courageous faith of Saint Joseph led to him live a life in obedience to the will of God. He obeyed the word of the Lord revealed to him by the angel promptly and without question. He obeyed because he had confidence in the will of the Lord; thus it was that Joseph’s obedience “made it possible for him to surmount his difficulties and to spare Mary” from public shame.[5] And like his wife, “in every situation, Joseph declared his own ‘fiat’ [“let it be done to me”].[6]

It was his obedience to the divine will that made Saint Joseph a man of admirable self-sacrifice.

Joseph set aside his own ideas in order to accept the course of events and, mysterious as they seemed, to embrace, take responsibility for them and make them part of his own history. Unless we are reconciled with our own history, we will be unable to take a single step forward, for we will always remain hostage to our expectations and the disappointments that follow. The spiritual path that Joseph traces for us is not one the explains, but accepts.[7]

In our own day, which stresses self-will to the extreme, the willingness to make a sacrifice of ourselves to God and to his will is a lesson we desperately need to learn. It was his selflessness that not only opened Saint Joseph’s heart to God, but also opened his heart to others.

In the depths of his heart, Saint Joseph knew what too many people today have forgotten, namely that authentic love “seeks the good of the beloved: it becomes renunciation and it is ready, and even willing, for sacrifice.”[8] “The logic of love is always the logic of freedom, and Joseph knew how to love with extraordinary freedom. He never made himself the center of things. He did not think of himself, but focused instead on the lives of Mary and Jesus.”[9] It was the strength of his love that led Joseph to remain with the Child and with Mary; he loved them more than he loved himself. We would do well to imitate him in this because “Joseph found happiness not in mere self-sacrifice, but in self-gift. In him, we never see frustration but only trust.”[10]

All of these virtues of courage, faith, obedience, self-sacrifice, and love made Saint Joseph zealous for Jesus and Mary; everything he did, he did for them. It was because of these virtues that he “was the man chosen by God to guide the beginnings of the history of redemption.”[11] Pope Francis has given us this Year of Saint Joseph to turn our gaze upon the foster father of Jesus to learn from him these same virtues that we, too, might become zealous for his Son.

In these coming weeks and months, then, let us turn frequently to Saint Joseph, our father and protector, and say:

Hail, Guardian of the Redeemer,

Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

To you God entrusted his only Son;

in you Mary placed her trust;

with you Christ become man.


Blessed Joseph, to us, too,

show yourself a father

and guide us in the path of life.

Obtain for us grace, mercy and courage,

And defend us from every evil. Amen.[12]

[1] Pope Francis, Patris Corde, 7.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., 2.

[4] Joseph Ratzinger / Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives. Philip J. Whitmore, trans. (New York: Image, 2012), 41.

[5] Pope Francis, Patris Corde, 3.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid., 4.

[8] Pope Benedict XVI, Deus caritas est, 6.

[9] Pope Francis Patris Corde, 7.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid., 5.

[12] Ibid., 7.