31 December 2022

Homily on the Death of the Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

The Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

The Mass for the Dead for Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

Dear brothers and sisters,

As we gather on this first day of the new year, Mother Church turns our attention to Holy Mary, the Mother of God, she who continually reflected upon the life of her Son in her heart (cf. Luke 2:19). We celebrate Mary and look to her example because her “greatness consists in the fact that she wants to glorify God, not herself. She is lowly: her only desire is to be the handmaid of the Lord (cf. Luke 1:38,48).”[1] In this, Mary is a model for each of one of us to imitate.

It was with sadness that we received word yesterday morning of the death of the Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, the finest theological mind of the last century because he, too, continually reflected upon the life of Mary's Son. It is somehow fitting that he died at the threshold of the new year when Mother Church presents to us the great blessing of Aaron: “The Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord let us face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace” (Numbers 6:24-26)!

Pope Benedict XVI devoted his entire life to the search for truth and for love, which can only be found in Christ Jesus, who is both truth and love (cf. John 14:6; I John 4:8). This search led him to the realization that “being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”[2]


As one Protestant commentator on the life and work of the man born as Joseph Ratzinger has said, “Though his opponents may have called him God’s Rottweiler, whenever I read his work, I encounter God’s border collie. Small, tough, faithful to the Shepherd and to the ultimate welfare of the sheep.”[3]

Throughout his theological writings, Benedict repeatedly returned to two particular passages of the Sacred Scriptures. One comes from the New Testament: “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his son as expiation for our sins” (I John 4:10). The other comes from the Old Testament: “they shall look upon him whom they have pierced” (Zechariah 12:10).

Having encountered Jesus, the Son of God and the Son of Mary, in his own life, Pope Benedict never tired of reminding us that

the happiness you are seeking, the happiness you have a right to enjoy has a name and a face: it is Jesus of Nazareth, hidden in the Eucharist. Only he gives the fullness of life to humanity! With Mary, say your own "yes" to God, for he wishes to give himself to you.[4]

Time and again Benedict said “yes” to God and made of his life an offering to Jesus through his Mystical Body, the Church.

He made of his life a quest to the look upon the Face of God. This is why he described the book that was the culmination of his theological research and reflections, Jesus of Nazareth, as “an expression of my personal search ‘for the face of the Lord’ (cf. Psalm 27:8).”[5] Today we pray that the Lord may show his Face to his faithful servant Benedict and give him peace.

Pope Benedict’s final words in this life were, “Jesus, I love you.” As we celebrate today the Motherhood of Mary, how can we not wonder how often she herself said those same words? May these words be our final ones, as well. Amen.

[1] Pope Benedict XVI, Deus caritas est, 41

[2] Ibid., Spe salvi, 1.

[3] Tim Perry, ed., The Theology of Benedict XVI: A Protestant Appreciation (Bellingham, Washington: Lexham Press, 2019), 5.

[4] Pope Benedict XVI, Address at the Celebration Welcoming Young People to the XX World Youth Day, 18 August 2005.

[5] Joseph Ratzinger / Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration. Adrian J. Walker, trans. (New York: Doubleday, 2007), xxiii.

24 December 2022

Christmas Homily on the Sign Given to the Shepherds

The Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord

At the Vigil Mass

N.B.: The following homily will be slightly edited for the Mass During the Night and for the Mass During the Day.

This evening, dear brothers and sisters, we have gathered “to sing the goodness of the Lord” at his altar because “tomorrow the wickedness of the earth will be destroyed” for “the Savior of the world will reign over us” (Psalm 89:2).[1] We have gathered to celebrate Christmas, to offer Christ’s Mass, because “the bells of Paradise now ring / With bells of Christendom, / And Gloria, Gloria we will sing / That God on earth is come.”[2]

It might seem strange that Mother Church assigns the Gospel passage we have just heard for this Vigil Mass of the Solemnity of the Lord. Those paying attention will recognize it as the same Gospel we heard last week on the Fourth Sunday of Advent. Saint Luke’s account - with the angels, the shepherds, and the manger, and with which we are most familiar at Christmas - is assigned to the Mass During the Night of the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord.

The purpose of providing us with the story of the angel’s visitation to Saint Joseph this evening is to help prepare us for the Birthday of the only Savior of mankind. If we are to properly celebrate this great feast, we must remember what it means to await the arrival of him who is named “Emmanuel, which means ‘God is with us’” (Matthew 1:23; Isaiah 7:14).

We recall this evening that the angels said to those shepherds in their fields, “And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:12). In ancient Judea, this would not have been an uncommon scene, as most homes had a manger within them in which the animals would feed and in which children were laid for warmth. What is it, then, about such a scene that the angels said would be a sign for the shepherds?

Carrow Psalter, folio H

King Solomon, the son of King David, of whom the promised Messiah was be descended, said this: “In swaddling clothes and with constant care I was nurtured. For no king has any different origin or birth” (Wisdom 7:4-5). In like manner, the one adopted into the line of kings “is not wrapped in luxurious furs, silk, or fine fabrics, but he is wrapped in swaddling cloths, as [shepherds] would wrap their own babies, and is lying in a manger – a place they would also have used as a handy cradle for a newborn.”[3]

All of this is to say that the sign spoken of by the angels was something rather simple and ordinary, but at the same time also quite profound. It is as if the angels had said to the shepherds:

…the promised Messiah, the Lamb of God, the Shepherd of Israel, the Son of David, the Savior who is Christ the Lord, is born not as the grandiose heir of a royal princedom but as one of you – an ordinary shepherd of Bethlehem, and you’ll know this because He is just over yonder in the next village in a cave house just like yours, wrapped in swaddling clothes just like your babies, and lying in a manger – where you would place your newborn infants.[4]

We, these many centuries later, like to imagine Jesus’ Birth as something quite out of the ordinary. In reality, however, it was as common as they come. This – if I may say so - is precisely what makes his Birth significant.

If we are to sing the goodness of the Lord and to join in the angels’ hymn of “glory to God in the highest,” the ordinariness of the Birth of the Savior is what we must keep in mind (Luke 2:14). Indeed,

God’s sign is simplicity. God’s sign is the baby. God’s sign is that he makes himself small for us. This is how he reigns. He does not come with power and outward splendor. He comes as a baby – defenseless and in need of our help. He does not want to overwhelm us with his strength. He takes away our fear of his greatness. He asks for our love: so he makes himself a child. He wants nothing other from us than our love, through which we spontaneously learn to enter into his feelings, his thoughts and his will – we learn to live with him and to practice with him that humility of renunciation that belongs to the very essence of love. God made himself small so that we could understand him, welcome him, and love him.[5]

To say now that “God is with us” is no mere platitude; it is a statement of reality (Matthew 1:23). He is with us in our joys and delights, in our illnesses and sorrows, in our grief and mourning. He is with us in all things, whether we are heartsore and weary or cheerful and refreshed. This is the sign the angels announced to the shepherds.

The true wonder of Christmas does not consist in snow, fireplaces, presents, festive music, or hot chocolate. The true wonder of Christmas is that the only Son of God was born into the ordinariness of Bethlehem

to be the traveling companion of each one of us on our life's journey. In this world, from the very moment when he decided to pitch his ‘tent,’ no one is a stranger [cf. John 1:14]. It is true, we are all here in passing, but it is precisely Jesus who makes us feel at home on this earth, sanctified by his presence.[6]

The question before us this night is whether we will allow him to be our travelling companion as he desires to be. Will we bend low to embrace the Holy Infant? Will we allow him who is both “Christ and Lord” to take us by the hand and lead us to the Father’s side (Luke 2:10; John 1:18)?

Let us not be afraid to do so, so that the ordinariness of our lives might be graced by our divine traveling companion. Let us love the Babe of Bethlehem in every aspect of our lives to sing eternally with those angels, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14). Amen.       

[1] Gospel Acclamation for the Vigil Mass of the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord.

[2] J.R.R. Tolkien, Noel.

[3] Dwight Longenecker, The Secret of the Bethlehem Shepherds (Manchester, New Hampshire: Sophia Institute Press, 2022), 100.

[4] Ibid., 101.

[5] Pope Benedict XVI, Homily, 24 December 2006.

[6] Ibid., Angelus Address, 24 December 2006.

10 December 2022

Homily - Striving for joy while waiting and drawing near

The Third Sunday of Advent (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,

As we collected our individual prayers together at the beginning of this Mass and presented them as one to the Father, we asked “to attain the joys of so great a salvation” given us in the coming of Christ Jesus.[1] And yet, as we asked for these joys, Saint James tells us “be patient … until the coming of the Lord” (James 5:7). What are we to make of these seemingly contradictory modes of living, of striving for joy and of waiting?

“Advent is a strong invitation to everyone to let God come increasingly into our lives, our houses, our neighborhoods and our communities in order to have light in the midst of the many shadows, in the numerous daily efforts,” however difficult or frustrating they might be.[2] The Prophet Isaiah kept before the eyes of the ancient Israelites the promise that “the desert and the parched land will exult” and “rejoice with joyful song” (Isaiah 35:1, 2). He kept this promise before them as they lived in exile, in times more difficult – may it please God - than most, if not all, of us will ever know. And yet Isaiah never lost confidence that when the Lord comes “they will meet with joy and gladness, sorrow and mourning will flee” (Isaiah 35:10).

It happens all too often that while the Lord “is near us ... we are often distant” from him. Distracted by so many things and circumstances, we are impatient with the Lord and withdraw from him. Advent is a time for us to draw near to the Lord again, for he “keeps faith forever” (Psalm 146:6).

If we pay attention to the Church’s prayer throughout Advent and seek to make it our own, we find something rather curious happens within us. The more we live like patient farmers – there are still a few of them here and there - waiting “for the precious fruit of the earth,” the more our joy increases at the knowledge that our God is coming to save us (James 5:7; cf. Isaiah 35:4). There is an undeniable comfort in this waiting as we begin to recognize that when the Lord comes feeble hands and weak knees will be made strong, “the eyes of the blind will be opened, the ears of the deaf will be cleared; then the lame will leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing” (cf. Isaiah 35:3, 5-6). In the light of faith and in the power of Christ, all is made new, even if in unexpected ways.

The prayers and the readings the Church presents to us in these days of Advent serve to strengthen our longing for the coming of the Lord and to increase our desire and willingness to go out to meet him (cf. Matthew 11:7). But who is it we go out to see?

This question has echoed in the hearts of every man, woman, and child since the dawn of time. Is it really not the same question John the Baptist asked of Jesus: “Are you the one who is to come” (Matthew 11:3)? It is a question born of expectant hope.

Saint Augustine of Hippo reminds us of who it is we go out to see, of him who has come and is coming again:

Christ, you see, was going to come in the flesh, not anyone at all, not an angel, not an ambassador; but “he himself will come and save you” (Isaiah 35:4). It wasn’t anyone who was going to come; and yet how was he going to come? He was going to be born in mortal flesh, to be a tiny infant, to be laid in a manger, wrapped in cradle clothes, nourished on milk; going to grow up, and finally even to be done to death. So in all these indications of humility there is indeed a pattern of an extreme humility.[3]

We know that his death was not his end, that he rose from the grave. We know, also, that the humility with which he first came will changed to glory when he comes again. “Make your hearts firm,” then, “because the coming of the Lord is near” (James 5:8).

As we enter into this house of God, let us seek to allow him to enter more fully into our lives. When he comes, may meet him “with joy and gladness” on that day when “sorrow and mourning will flee” (Isaiah 35:10). Amen.

[1] Roman Missal, Collect for the Third Sunday of Advent.

[2] Pope Benedict XVI, Homily, 12 December 2010.

[3] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 293.8.