26 December 2023

Homily - 25 December 2023 - The Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord

Mass During the Night

Dear brothers and sisters

Given the immense and low cloud cover that has settled upon us lately, the darkness of the night has perhaps felt somehow greater, even as though extended even through the daylight. It has certainly felt – to me, at least – as if we were the “people who walked in darkness” (Isaiah 9:1). The world is so often filled with so much darkness, but not only the darkness brought about by a lack of the sun. There is the darkness of war and hatred, the darkness of broken families and societal decay, the darkness of hunger and loneliness, the darkness of falsehood and ignorance.

There is much darkness, yes, but not only darkness, for “a light has shone” (Isaiah 9:1). This light “has shone a bright ray of peace and goodness, which continues to shine.”[1] It is this light that has brought us together tonight.

What is this light that we have seen, this light that has drawn us out into the darkness of night? If we reflect for a moment, we have all experience that “where there is love, light shines forth in the world; where there is hatred, the world remains in darkness. In the stable of Bethlehem there appeared the great light which the world awaits.”[2] Yes, indeed, “a child is born to us, a son is given us” and from the Face of that Child shines a very great light, the light of love (Isaiah 9:5; cf. I John4:8)

This light not only seeks to shine, but to speak, for it is a truly wondrous light; it streams forth from the Face of that Holy Child, as the great artists so marvelously portray.

Dear sister or brother, if, as in Bethlehem, the darkness of night overwhelms you, if you feel surrounded by cold indifference, if the hurt you carry inside cries out, “You are of little account; you are worthless; you will never be loved the way you want,” tonight, if this is what you are feeling, God answers back. He tells you: “I love you just as you are. Your littleness does not frighten me, your failings do not trouble me. I became little for your sake. To be your God, I became your brother. Dear brother, dear sister, don’t be afraid of me. Find in me your measure of greatness. I am close to you, and one thing only do I ask: trust me and open your heart to me.”[3]

Draw near to his manger; look upon the Face that dispels the darkness of sin and doubt; look upon the light of love!

The world has tried again and again to extinguish this light, yet always in vain; “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).

In that Child lying in the stable, God has shown his glory – the glory of love, which gives itself away, stripping itself of all grandeur in order to guide us along the way of love. The light of Bethlehem has never been extinguished. In every age it has touched men and women, ‘it has shone around them.’ Wherever people put their faith in that Child, charity also sprang up – charity towards others, loving concern for the weak and the suffering, the grace of forgiveness. From Bethlehem a stream of light, love and truth spreads through the centuries.[4]

Because of his love, Saint John rightly said, “in him there is no darkness at all” (I John 1:5). The darkness cannot overcome the light of his love because his love is perfect and complete.

Dear brothers and sisters, when the darkness of this world encroaches upon you, look to the light; when the darkness of the world feels oppressive in any number of its forms, look to the Son of God and Son of Mary and know this: You are loved by God. He became a Child for you, to love you and to be loved by you. In him there is nothing to fear. Draw near to him. Find your worth in him, in his love, and you will never walk in darkness.

J.R.R. Tolkien was right to say that “glad is the world and fair this night.”[5] Rejoicing in the light of this night, let us, with Saint Augustine and with all the Saints “walk in his light, let us exult and be merry in it.”[6] Amen. Alleluia!

[1] Pope Benedict XVI, Homily, 24 December 2012.

[2] Ibid., Homily, 24 December 2005.

[3] Pope Francis, Homily, 24 December 2021.

[4] Pope Benedict XVI, Homily, 24 December 2005.

[5] J.R.R. Tolkien, “Noel.”

[6] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 187.4.

23 December 2023

Homily - The Fourth Sunday of Advent - 24 December 2023

The Fourth Sunday of Advent (B)

Dear brothers and sisters,

As I waited in line the other day, a father asked his daughter, who appeared to be about ten, “You know Christmas isn’t about getting gifts?” She answered him, as might be expected, “I know.” I put it to you that they were both wrong.

Christmas is indeed about getting gifts. Christmas is about an interior disposition of the heart, a disposition of gratitude and of receptivity. At the very least, Christmas is about getting one gift. I can already feel parents cringing, but I ask you to hear me out.

Christmas is all about a very great gift that ought to engender wonder in each one of us, no matter how old we are. If it “doesn’t feel like Christmas,” as many have said again this year, it is because we have lost this wonder at the gift given us that is the very reason we celebrate Christmas.

When was the last time you said or thought, “It feels like Christmas”? Did it feel like Christmas last year when it was cold enough to snow? Did it feel like Christmas the last time we had snow on the ground in late December? Did it feel like Christmas the last time you were as giddy as a schoolboy? The feeling of Christmas is not really found in cold or snow or giddiness; it is found in something much greater.

In my favorite Christmas movie – The Muppet Christmas Carol – the Ghost of Christmas present sings, “It’s true wherever you find love it feels like Christmas.” If it has not felt like Christmas in some time, I dare say it is because we have forgotten – or perhaps misplaced – the central aspect of this great feast. At the heart of Christmas is the gift given to the world through the Blessed Virgin Mary, her Child who is “called holy, the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). This is why Saint James tells us that “every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17).

There is still time to recover the feeling of Christmas. There is still time to awaken the wonder at Mary’s Child, to receive the gift of his love, the gift of his very self, which he gives given to us in the Eucharist each time we gather at his altar to fortify us in his love against all those things that would draw us away from him (cf. Romans16:25).

There is still time to prepare our hearts to receive the great gift of God, the gift that Christmas is all about. Let us see to this interior preparation more than to the many external ones that too often seem more important. If we attend to the preparation of the heart it will feel like Christmas because we will have found love in the Babe of Bethlehem. Amen.

18 December 2023

Homily - 17 December 2023 - The Third Sunday of Advent

The Third Sunday of Advent (B)

Gaudete Sunday

Dear brothers and sisters,

Against the backdrop of the horrific tragedies perpetrated only a few blocks from here this past Thursday evening, the words of Saint Paul seem jarring: “Rejoice always” (I Thessalonians 5:16). How does one rejoice against the backdrop of such violence? How does one rejoice in the midst of so much sorrow and suffering? We can rejoice in the promise that “the one who calls you is faithful,” that his will will be accomplished (I Thessalonians 5:26).

The One whose coming we await on the Last Day and at Christmas has come and is coming “to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the Lord and a day of vindication by our God” (Isaiah 61:1-2). In short, he came and is coming to put an end to the evils brought about by the sinfulness and wickedness of humanity. The narrative of the Nativity of the Lord is much greater than the safe, sappy, sentimental story we have made it; it is the account of God’s battle against the forces of darkness and of his victorious triumph over them through the Cross and Resurrection of the Child we adore. It is the account of the suffering of love.

Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des manuscrits, Latin 10434, fol. 13v.

Although he could not have put it quite this way, Saint John the Baptist was sent to prepare the way for the coming of this divine combatant who fought in such unexpected ways. Not with force and power and strength did he conquer, but with compassion, humility, and love. Because his way was quiet, it was fitting that he be announced by the voice of another.

When the Levites asked Saint John the Baptist about his identity, he gave them three negative answers and one positive answer. It must have been frustrating for them, but the Forerunner of the Lord knew he himself was not important. This is why

John speaks of himself through a denial, which he repeats several times: I am not (John 1:20, 21). I am not the Christ, I am not Elijah, I am not the prophet.


His life has no meaning except in relation to Christ: John is not the bridegroom, but the friend of the bridegroom (John 3:29). He is not the light, but the witness of the light; he is not the Word, but the voice through which the Word can speak; and precisely through this existence only in relation to Christ, John fulfills his life, achieves his mission till the end.


In brief, John does not respond. As a way of saying: it is not important who I am. The real question is not about me, "but there is one among you whom you do not recognize" (John 1:26).[1]


When finally the Baptist does give the Levites a positive answer as to his identity, it must have frustrated them even more because he still did not answer their question directly. Instead, he said: “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘make straight the way of the Lord’” (John 1:23; cf. Isaiah 40:3).


With his deflective way of speaking about himself, Saint John the Baptist remains a key symbol of the season of Advent; never pointing to himself but always pointing instead to the coming Messiah, he shows us the way to live our lives in honest humility. Our lives, like his, have no meaning except in relation to Christ. It was he who made us in and for love; he who redeemed us in love; he will judge us with mercy and justice; and it is he who will bring us salvation, if we will have loved him and our neighbor. This is the cause of our joy, even in the midst of the heartaches and tragedies of life. The promise of being made “perfectly holy” and being “preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” is why we must “rejoice always” (I Thessalonians 5:23, 16).


How strong is our voice in proclaiming this message? How loudly do we cry out in the midst of a culture filled with clamorous cacophonies the coming of the Great Gardener to make “justice and praise” spring up from the earth (Isaiah 61:11)? How clearly do we announce the coming of the day of God’s vindication and the giving of the “oil of gladness instead of mourning” (Isaiah 61:3)? Or are we instead, contrary the example of John the Baptist, too caught in ourselves and in our own lives to take much notice of the pain of others?


May the Lord grant us hearts full of concern for others and a willingness to joyfully accept the sufferings of love. May we help others to realize that their lives, too, have no meaning except in relation to Christ so that may rejoice always at his coming. Amen.

[1] Pierbattista Cardinal Pizzaballa, O.F.M., Meditation for the Third Sunday of Advent, 17 December 2023. Accessed 14 December 2023.