Homilies - November 2014
Select a homily to read:
Talk: Charism and Community: December 4, 2014 by Abbot James Wiseman
Second Sunday of Advent: December 7, 2014 by Fr. Peter Weigand
Third Sunday of Advent: December 14, 2014 by Fr. Philip Simo
Fourth Sunday of Advent: December 21, 2014 by Fr. Gabriel Myers
Fourth Sunday of Advent: December 21, 2014 by Fr. Christopher Wyvill (at Cathedral)
Christmas Midnight Mass: December 25, 2014 by Abbot James Wiseman
Christmas Day Mass: December 25, 2014 by Fr. Michael Hall
Feast of the Holy Famly: December 28, 2014 by Fr. Boniface Von Nell
- December 4, 2014
- Year B
- by Abbot James
As most of you know, in recent community meetings we have been discussing topics in a booklet from the National Religious Vocation Conference, the first two topics being “charism” and “community.” By chance, the other day I happened upon a brief statement about charism written several decades ago by a man named John Carroll Futrell, the co-founder of the Institute of Religious Formation. He said something that is worth keeping in mind, for it could prevent us from trying to pin down with excessive detail something that will always elude precise definition. He wrote: “Religious communities, like persons, are living organisms actualizing their own individuality through their own unique way of experiencing life and of integrating relationships….The founder’s charism, as shared and lived by the members of the community today, is a mystery, as is anything which is dynamic and alive. It cannot be defined. It can only be described.”1 One way of helping describe it was suggested at one of our recent meetings, namely, letting the newer members of our community hear something about the life and personality of some of our predecessors here, such as Thomas Verner Moore and Alban Boultwood, so Fr. Joseph has kindly offered to give us a talk about a few of these men next Thursday evening. Tonight, I want to speak somewhat more broadly (and briefly) about some of the basics of our life under the overall rubric “Charism and Community.”
I’ll start with something I learned from a book that I’ve been using with our newer members in weekly formation classes, a book called The Age of the Cloister, about monasticism in the Middle Ages. The author points out that with the rise of new forms of religious life in the twelfth century, there arose an occasionally heated controversy over which form of life was most appropriately called “apostolic,” for at that time there was a great desire on the part of many to live a life patterned closely on that of Jesus’ first followers. To calm the waters, a canon regular in Liege whose name has not even come down to us wrote an irenic treatise titled On the Different Orders in which he argued that all different forms, whether what we’d call Benedictines, or Cistercians, or Augustinians, or Premonstratensions, all had their rightful place in the Church and could find their rationale and justification in Scripture. All were fully within God’s providence. A corollary, of course, is that such variety is desirable, meaning that no one group should try to do everything, but rather strive to do as well as possible what makes them somewhat distinctive. This is surely advice that is true at all times, though it is also true that the way a particular group or order lives its charism in one era will differ somewhat from what was appropriate at a different time and in other circumstances. Our life here at St. Anselm’s in 2014 could not and should not be just like life at Monte Cassino when St. Benedict wrote his rule back in the sixth century. There are, however, certain basics that will perdure, and I want to dwell a bit on a few of them, especially ones highlighted by Fr. Michael Casey in a talk he gave to the general chapter of the American Cassinese Congregation last year, since published in two parts in The American Benedictine Review.
First of all, regardless of whether one uses the word “spiritual” or “mystical,” the depth dimension of monastic life is foundational. Surely none of us entered the monastery primarily to do a certain kind of work but rather because we felt drawn here by a loving God, which is only another way of putting Benedict’s phrase that a monastic community must above all make sure that a newcomer is truly seeking God. But that kind of choice is never a once-and-for-all event. As Casey writes, the genuine following of Christ comes about “not only through the initial gesture that brings us into the monastery, but all life long as we struggle in the hope of arriving at that singleness of heart in which the vision of God is less obscured. We sometimes forget this. We think of our first renunciation as complete, but we are forgetting the more interior work of purification that still needs to take place [and] … is, at least partially, dependent on our cooperation [with God’s grace].”2 That’s why Benedict includes in his Tools of Good Works such phrases as “Renounce yourself in order to follow Christ” (RB 4.10, quoting Matt 16:24) and “Your way of acting should be different from the world’s way” (RB 4.20). This, of course, is true not only on the individual level but on the community level, which is why all of us should try to be mindful of our own recently revised mission statement, which we took up as part of our discussion of charism and which captures a lot of what we, precisely as a community, intend to be.
In that connection, it is important to note that of our statement’s three “bullet points” listing principal ways of seeking God in all things, the first point is prayer. We need to make sure that our time here in church for the divine office really is a time of personal communion with God. As I said at one of our recent community meetings, our relatively slow chanting of the psalms helps in this regard, but we cannot ignore the challenge that some phrases in the psalms pose for us. As a single example, four mornings ago we chanted the verse “Have no mercy on these worthless traitors” (Ps 59:6). We can, of course, understand such “traitors” to be our own unruly thoughts, or we can just acknowledge that the psalmist’s honest expression of dislike or even hatred for certain groups is a sentiment that we can find in ourselves at times and realize that we should pray for the grace to get beyond such feelings, but in any case it is surely harder to use such a verse in prayer than those many other parts of the psalms that are more obviously in accord with Jesus’ teaching to love our enemies and pray for any who persecute us.
Because the divine office is not an exercise unrelated to the rest of our daily life, we must never forget Fr. Casey’s point that “the Office will be prayerful to the extent that it is buttressed by the traditional monastic practices of [private] prayer and lectio divina…. We do ourselves and others a disservice if we underestimate the degree of doggedness required for regular prayer…. The daily effort to [make sure that private prayer is always part of] our activities has a beneficial and even transforming effect on the quality of our lives as a whole.”3 In this respect, our entire tradition, going back to people like John Cassian and John Chrysostom, highlights the value of short prayers, lovingly and faithfully repeated, though perhaps with some variations lest the repetition become unduly monotonous. Each one of us should feel utterly free to experiment so as to find a way of private prayer suitable to himself at this particular time in his life. As Abbot John Chapman of Downside used to say, “Pray as you can and not as you can’t.” But let us never forget that “the only way to become prayerful is to pray.”3
The second bullet point of our mission statement refers to life together, in other words, to community. Although Benedict allows for the possibility of a monk’s becoming a hermit, it is quite clear from the rule as a whole (and from the end of the prologue in particular) that he expects his monks regularly to remain living in the community until death. For someone like Fr. Edmund, with his special health needs, this is not literally possible, but since he was with us for a while on Thanksgiving let me repeat what most of you have heard, even more than once: that when someone once asked Edmund what he liked best about our life, he said “the community,” and when asked what he liked least, he gave the same answer. Perhaps all of us could say the same. To live cheek by jowl with people of many different temperaments and interests and personalities will always be a challenge, in religious life no less than in civil life, but unlike those who work in stores or government offices, we can’t retreat from the workplace at 5 p.m. each day and be away from it all weekend. Here’s the way Fr. Casey deals with this point: “Benedictine monasticism is cenobitic. It envisages not a code of conduct to be followed by an individual, but a corporate way of life that will be both formative and transformative…. It is characterized by a moderation which leaves the strong with scope for generosity without being a source of discouragement for the weak (RB 64.19). Because it is moderate, its effects are realized only in the longer term; it is not necessarily a source of immediate gratification and so a certain tolerance of imperfection is needed for stability to become a reality."5 Benedict emphasizes the same point in his 72nd chapter when he writes that we are to “support with the greatest patience one another’s weaknesses of body or behavior, and earnestly compete in obedience to one another” (RB72.5-6). Such mutual obedience is certainly not a matter of monks going around giving one another orders that have to be obeyed. The phrase must surely be understood with reference to its Latin root audire, to listen, to be attentive, that is, to be sensitive to the needs of another and to respond in a way that reflects something of the love that Christ has for each one of us. There is no ready-made formula for doing this, only a call to be alert, mindful, sensitive.
Our mission statement’s third bullet point refers to the kinds of work we do. I’ve already spoken quite a while, so lengthier reflections on this can be saved for some future conference. Let me just conclude with the inspiring words with which Michael Casey closed his address to the members of the general chapter of the American Cassinese last year: “The shape of monastic living may change, but its fundamental character remains constant. It will always be a corporate form of truly seeking God in a lifestyle that is ordinary, obscure, and laborious, lived in the hope that in all things God may be glorified.”6
Abbot James Wiseman
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1 John Carroll Futrell, “Discovering the Founder’s Charism,” The Way Supplement 14 (1971):
2 Michael Casey, OCSO, “Monasticism: Present and Future: Part II,” The American Benedictine Review 65, no. 3 (2014): 299.
3 Ibid., 308.
5 Ibid., 306.
6 Ibid., 311.
- December 7, 2014
- Year B
- by Fr. Peter
A transcript is not available for this homily. Please listen here.
Fr. Peter Weigand
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- December 14, 2014
- Year B
- by Fr. Peter
A transcript is not available for this homily. Please listen here.
Fr. Philip Simo
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- December 21, 2014
- Year B
- by Fr. Gabriel
Two weeks ago I celebrated the holy day mass of Immaculate Conception at Seton High School. I stood on stage before five-hundred expectant girls. I felt like Joshua inspecting the ranks of the Israelite army. The gospel, like today, was the annunciation story, and I had prepared very carefully. But after the opening greeting, seized by inspiration, or brainless impulse, I said, “Never before have I been in a room with so many beautiful young women.” Five hundred heads turned to comment and titter; a roar swept across the room. I imagined teachers grimacing, annoyed that I had let things go out of control. I waited and began the gloria.
Thinking on my feet (usually beyond me), I realized that the opening gaffe fit my first homily point. I was speaking to girls approximately the age of Blessed Mary when the angel came, at least the freshmen. I wanted them to see the angel’s message was also meant for them, however unlikely that seems. Through his messenger, God is saying four things: you are special; I give you a task that you alone can do; it will be difficult and you will struggle; but if you persevere, you will give life to the world (in various forms), and you will find joy.
Back to the danger zone, which for me is never far away. My contemporary illustration for making these points was the slightly racy movie Stage Beauty. Set in 1660, it tells the story of Edward Kynaston, a stage-actor of pop-star celebrity. The dramatic twist is that, because Renaissance theater had male-only casts, Kynaston was played only female roles. He was famous for his Desdemona, the innocent wife killed by Othello. All London turned up to see him die. Until a young woman, Mariah Hughes, gets fed up with the artificial histrionics by which he pleads and faints away. She begins playing Desdemona in underground theaters, until Kynaston’s performance becomes a thing of the past. I hoped that Seton students would identify with Mariah, brave feminist pioneer. That they could make the connection with the Virgin Mary who also entered unexplored territory.
Today I stand before listeners who (for the most part) are not beautiful young women setting out on the adventure journey of life with glorious commissions from the Lord of hosts. Speaking for myself, I hear the annunciation story as someone old and tired and with my spring freshness behind me. If this is true for you, we are being challenged to find deeper truths, below the surface, in this story of a girl who hears and answers God’s unique call.
I wonder whether annunciation lessons may be learned from the other hero, the anti-hero, of Stage Beauty, Edward Kynaston, who must surrender center-stage to the new order. We might consider the bitterness and disorientation he feels during the transition.
He learns four things: your accomplishment is a mixture of strength and weakness; you are now losing the celebrity you once enjoyed; this will be difficult and painful; but—but what? Those who have followed the earlier stories of the Advent season will recognize parallels with the story of John the Baptist, the child of promise and desert prophet of blazing celebrity. There is something sad about his gradual fade-out, the messengers he sends to find if Jesus is the one to come, disciples leaving him to follow Jesus, and his tragically violent end. This seems a gloomy prototype for us who live past our prime.
In the movie, Mariah has trouble learning how to play a woman on stage. She tries to imitate Kynaston’s gestures. This does not work, but she determines to learn from him anyway. Finally, after some experimenting, conflict, and back-and-forth, she explodes at him. “I hate the way you let Desdemona die. No woman would die like that. She would fight!” This forces Kynaston, as partner, to strangle as if he meant it. He must leave his languishing ways and learn something new. This letting-go we must do for the next generation, if we are going to leave a positive legacy. The public enactment of this struggle by Edward and Mariah is a triumph. The audience feels terror. Mariah wins the applause, but she needs Kynaston to accomplish this. The young need the old to make their mark. The learning is mutual. The humility Kynaston needs to play Othello when he has always played Desdemona is in its quiet, unspectacular way, a triumph.
Any awkward and painful transition we accomplish in life, is, for Christians, foreshadowed and illumined by the paschal mystery—that close connection between death and resurrection. In life, the connection is always accompanied by struggle and anguish. As Mary found in Bethlehem, there is loneliness and labor as the old order gives way to the new. We find this in our own lives too.
But--there is reward. The movie conveys this in the minor character of Samuel Pepys. (He is played by the actor who is Lord Grantham on Downton Abbey.) Pepys wrote the longest, funniest, greatest diary in the English language—it has its racy moments too. During Stage Beauty, in his frock coat and long curly wig he is on the edge of many scenes scribbling away on scraps of paper. It is very annoying. Mariah finally says, “What are you doing?” “Taking notes for my diary.” “Do you enjoy that?” she asks. “I love it,” he answers. His face is radiant. “Do you enjoy your acting?” She doesn’t answer. She is not there yet. But it is certain that by effort and struggle she will arrive. She will experience the ecstasy of growing into the role that only she can fill, and by which she brings life into the world.
It is a pathetically poor imitation of the spiritual reality, this spicy, second-rate movie, Stage Beauty. But if it helps you ponder and experience the great mystery which we call incarnation, it serves its purpose. Without Mary, Christ could not leave heaven and come to earth. Without her parents becoming obsolete, she could not consent to and fulfill her role. All the world is a stage; we are the players. We must find new roles in the drama of salvation history when we outgrow our old ones.
Fr. Gabriel Myers
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- December 21, 2014
- Year B
- by Fr. Christopher
“The time is near of the crowning of the year. Make your house fair as you are able, trim the hearth, and set the table.” These words from the hymn you will sing at the end of the Mass could reflect the preoccupations of many of you with only four days left till Christmas. How many of you have finished the decorating and the gift shopping? Trying to find the right gift at the right price for the credit card can be frustrating. No wonder some may feel a sense of relief, and sometimes letdown too, when it is all over, when all the wrappings and packaging are out in the trash bin.
The commercialism of the season can draw our attention away from what the season is all about. It is not a pagan celebration of the winter solstice and worship of the sun. Four more days and we will be celebrating a birthday, a very special birthday. What do we usually do to celebrate a birthday? The parents give a party, and those invited bring gifts for the child. Do we ever say to ourselves, ‘Here I am buying gifts for family and friends while I have not thought about a gift for the Christ Child?’ It is sort of like King David saying to Nathan, “Here I am living in a house of cedar while the ark of God dwells in a tent!”
It is not that Jesus needs anything, is it? As Son of God, as creator, he owns the world and all it holds. Yet in his humanity he is poor, born in a stable. As God it is right and just that we offer him worship and praise. Paul also says we should also give him our obedience in faith. Well, what can we offer him as a man-child? He gave us an answer: “What you do to the least of my brethren, you do to me.” Our best gift to one another is compassion for the poor and the weak, both physically and morally weak. We do that concretely by generously sharing our time and resources with others. God loves the cheerful giver. Let’s not forget forgiveness of one another - a very special gift to the Lord. Why? It acknowledges the Lordship over our lives when, having something against a brother or sister, I leave my gift at the altar and go be reconciled first. Then our gift at the altar will be suiting and pleasing to God.
When we are fully aware, fully convinced of the Son of God’ self-emptying to take on our human nature, to suffer and die in order to obtain our forgiveness, then caritas Christi urget nos (the love of Christ, i.e., Christ’s love urges us on). We cannot help but want to express our love of him in return.
Mary is our model. What faith it took to believe the message of an angel. First that God had chosen her, a humble country girl, to become the mother of the long awaited Messiah of her people. Second that his conception would happen in such a way unique. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.” We can only bow before that mystery with reverence and awe. Having been assured by the angel that nothing is impossible for God, Mary consented. “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”
At the visitation her cousin Elizabeth said to her: “Blessed are you who believed that the word spoken to you would be fulfilled.” We rightly rejoice with Mary that the Lord who is mighty has done great things for her. Let’s remember we too were overshadowed by the Holy Spirit by our baptism and confirmation. In faith we can say that the Lord has done great things for us. “God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him may not die, but may have eternal life.” By adopting us as sons and daughters in his Son, and living as witnesses of that adoption, we can hope with confidence to be coheirs with him in his eternal glory.
The Word who was made flesh from Mary 2000 years ago, comes every day in the word proclaimed, in the gathering of the faithful and above all in the Eucharist. By faithfully welcoming him into our homes, i.e. our hearts and minds, we will not be fearful when he comes in glory to judge the living and the dead. To Jesus, Son of Mary and Son of God, our Redeemer, with the Father and the Holy Spirit be praise, thanksgiving, honor and glory now and forever. Amen.
Fr. Christopher Wyvill
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- December 25, 2014
- Year B
- by Abbot James
By now we are probably all getting used to the kind of surprise that Pope Francis springs from time to time, but one of the greatest was surely the one he caused on Monday of this week in his annual Christmas address to the cardinals who compose the Roman Curia, that is, the men responsible for working in such bodies as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Congregation for Bishops, or the Congregation for Divine Worship. The talk was billed as a “Christmas greeting,” but its main content was a list of fifteen ailments that Pope Francis said has infected a number of these cardinals. One of these illnesses is what he called “spiritual Alzheimer’s,” by which he meant the disease of those who have “forgotten their encounter with the Lord ... and depend completely on their passions, whims, and manias.” Another is what he termed “existential schizophrenia,” a sickness that he said “affects those who, abandoning pastoral service, limit themselves to bureaucratic work, losing contact with reality and [real] people.” A rare Christmas greeting indeed, since these annual talks have usually been filled with platitudes about the joy that should fill our hearts as we contemplate the infant Jesus lying in a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes and being visited by shepherds sent to the crib by exultant angels from on high.
I bring this up for two reasons: first, because it would be salutary for each of us to reflect on ways in which those two ailments or any of the other thirteen might infect us as well (the whole list is readily available on the Internet), and second because any speech or address at Christmastime, whether it be a papal greeting or a homily like mine, should avoid mindless platitudes and feel-good sentimentality. I certainly don’t intend to chide you the way Pope Francis chided the curial cardinals, but I do very much want to affirm a few sobering sentences that I read the other day from a prominent Catholic writer who said that “As Christians, we can gain real access to the reality and the meaning of Christmas only by starting from the cross and resurrection.... Christmas may remain the lovely feast of a gracious child, but ... [it] is the [earthly] beginning of a man who, like us, would have to die in an act that was the most profound act of his faith and obedience.... Christmas is the start of this redeeming death ... [and] not a cheerful feast to make us forget for a while the mystery of our destiny.”1
Now one way to stay mindful of our destiny is surely to reflect on one of the principal themes of Christmas, one that shows up a couple times in our readings for this Mass. The first reading, from the prophet Isaiah, says that the child born to us, whom we understand as Jesus, is one on whom dominion rests, one who confirms and sustains this dominion “by judgment and justice” and who is to be called “Prince of Peace.” This same theme of peace recurs at the very end of our Gospel reading, where the angels are said to sing praises to God in the highest and “on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” All of this, of course, foreshadows one of the Beatitudes that Jesus himself proclaimed about thirty years later in the words, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God,” and this, in turn, reminds those of us who follow the way of St. Benedict that the Benedictine motto is the Latin word Pax, meaning peace. I will comment on this in two ways, first on a more individual level, then from a societal or global perspective.
In our ordinary day-to-day life, there are many occurrences that threaten the peace that should prevail among us. Sometimes this is a matter of another’s having some object that we want for ourselves (a common cause of quarreling among children) or it might be that someone’s words or actions are seriously at odds with what we think or what we’re doing. In such instances, a peaceful resolution usually requires at least one party—ideally both—to make some concession, some sacrifice. This does not necessarily come easily, especially when one of us really is in the right and is suffering some injustice. St. Benedict, with his usual realism, was quite aware of this possibility when he wrote his monastic rule, for in its longest chapter he says that one of the steps of humility is climbed when “under difficult, unfavorable, or even unjust circumstances one’s heart quietly embraces suffering and endures it without weakening or seeking escape.... In truth, [he goes on to say,] those who are patient amid hardships and unjust treatment are fulfilling the Lord’s command [when he said], ‘When struck on one cheek they turn the other, when deprived of their coat, they offer their cloak also; when pressed into service for one mile, they go two.’ With the Apostle Paul, they bear with ‘false brothers, endure persecution, and bless those who curse them.’” Tough language, that, altogether contrary to what many people would consider common sense, but it’s an essential part of Jesus’ teaching. This does not mean that one ought never to stand up for one’s rights and seek justice, but it surely does mean that this ought not always be our first inclination, our instinctive mindset. Such discipleship absolutely requires faith in God, for only those “who are open to God and to their own fulfillment in God do not have to accept [or provoke] an all-out conflict when they are faced with the need [or possibility] of sacrifice for the sake of peace.”2
What I have just said about personal relations on a one-to-one level is also true in society at large, including international relations. A huge amount of prudence is required here, for there are absolutely times when concessions only make matters worse. Everyone understands now what Winston Churchill almost alone understood in 1938, that appeasing Hitler over Czechoslovakia was terribly misguided. Even in that case, however, taking a principled stand would not necessarily have led to armed intervention on the part of Britain and France. While there are certainly times when military force is called for, even then the traditional teaching about just war should be followed, which means among other things that war ought only be a truly last resort. I give just one example. We have all been reading in recent weeks and months about the precipitous decline in the number of Christians in the Middle East, many of them having been persecuted and killed, others having left that part of the world to avoid persecution, torture, or the very loss of their life. One can legitimately blame a group like ISIS for much of this, but if one goes back further to examine some of the more distant roots of the problem, I think we would have to agree with the Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako of Baghdad, who has accused our own country “of being ‘indirectly responsible’ for the exodus of one of the world’s most ancient Christian communities due to the chaos caused by the invasion of Iraq in 2003, for in the sectarian warfare and lawlessness that followed the outbreak of that war, Christians were often caught in the crossfire or targeted for kidnapping.”3 I am willing to accept that our leaders at the time thought they were doing the right thing, but the rush to arms in the wake of faulty intelligence has had terrible consequences in that part of the world. One of the most deplorable attempts at comedy I have ever seen was a short video made somewhat later by President Bush, to be viewed at some affair like the annual Touchdown Club banquet. In it, the president was shown crawling around the floor of the Oval Office, supposedly looking beneath and behind furniture for the weapons of mass destruction that were never found in Iraq. I hope no one laughed when that was shown at the banquet.
Where does that leave us, who are faced with far less momentous issues but are no less called to be peacemakers in our own way? Perhaps most of all it is a matter of really taking to heart a prayer that the priest says at every celebration of the Eucharist, even though the rubrics say that it is to be said quietly. As he pours a few drops of water into the chalice at the offertory, he prays: “By the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” This is a bold request, based on a tremendous promise found already in the Second Letter of St. Peter: that we are indeed called to share in the divine nature. This is why, after the incensation of the gifts at the offertory, all of us are incensed as well, in recognition of the Lord dwelling within us, for as Jesus said, “If anyone love me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come and make our abode in him.” To recognize this not only in ourselves but in others is one of the best ways to help us treat one another with the care and concern that the Lord has for each of us. To live in this way is how to celebrate Christmas best of all.
Abbot James Wiseman
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1 Karl Rahner, “Understanding Christmas,” Theological Investigations 21, trans. Joseph Donceel, S.J. and Hugh M. Riley (New York: Crossroad, 1992), 140-41.
2 Karl Rahner, “The Theological Dimension of Peace,” Theological Investigations 22, trans. Joseph Donceel, S.J. (New York: Crossroad, 1991), 41.
3Loveday Morris, “Bleak holiday for Baghdad’s Christians,” Washington Post, Dec. 23, 2014.
- December 25, 2014
- Year B
- by Fr. Michael
A transcript is not available for this homily. Please listen here.
Fr. Michael Hall
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After the warmth and joy of our celebration of the nativity of our Lord, today the church introduces another theme which will become dominant in the future proclamation of the gospel. It is especially relevant in the feast of the Holy Family which is presented to us as a model for us to follow. When the Word became flesh, he entered fully into our human condition with all its difficulties and messiness. We are brothers and sisters to the Word incarnate. And so he and his family shared in our sufferings as well as our joys.
Even as we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family, our liturgy centers on the person of Jesus and his mission.1 “For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.” The first reading from Genesis reminds us that with Abraham and Isaac –the son of the promise- the long line of heirs to the covenant begins. Jesus is the fulfillment of this line, this promise. It culminates in his person.1 The author of Hebrews in our second reading underlines the faith of Abraham in God’s plan and promise of fulfillment. This faith was shared by Mary and Joseph and is meant to be imitated by the followers of Christ. It is an absolute trust in a loving God, come what may as exemplified by Jesus’ relationship to his Father even when it led to the cross. The image of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane illustrates that faith and trust more than words can tell. From first to last, the life of Jesus was obedience to the Father. Following the Law of Moses, Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem where his manifestation as the Christ began. The prophet Malachi foretold: “Behold, I send my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts” (Mal 1:1). Christ did not come in the manner of princes or men of earthly power. The Messiah came as an infant carried in the arms of his mother. In some sense, he was enthroned by his parents at the presentation. There, he was recognized as “The Anointed of the Lord” by two elderly people symbol of all those who lived in hope of “the consolation of Israel.”2 The ordinary person saw only a poor couple with their infant son and the turtledoves, the sacrifice of the poor.
Simeon’s canticle proclaimed that the mystery of salvation was already accomplished in this child. “Now, Master, you can dismiss your servant in peace, you have fulfilled your word.” Up to then God was preparing his salvation. In this “now” all of salvation history is called to mind. “Now” salvation is given, and even the gentiles will share in it. Jesus, “light of the nations” has come to bring all peoples his salvation, a mission later taken over by the apostles.4 Until now, that is in the annunciation, the visitation, and the Annunciation to the shepherds, Jesus had only been hailed as the Messiah for Israel. Now he is also recognized as the salvation of the pagans. Luke, in his gospel and in Acts, insists on this. In Simeon’s canticle Luke shows that the salvation of the pagans was acknowledged at Jesus’ infancy by a man who was a model witness of Israel waiting for the fulfillment of the ancient prophecies.5
Simeon turned to Jesus’ parents to bless them and to give thanks to God for what God had done and will do through them. Suddenly he saw in the child before him a sign of division: he will cause the fall and rise of many in Israel; he will be a stumbling block for some. Turning to Mary, Simeon said “and you yourself a sword shall pierce.” The shadow of the cross falls over the child and his parents. The sword undoubtedly refers to Mary’s share in the trials of her son: the opposition to his mission, his rejection, his torture and death on the cross.6 Simeon said that Jesus would become “a sign to be contradicted.” Mary, the first of Jesus’ disciples (Luke 1:45) was troubled (Luke 1:29); she wondered (Luke2:33); she did not understand (Luke 2:50); and she reflected and meditated on the mystery (Luke 1:29; 2:19, 51).7
The story ends with Anna’s appearance. Recognizing in the infant Jesus the fulfillment of God’s promise, she began to sing the praises of God and began to tell of the child “to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.” When the couple had fulfilled the requirements of the Law they returned to Nazareth. A long silence of thirty years will follow. They will lead a humble and hidden life, an ordinary life to all appearances filled with the ups and downs of all family life. In the midst of this it is reported that “the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom and the favor of God was upon him.”8
The child Jesus was divine, but he was fully human also. As such he had to learn not only his letters from Mary and Joseph, but also their total dedication to God.
The feast of the Holy Family is not just about the Holy Family, but about our own families as well. Today’s liturgy centers around the person of Christ and it is with Christ in our midst that our families find their direction and fulfillment. The child placed under the care of Mary and Joseph was a mystery to them and as he grew up under their protection all they could do was to place their trust and faith in God. We must do the same.9
Like any other worthwhile project, family life, to be successful, has to be given time and energy to develop. It does not happen automatically. Love, harmony, and mutual respect, the basic ingredients of a happy family, have to be witnessed in action. Attitudes of loving and caring have a deep and lasting influence.10 Family life never runs smoothly. Today it is more difficult and trying than ever before, but it is the raw material from which we are called to sainthood. On this feast of the Holy Family we ask Jesus, Mary and Joseph to make our families pleasing to God, to make Christ the heart and center of every home in the world.11
Fr. Boniface Von Nell
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1 Days of the Lord; The Liturgical Year, Volume 1 (Collegeville, Minn., The Liturgical Press, 1991) 231.
2 Days of the Lord 232
3 Days of the Lord 233
4 Days of the Lord 233
5 Days of the Lord 234
6 Days of the Lord 234
7 Days of the Lord 235
8 Days of the Lord 235
9 Desmond Knowles, Voicing a Thought on Sunday (Dublin, Columba Press, 1991)148
10 Desmond Knowles, 148.
11 IDesmond Knowles, 149.