The Feast of the Holy Family 2021

Today’s homily is for The Feast of the Holy Family, Dec. 26, 2021, and the readings can be found by clicking here. The video can be viewed by clicking here, and the audio mp3. can be found here.

A very merry Christmas to each of you. At the Christmas vigil, I reminded everyone that Christmas isn’t about presents and candy canes and Christmas trees, but about God, out of immense love, visiting his people, reconciling them, healing them, and saving them. Christmas is about a new beginning for us, that has its end in sainthood. You and I are called to be Saints of the Church–don’t give up that goal. Today’s Gospel gives us the instructions on how to make it so. It begins with the Holy Family–our model and example of holiness in just three steps. 

The Gospel tells us “Each year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, according to the festival custom.” If we want to be a holy family we need to get onboard with the Church’s calendar, and make the church, it’s celebrations, its festas, its holy days, a part of our calendar. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph–all of them–made God and their religious traditions first in their life. We should too…CCD, Wednesday Mass, RCIA, the Assumption Festa, the Knights of Columbus Fish Fry, Vacation Bible School, Reconciliation, ARMEE, Guest Speakers, and more. These are the communities’ gatherings. We should be there. Make them first in our life. Make God’s people a priority. 

Secondly, make it a family affair. You noticed that when Jesus was not found, Mary and Joseph “looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances,” and only then returned to Jerusalem. It wasn’t just the Holy Family that went to Jerusalem, all of them went to Jerusalem! Aunts, uncles, cousins, extended family and friends. My wife and kids get ready, we go to church, but I often don’t encourage enough or invite others to join us, and I should. I need to make it a point to extend beyond my immediate family to invite relatives and acquaintances to Mass, Fish Frys, and celebrations. They can come or not come–that’s up to them–but shouldn’t we at the very least invite or encourage them to join us?

Finally, it’s okay, as we search for Jesus throughout our lives not to understand everything. Mary and Joseph were looking for Jesus with great anxiety, nd when they found him he just says, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” I mean, you know, eeesh. Relax. Haha. Mary probably wanted to ring his holy little neck. But the scriptures say, “They did not understand what he said to them…and his mother kept all these things in her heart.” The truth is that as we also seek Jesus in our life, not everything is going to make sense all the time. And that’s okay. When we are confused, anxious, and afraid, we continue to look for our Lord, hear his words, and ponder them in our heart. 

Quoting St. Athanasius, the Catechism teaches in paragraph 460, “The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods.” That’s what Christmas is all about–but it doesn’t just happen. We commit ourselves to the community of faith and make its celebrations first place on our calendar. We not only make God first place, we evangelize family and friends–and share this good news of salvation with others. And finally, it doesn’t all have to make sense all the time. We serve a God of inexhaustible mysteries. We will not always have all the answers, but we need to always seek the lord and ponder the Lord’s words in our heart. 

That’s the path to holiness and sainthood: make God first, invite others, and let the words of our Lord marinate in our heart–what an exciting thing when they make it up to our head…when things make sense, but they won’t always, and that’s okay. Remain faithful to God as you advance in wisdom and age. Merry Christmas.

The Nativity 2021: Among the Saints

Today’s homily is for the Nativity of the Lord Vigil Mass, Dec. 24, 2021, and the readings can be found by clicking here, the video by clicking here, and the audio by clicking here.

One thousand nine hundred thirty six years ago the author of the Gospel according to Matthew, sat down and wrote down the names of real people. People like you and me, regular folks, called to respond to God’s call, in their ordinary circumstances, often in very ordinary ways. What St. Matthew did in his day, was reach back into his people’s history to recognize men and women of faith. Abraham, the father of faith, Isaac and Jacob, and Rahab, Ruth, David, Solomon, Amminadab, and the list goes on–from Abraham right down to the Christ. 

Forty-six names are mentioned that stretch back forty two generations–approximately 2,100 years. Those forty six people were known to St. Matthew by name. No computers. No databases. No microfiche. Remembered from one generation to the next because of the holiness of their lives, their commitment to faith–not their perfection or sinlessness–but their willingness to give their life to God for his purposes–right down to Mary and Joseph whose faith and obedience gave us the Savior of the world–born in a manger in Bethlehem this very night. 

That’s the power of faith. That’s what God can do with our “yes” to life, with our “yes” to love, with our “yes” to him. Christmas matters. Not only because we remember the infant Jesus born in a manger, but because we remember and we are renewed in faith. We remember, and are mindful that our Lord wants to be born in the manger of our heart. Our Lord’s birth in Bethlehem of Judea counts for nothing, if the king of peace is not born into our family situation. Christmas and candy canes mean nothing if the Lord of Lords is not Lord of our life. 

One thousand nine hundred thirty six years ago Matthew remembered men and women of faith who brought us the savior, and our Church remembers those men and women of faith who have come since then. We hear during the Eucharistic prayers the names of the Saints of the Church who gave every earthly treasure and often their life for our Lord. They wanted only one thing…for Jesus to be born in their village, in their town, in the heart’s of those whom they love. On this eve of Christmas, we ask ourselves, do we have that same want? I know we want presents, and I know we want candy canes, and I know we want two helpings of pumpkin pie…wait, that’s me. We have all these wants–is Jesus and a life of holiness one of them? 

My question for parents is, are we raising saints? Have we prayed that our children would one day be named among the Saints of the Church. We want our children to do well in school, to go to college and get a good job, maybe even to be a professional athlete–but more than this, how holiness, sainthood, and eternal life? It starts tonight. 

And for my young saints out there…Is that your desire? To be saints? Do you say your prayers each night? Do you look forward to coming to Mass and look for opportunities to help out around the house? Do you use kind words and say sorry when you’ve done wrong? It starts tonight. 

Jesus came into the world 2,000 years ago, not so that we would have trees and stockings and candy canes (although those things are okay). Jesus was born into a manger in Bethlehem so that we could become Saints. That’s it. That has to be the number one goal of our life. St. Mary Mazzarello, a Salesian Sister of St. John Bosco said, “Make up your mind to become a saint,” and she followed that advice, and she is. St. Therese of Lisieux said, “You cannot be half a saint. You must be a whole saint or no saint at all.” Choose to be a saint.

And that is what this night is all about. This silent night, this holy night. This is the night that God showed his great love for the world by becoming one of us, so that we can be like him, and live with him, forever. And that’s a Saint. And we can, if we allow Jesus to be born in our heart. And just think, wouldn’t it be something if 2,000 years from now, if our names were counted among the names of the Saints of the Church. That would be the best gift of all. Merry Christmas.

4th S. of Advent 2021: The Visitation

Today’s homily is for the 4th Sunday of Advent, Dec. 19, 2021, and the readings can be found by clicking here. The video can be viewed by clicking here.

Last week we heard that the secret to the joy and happiness that we desire, and that God desires for us, is to remember that our God is near, to be steadfast in prayer, to have an attitude of gratitude, and to be irresponsibly generous! Today we see the value of a visit. On this 4th Sunday of Advent we see Mary visiting her cousin, Elizabeth. 

I think the greatest struggle for me during this COVID pandemic has been the absence of family gatherings. I had to visit my mom through her screen window–like I was going to confession! Church’s were empty for over a year, Baptisms with only parents and godparents, weddings with no more than fifty people, funerals with only immediate family, and the death of loved ones with no one at their side as they passed to the Lord. Thanksgiving meals canceled, Christmas gatherings canceled, families divided, we couldn’t wait for Church doors to open again, and today’s Gospel speaks to us about why it has been so difficult–we are not made to be apart, but for each other, together–and to be apart, while necessary at times out of love, and safety, and obedience–is nevertheless, inconsistent with God’s will for us in our life. Love reveals itself. Hard to do while quarantined!

The letter to the Hebrews teaches us that sacrifice and offerings–personal piety, while good for us to grow in holiness, is not, ultimately, what God desires for us. No, we hear, “a body you prepared for me…behold, I come to do your will.” This body is God’s wonderful gift to us, and with it we do God’s will. With this body I can give a thumbs up, a fist bump, a wink, a smile, a hug, a hand, a hug or a kiss. All of these positive actions reveal the soul’s goodness and it’s unity with the Lord, and I share God’s love with others. That’s what we miss during COVID shutdowns. We weren’t aren’t able to love and do God’s will with this body he has prepared for us. It’s difficult for us because we want to love in this way.

As soon as I looked at this Gospel reading, I thought, that’s it. That’s what we’ve been missing. We’re missing The Visitation in our life. Mary travels to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Just as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s voice, the child in her womb leaped for joy! John the Baptist dancing for joy in Elizabeth’s womb, at the presence of Mary and the Lord Jesus, in her own womb. How important it is to visit. How difficult a journey this has been, and I’m saddened greatly that we are once again seeing an increase in COVID infections. It’s spreading again like crazy. At my own school site we had almost a month without a positive case, now ours and other sites have a positive case every day and hospitals are once again filling up. 

We are closing back up again, requiring masking indoors and canceling large gatherings again, and my prayer is that COVID spread is kept low enough to keep us in-doors and keep us in Church. To be apart is not of God. The incarnation is proof that God, who is love, wants to be with his people, and wants his people to be with each other. We were made to love, and love must be revealed, and that’s why this pandemic and its effects hurt so much. It is causing us to feel the loss of love, joy, and life that comes from a Visitation. My brothers and sisters, make no mistake, this is our generation’s cross to bear. And we mustn’t forget that the cross is an act of love too. This mask is my cross for sure, but I carry it out of love for others. It’s not easy. And does not bring joy–but that’s why it’s called a cross. 

St. Teresa of Avila said, “When we are overcome by sadness, fear, or suffering; when the pains of loss overwhelm us; when evil seems to have taken power; let us look to the cross and be filled with peace, knowing that Christ has walked this road and walks it now with us.” The Visitation helps us understand our pain, and gives us good reason to hope, and to pray, and to pick up our cross and find creative and safe ways to visit; to love, even during this pandemic. May your Christmas visitations be joyful, and safe, and life-giving. Amen.