1.8.23 The Epiphany of the Lord: The Star

Today’s homily is for The Epiphany of the Lord, January 8, 2023, and the readings can be found by clicking here. The video of the homily is here.

During my college years I had a number of teachers, first here at MJC, and then in Humboldt, who were very antagonistic to faith. They were very vocal about their dislike of religion and sadly, I followed their views and left the Catholic Church. That lasted for over a year until one day when I got sick to my stomach, lonely–an emptiness–and I heard a voice that was not mine that said I need God back in my life. I had never been to church in Arcata, and didn’t even think to look for one, I just wanted to find Jesus and have God in my life. 

There was a girl, Stephanie Kent, who shared my major so we had lots of classes together. I had never spoken to her before but she was clearly just the most amazing person. There wasn’t an unkind bone in her body. She said things like, “Oh, scat,” or “Oh, drat,” when things went wrong–you know, just super wholesome. Her eyes were bright and clear and she just radiated life and love and goodness. I just knew there was something special about her. I thought, “I bet she’s a Christian.” After class I stopped her and just asked. I said, “Stephanie, this might be a strange question, but are you a Christian?” “Yes!” she proudly proclaimed. I asked her if I could go with her wherever she went to be Christian. “Yes! Of course!” she said, and I went with her to a Bible study where I encountered Jesus, and my life has never been the same. 

The wise men looked up and saw a sky filled with darkness, but in that darkness there was a star that outshone all the rest. Scripture says, “they were overjoyed at seeing the star.” They packed right up, followed that star, and it led them to Jesus and Mary, his mother. On Epiphany Sunday, we remember the wise men who were courageous enough to follow the star that led them to Jesus and Mary. We also remember the star itself that shone brightly in a world of darkness–something they could follow–that was Stephanie Kent for me–she was my star. And not just her, in fact. As I continued to follow Jesus, there have been a number of people who live their faith, love the lord, and shine out as examples to follow. As a boy it was my mom. We prayed each night and before meals, and went to church every Sunday. I stopped following Jesus but then in college it was first Stephanie, and then Keith Phinney and Eric Leong. After graduating it was Fr. John Fitzgerald, in Twain Harte, and especially, Fr. Manuel, at O.L.A. And I was even smart enough at one point to marry a star, and my wife, Jill, has been leading me to a holier, better life ever since.

How important it is for us to live our faith well, to be light and love in this world of darkness. You never know who is looking for a star to lead them to Jesus and Mary. So there are two take-aways here: First, we need to study and know what to look for in the night sky–a good tree bears good fruit, as Jesus said. A star that does not lead to Jesus and Mary is NOT to be followed! Don’t follow stars that lead to sin, death, and destruction– follow the star that leads to life, goodness, and truth. 

Secondly, be the star for someone else. Be a person whose words and actions, love and generosity, conviction, passion and purpose shine brightly in this world of darkness and sin. Be the bright, shining star that leads others to Jesus and Mary and salvation. Each of us must follow the star, but each of us is also called to be a star for others. Young people, are you that star at school that Stephanie Kent was for me? Parents, are you that star for your children, leading them by word and example to Jesus and Mary? Are you the person in your workplace that everyone knows is just a little bit different–do you shine a bit more than all the rest. 

The star had no idea who was looking for it, it just shined brightly. Stephanie had no idea I had an experience of God and was eagerly searching. She just shined brightly, and she helped me find Jesus. Shine brightly in this world of darkness, the savior is born, and there are still so many who are searching and need to pay him homage. 

1.1.23 The Octave Day of Christmas: An heir

Today’s homily is for The Octave Day of Christmas The Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, The Mother of God, January 1, 2023, and the readings can be found by clicking here. The video of the homily is here.

Happy New Year to all of you. I admit that I was not up until midnight to welcome in the new year, but I did have to get up at midnight to comfort my dog who is not a fan of all the explosions that go off when the clock strikes twelve! Ugh! The new year! Where did the last one go? 

Today’s second reading from St. Paul speaks to us today about who we are and what has been done for us in Christ Jesus. Today we celebrate not only the first day of 2023, but also The Octave Day of Christmas Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God. As a reminder, we are still very much in the Christmas season. Leave your tree up, wish people a Merry Christmas, and if it pleases you, keep giving gifts to those you love. The U.S. Bishops remind us that Christmas ends with the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord, which this year falls on Monday, January 9th–but I digress. 

St. Paul teaches us that with the birth of Jesus we have been ransomed by God! We are no longer slaves to sin and death! Our debt has been paid in full by our merciful God, in the fullness of time, born of a woman to ransom those under the law by making us adopted children of God. That’s what Christmas is all about. In Jesus we are made right with God, we cry out “Abba, Father!” and are no longer a slave, but a son or daughter, an heir to the riches, the freedom, and the power of children of God. Christmas is about freedom and receiving our inheritance. Say this with me, “In Jesus, I am free!” 

Why, if we are free, if we are no longer slaves, if we have the Spirit and the power of God within us, are we still living as those who are a slave to sin, a slave to vice, a slave to selfishness and greed? That’s a problem isn’t it? Jesus set us free, but too often we don’t live as free people. It reminds me of a Chuck Norris movie I watched, where after he had broken out of his bamboo jail cell, he went down the line opening up the cages of the other prisoners of war. He threw open their cage and said, “Go! You’re free!” but they didn’t go anywhere. They just sat in their cell, weak and afraid. They had been prisoners for so long, they had forgotten how to be free! They were skinny, weak, and bent over out of years of confinement. 

That’s what sin does to us, it makes us skinny, and weak, and bent over in shame, and many of us—who have indeed been set free—remain in our cell, afraid, and holding onto our knees–even with the door wide open. What a pathetic and sad sight. Christmas isn’t about a birthday cake with 2,000 candles. Christmas is a reminder that we are free. It’s about a new beginning. A new opportunity that has been afforded to the children of God, which is who we are. It’s about the most powerful force in the whole universe coming alive in us so that we cry out to God, our Father. It’s about standing tall as a son and daughter of God and resolving from this day forward to live differently, to love differently, and to never go back into the slavery of self-ishness. 

The antidote to selfishness, sin, and death is Jesus, our brother. The path out of the prison cell that kept us broken and bent over, is prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. These must be our resolutions as we start the new year. Join me in changing the way we pray. Join me in changing the way we consume. Join me in being more generous towards others who are in need. Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are the tools that draw us out of the slavery of self-ishness to be the child of God who is self-less. 

My challenge is quite simple, let’s get out of the cage this year. Let’s be free this year. Pray more, deny ourselves more, and give more. Not with New Year’s resolutions that quickly fade, but changes that radically transform our life. Prayer, fasting, almsgiving. However much we pray, pray more. However disciplined we are, fast more. However much we give, give more, and live as a child of God. I’ll let you work out the details