TEXT: The Epiphany of the Lord, January 7, 2018

Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord

January 7, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

Today we celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord,

or the “manifestation” of the Lord;

the day the Lord Jesus Christ, showed Himself to the world for the first time.

The day when the 3 magi from the East,

after traveling over a 1000 miles following a star,

searching for the Christ,

found Him and fell at His feet to pay Him homage.

 

Who were these strangers from the East?

The custom and historical evidence seems to point toward

a class of well-educated pagan priests from Persia, and perhaps Arabia.

These men were well versed in the teachings and Holy books of the Jews,

as well the study of the stars

…sort of 1 part superstitious astrology, 1 part scientific astronomy.

So when they saw the new and magnificently bright star in the heavens,

they probably connected it to the old Testament prophesy

in the book of Numbers:

“A star shall rise out of Jacob

and a scepter shall spring up from Israel”

…and set out to investigate, hoping to find the Messiah

the Jews so often spoke about.

 

They were truly wise men, searching for the truth,

searching for the truth about God, searching for the Christ.

But they were only doing what men have been doing since the creation,

—whether they knew it or not, mankind has always searched for a God

who would save them the difficulties and sorrows of the world,

from their own deprivations and failures,

from meaningless and loveless existence,

from their own sins, and the sins of the world they lived in.

These three men from “the East” searched and found Him,

in Bethlehem, and His name was Jesus.

 

Over the centuries billions of others would continue

the searched for their Savior God.

Some would find Him–some would not.

Some who found Him would embrace Him—some would reject Him.

Some who embraced Him would follow Him to heaven

—some would abandon Him for hell.

 

One man who tried to find Him was another man from the East

—coming from the same area

that some say at least one of the magi came: Arabia

–but born about 570 years later than Christ.

His name was Muhammad.

He was a camel trader who became a wealthy business man,

but he was also given to long hours of prayer and fasting.

Like the 3 magi he was also searching for God,

sickened with the multiplicity of false gods worshipped by his people.

In his search he became acquainted and attracted to

the teachings of the Jews and Christians,

and came to believe in their God.

Unfortunately, he didn’t understand their teachings very well,

and so he wound up rejecting Judaism and Christianity as incomplete,

relegating Jesus to the status of a great and holy prophet.

 

____

The 3 magi found Jesus lying in a food trough for animals,

born of a people who had spent the last 550 years

in subjugation to foreign kings.

How easy it would have been to reject him

—but instead, as Matthew tells us:

They prostrated themselves and did him homage.

Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts

of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”

In this they showed that they were not only men of learning

—but also men of wisdom, God’s wisdom

and so it is fitting to call them, as we often do,

the 3 Wise Men of the East.

 

__

Unfortunately for the Arab born 570 years later,

he was not as wise a man as Melchior, Gaspar, and Balthazar:

he found Jesus, but did not prostrate himself.

We may never know why:

perhaps the faith was not explained to him very well,

perhaps he never had a true opportunity to see Jesus as He really was.

In any case, filled with great zeal and desire to see the Lord,

recognizing Him in the religion of Christians and Jews

but unable to accept Him, he founded a new religion, Islam,

based on some of the basic tenets of Catholicism,

but rejecting the most important: Jesus himself.

 

______

1400 years later, we live in a world

where 2.3 billion people have come to accept Christ,

at least nominally, as their Savior.

But 5 billion others do not accept him.

The epiphany of Christ to the world, though partly successful,

seems to have failed.

But it hasn’t really.

Because the Epiphany of the 3 magi was just the beginning

of Christ’s manifestation of Himself to the world.

He continued that manifestation as he traveled around Judea preaching.

And He ordered His apostles to continue it even after He ascended into heaven

commanding them:

“go forth and teach all nations, baptizing them,

in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”

And it continues today, as He tells us to do the same.

 

There’s a lot of talk today about the good and bad attributes of Islam,

and need to the respect Muslims.

And much of this is very important.

But I hear very few people talk about Muslims as being in need of conversion.

Now, I don’t expect politicians to talk that way, that’s not their business.

But I don’t hear much from churchmen about this either

—whether it’s the bishops and priests, or people like you

—no one seems to even think about it.

 

Why is that?

Islam is not a religion equal in status to Christianity

first and foremost because it lacks the one essential thing

necessary for salvation: JESUS!

Now, don’t misunderstand me:

the Church teaches that though it seems very difficult,

it’s possible for anyone to go to heaven

—Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindi, pagan, secularist—

as long as they sincerely seek the truth about God,

and earnestly try to live according to the truth.

But that doesn’t mean all religions are the same

—or that salvation is found IN Islam.

Salvation comes from Jesus, and Jesus alone.

 

 _____

Is it fair to assume that just because someone might be able to go to heaven

without really knowing Jesus,

that we can leave them in their ignorance.

It’s hard to be a good person,

hard to figure out what’s good and bad, right and wrong,

even when you do know about Jesus and the things He taught.

Can we really leave people on their own to figure it out with nothing more than

a “good luck” and “I’ll pray for you.”

And why would you deprive them of the gift of knowing

Jesus’ love and peace and His grace, and loving Him back.

 

No, we’re obliged to go out and teach all nations, and baptize them.

It’s not a choice on our part, it’s a command on Jesus’ part.

If we love them, and if we respect them, we will introduce them to the Gospel.

 

__

Now, I’ve been speaking about Muslims and Islam.

But that’s really just a not so clever way of saying everyone has to be converted,

even those who seem most unlikely.

That’s exactly what God did in Bethlehem

—He invited the magi from a thousand miles away in Persia and Arabia

—people who would in no way be expected to come

to worship the “King of the Jews.”

And today He holds them out to us to tell us that

that He came to save, literally, the whole world.

 

__

In the days of Jesus’ birth, God put a bright new light–like a star–in the sky.

The star was real, but it also symbolized the fact that

Christ is the true light that entered the world on that first Christmas.

That light shines today brightly in the Church he founded,

which is the Catholic Church.

And that light must shine brightly in you and me,

because Christ entered our lives in our baptism.

We can hide that light under a basket, or we can hold it up high,

like a beacon—or a star—bringing in all those who are searching

for the truth, about God and themselves.

 

Each of us is called to do this in their own way in their own life.

I am called to do it primarily in the pulpit, lectors and the confessional.

But you have to do it in your offices, businesses, playing-fields, schools

and your homes.

And you have to spread it to everyone:

–the atheists or secularists who have no faith

–those of other faiths, like the Muslims.

–and to Jews, and also to the Protestants, who have faith,

but not all of the truth.

 

And you have to spread it to Catholics too

—too many Catholics wouldn’t recognize Jesus if He walked in here today

and laid Himself down in the manger or climbed up on that Cross.

Or if they do recognize Him they spend absolutely no time

prostrate in adoration before Him.

You have to help them to know Him

—talk to them, give them books, pray with them, bring them to Mass,

or to adoration.

 

And even before that, we have to make sure that we recognize Christ

—and that we pay Him homage and worship Him as we should.

To be like the magi, giving Him all the gifts we have,

laying them at His feet every day,

eager to do His will, to follow Him wherever He leads us.

 

______

Since creation man has searched for God

in the darkest days of an evil and cruel world.

2000 years ago 3 magi from the East

followed the bright light of a star shining in the sky

and found Him lying in manger in Bethlehem.

For 2000 years since then billions of people have found Him

not lying in a manger,

but lying in the heart of his Church

—the light of Christ still shining as it did in that ancient star.

But for 2000 years, billions of other people have also rejected Christ,

and billions have never even known him.

Whether it was that Arabian businessman 1400 years ago

who misunderstood the teachings He found,

or the Arab-American businessman down the block.

Whether it’s the “born again” protestant, who lives next door,

or your fallen away Catholic sister.

All search for him, whether they know it or not.

And all can find Him if we invite them and show them the way,

in the bright shining light of Jesus Christ.

TEXT: Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, January 1, 2018

Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

January 1, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

 

Tonight/today we celebrate what is usually called

the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God.

It is very fitting that we do so

as we come to the close of the Octave of Christmas,

as well as the beginning of a New Year,

since the Blessed Mother is a big part of both:

she’s right at the center of the events of Christmas,

and she should be right at the center of events

in the New Year, at least for Catholics.

 

But to celebrate this feast properly

I’d like us to focus tonight on alternative title of this feast

used in many official sources:

the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God.

The mystery we celebrate is that Mary is both Mother and Virgin,

and how these together give her a unique relationship with God and us.

 

____

For centuries January 1, used to be celebrated as

the “Feast of the Circumcision of the Lord,”

and still is in the Extraordinary Form of the Mass

—the Traditional Latin Mass.

But in 1974 Pope Paul VI changed it

saying that he wanted to re-emphasize Mary’s role

in the mystery of the birth of the Lord and our salvation.

While the whole Church was pleased to have this new feast of Mary,

I can only imagine that there were sighs of relief

in the rectories of the world:

the Circumcision is NOT the easiest mystery to preach about.

 

…. And yet, I’m going to try to now, for a moment,

because I think there’s something in the old feast

that helps us understand the new feast.

 

_____

Circumcision, as a Jewish ritual, dates back to Abraham,

the father of the Jewish faith.

It was demanded of him and all his male descendants as a sign

that they had accepted the covenant with God

—what we would come to call the Old Covenant.

Essentially, it was symbolic of sacrifice to the Lord.

You see, ancient peoples understood blood to be the source of life,

or at least to be symbolic of the person’s life

—after all, without blood you die.

So blood sacrifice

—whether the sacrifice of a Passover lamb, or the circumcisions of males—

became a symbol in Jewish law,

of giving one’s very life to God—one’s whole being.

And this is what it meant to enter the covenant:

God gave himself to you, and you gave yourself to God.

 

So we see how in Jesus’ circumcision he is symbolically offered to his Father,

and enters into the new Covenant as man.

Now, of course, as God, Jesus doesn’t need to do this:

He is in a perfect and eternal Covenant with His Father.

But as man He must do this: standing in for all mankind,

He must continuously give Himself to the Father,

in loving obedience giving Himself even unto death.

This self-gift, this self-sacrifice, of His entire life,

is brought to fulfillment on the Cross,

His ultimate and perfect “yes” to the Father.

But it, begins, at least symbolically and ritually, at His circumcision.

 

____

Now, what does this have to do with the Virgin Mother?

Think of this: she is a mere mortal human being

–yes, the greatest mere human being ever to walk the earth,

but still a mere creature.

As the Psalms say:

“O LORD, what is man that you …think of him?

Man is like a breath, his days are like a passing shadow.”

And yet Mary becomes the Mother of the Eternal Most High God.

It’s sort of mind boggling, but true.

What a testimony not only to the dignity of this woman

but to the dignity of mankind in general,

that we have the capacity and dignity to receive our Creator.

 

But it also says something specific about

the dignity of women, and motherhood.

Because the Eternal Son of God does not just come to mankind,

but comes to us in the womb, body and life of His mother.

What a magnificent quality of women, the capacity for motherhood,

to receive and bear and to nurse and raise her Creator and Savior.

 

___

But this motherhood is not something passive:

it requires a total active commitment to the task at hand.

This is true for any mother,

but for the Blessed Mother it’s true in an even more profound way:

just on a natural level we can imagine the huge responsibility

she would feel and fulfill in raising the Savior of the world.

So that her “yes” to the angel Gabriel was a “yes”

to give her whole life over to God and to his will,

so that she would be open, available and immediately responsive

to whatever he asked of her:

“let it be done to me according to your word.”

 

And here we find the correlation to the Circumcision:

because in her “yes” to the angel,

and her acceptance of the tiny baby in her womb,

she sacrificed herself, gave herself,

her whole life, literally bodily and spiritually,

to God.

 

In a certain way we see this self-gift, this sacrifice, to our creator

every time a mother says “yes” to the gift of a child in her womb.

But Mary’s “yes” takes this natural “yes” to the creator,

and magnifies it with her pure and grace-filled “yes”

to be the mother of the creator himself.

 

Amazing.

_

But in Mary this dignity and mystery of self-sacrifice,

takes on an even richer meaning.

Because it is a dogma of the Church,

revealed in Scripture and held constantly in the Sacred Tradition,

that the Mother of God is also the EverVirgin Mother.

And by this we believe, dogmatically,

that Mary was and is a virgin, as we say,

ante-partu, in partu, and post-partu:

that is, before the birth of Jesus,

during His birth,

and after His birth,

and always.

 

__

Now, some say that somehow this demeans her marriage to St. Joseph,

or says that there’s something wrong with marriage, or marital relations.

 

Not at all.

The thing is, just as motherhood is a self-gift to God and to the child,

the marital act is an expression of total self-gift to one’s spouse.

But for those who consecrate themselves to virginity for the love of the kingdom,

they also give themselves completely:

a consecrated virgin gives herself, body and soul,

not to a human spouse but to God.

It’s truly a sacrificial gift, a total self-gift.

And one never offers God a sacrifice or a gift that is not good,

Scripture is very clear on this.

Which means the sacrifices involved in virginity,

including the giving up of marital relations,

is the offering up of a good thing.

 

So, “normal” brides—all those but Mary–are not demeaned by Mary’s virginity,

but rather the opposite is true:

consecrated virginity shows the dignity and worth of bodily self-gift:

if it is good to offer one’s body up to God as a gift,

what a beautiful and holy thing it is to give to one’s spouse.

 

And her Marriage to St. Joseph is also not demeaned:

St. Joseph joins her in giving himself to God completely in virginity,

so that together they are even more perfectly united in marriage

by their unique mutual total self-gift to God.

And their union with God, especially with their baby Jesus, God the Son,

makes them closer and more intimate with each other

than any other mere physical act could begin to do or express

—as good as it might be.

 

____

But something else is revealed here as well:

her virginal self-gift to God makes possible

her unique vocation as Mother of God:

only by giving herself to God completely

can she then become Mother of His Son.

And through the union of Virginal and Maternal self-gift in Mary

we see the self-gift of God himself enter the world,

as the human Baby Jesus.

Again, this self-sacrifice of Jesus is symbolized by his Circumcision,

but it began in His incarnation in his mother’s womb,

was revealed at Christmas,

and completed on the Cross.

 

But notice what precedes it: Mary’s virginal and maternal sacrifice

at the Annunciation and Christmas.

And notice what accompanies it in its completion:

Mary standing at the foot of the Cross,

sharing in his sacrifice, as Simeon once prophesied she would:

“and a sword will pierce your own heart as well.”

So that in the Cross, Mary’s own sacrifice, her self-gift to God, is perfected

by being united to the sacrificial life and death of her Divine Son.

 

___

But remember that the Cross is a sort of 2-pronged sacrifice for Christ:

He gave Himself to the Father, but for us,

and so, in way, we can say

he gave himself both to the Father and to us.

And then remember what happened as he did this:

on the Cross, He took Mary’s Virginal-Maternal gift of herself to God

and looks down and gives that gift to us:

“woman behold your son…son behold your mother.”

So that as Virgin Mother of God, she becomes Virgin Mother of the Church,

and Virgin Mother of each one of us.

Like her Son, she gives herself to God, and to us.

 

____

Personally, I’m delighted we celebrate this day

as the feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God.

But lest we forget, this virginal motherhood has no meaning at all without Christ

and His self-gift, His sacrifice,

manifested in the Incarnation, Christmas and the Cross

—and in His Circumcision.

But, in the light of His Sacrifice,

the Virginal-Maternal self-gift of Mary is lifted up into the glory of heaven,

and reveals the dignity of

humanity, womanhood, motherhood and virginity.

And becomes a font of blessing for all of us, her children in Christ Jesus.

TEXT: Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, December 31, 2017

Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph

December 31, 2017

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

This last Wednesday, of course, we celebrated the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The day when, in the fullness of time, the eternal God became one of us.

But His birth didn’t occur in a vacuum.

He didn’t just arrive on a cloud fully grown and ready to preach his gospel:

no, He chose to be born into a human family,

and so today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family

of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

 

On Christmas, at Masses during the day, we read

the beginning of the Gospel of St. John:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,

and the Word was God.”

Inspired by the Holy Spirit, St. John chose these words very carefully.

Notice how they parallel the text of

the first words of the first chapter of the first book of the bible, Genesis:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

This is no accident:

St. John’s telling us that Jesus is the Incarnate eternal Word of God

who was there in the beginning and is the source of all creation.

So Genesis tells us that on each of the six days of creation,

God creates by simple speaking the word: for example:

“God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.”

As St. John tells us:

“The word was God … in the beginning…

all things came to be through Him”.

 

What St. John is telling us is that Jesus, the Word of God,

communicates and reveals God to us,

          He is God explaining Himself and His love to us.

And because creation comes about by the word of command of God,

everything created by God through the Word tells us about Him.

 

We see this most especially on the sixth day of creation:

“…God created man in His own image…. male and female He created them.

And God blessed them, and God said to them,

“Be fruitful and multiply.””

God chose, as the culmination of his revelation in creation

          to reveal Himself in the family:

in the union of male and female created in His own image

and blessed with the gift to “be fruitful and multiply”

–to have children.

 

This self-revelation of God is made through every family throughout history.

But in the fullness of time it’s made most perfectly and sublimely

through one family in particular.

St. John tells us:

“the word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.”

— He made His dwelling among us in the family of Joseph and Mary:

the Holy Family.

 

So we can see that right from the beginning of Creation,

and right from the beginning of our salvation—our re-creation in Christ—

the family is God’s chosen instrument

to reveal himself to the world.

And so it’s not a great surprise that as we look around us and see a world

evermore plagued by crises of violence, hatred, and general moral chaos,

we also find the family to be in the middle of a crisis of its own.

But in a sense, it’s not really a crisis of its own,

since it’s intimately related to the other crises in the world:

because to the extent God is not revealed in and by the family,

God will not be revealed to the world.

To the extent the family isn’t allowed

to be all that it was created to be in Jesus Christ,

neither can the world become all that it was created to be.

 

Before we can worry about solving world crises, we need to start at home,

with our families.

And as we start at home we need to start, “in the beginning”,

and understand what it is that God has created us to be.

We need to ask ourselves, what does it mean to be a family in Christ?

 

Today’s readings give us many practical and simple, yet profound,

instructions on family life.

For example, the first reading reminds us of the practical and spiritual need

for children to honor their parents,

both when they’re young and when they’re old.

And today’s second reading continues and broadens this instruction

to apply to all the members of the family.

 

There is of course a line in this reading from Colossians

that tends to upset some wives somewhat:

“Wives, be subordinate to your husbands.”

But to understand this phrase

we have to look at the whole context of the passage.

Before he tells wives to be subordinate to husbands

he first lays out the general rule that everyone must, as he says:

“Put on…heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility,

gentleness, and patience,

bearing with one another and forgiving one another…

And over all these put on love

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly….

do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.”

 

What Paul does here in this passage from Colossians,

is the same thing he does in an almost identical passage

in his letter to the Ephesians.

In Ephesians, before he tells wives to be submissive to their husbands,

he sets the context; he says,

“Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

 

Paul’s teaching isn’t that wives are slaves,

but that the Christian life is one of love

expressed in humility and service.

All Christians must be subordinate, or humble servants, to one another,

and it’s only in true Christian humility that each member of the family

can be everything God created them to be

–whether they’re husbands and wives, or parents and children.

 

___

It may be hard for us to imagine a perfect family

–one that’s always truly mutually humble and submissive.

But there is one family that we can look to for example:

the Holy Family.

This is the family that lives mutual subordination, or mutual humble service,

most perfectly,

and so was the most sublimely happy and holy family ever

–the family who became exactly what God had created it to be.

The Gospels tell us that the Husband and Father Joseph

subordinates himself to his wife and son

by first taking them into his home when he finds Mary pregnant,

and then also as he sacrifices his work and life in Nazareth

to protect Mary and Jesus as he takes them to Egypt

to escape the slaughter of the Holy Innocents by King Herod.

The Mother Mary subordinates herself to her son, Jesus,

by freely agreeing first of all to accept him into her womb,

and also to take on the awesome responsibility

of raising and educating the Savior of the world.

The Wife Mary subordinates herself to her Husband Joseph

by following him into Egypt,

and caring for him as her husband.

And even the son Jesus–the sovereign Lord and Creator of all the Universe

–even he subordinates himself to his parents,

as we read in Luke’s Gospel:

“He went down with them….to Nazareth,

and was obedient to them.”

 

___

This is the humility and love that all families are created for and called to,

and it is the humility and love

that the whole world is created for and called to.

And it’s in this humility and love within the family

that God humbled Himself to enter into, in order to save the whole world.

 

Imagine how our family lives would be different if the members of our families would simply learn to humbly subordinate ourselves to one another.

Imagine, if fathers and mothers saw themselves as servants of their children.

Not giving up your role as parents, Moms and Dads,

but seeing your fatherhood and motherhood

as being geared not for your pleasure or happiness,

but for your children’s true well-being.

And that includes the times you’d rather just let your kids do whatever they want,

because then they’d like you a lot more,

or even when you’re just worn out and don’t want to fight them anymore.

But you know that what they really need is for you to serve them

by being the GROWN-UP and saying no, or disciplining them,

by being willing to fight for what’s good for them.

Again, not because it makes you feel good, but because it’s what they need.

On the other hand, it means not punishing them or denying them something

simply because you’re being stubborn, or selfish,

or trying to make them into little “mini-Me’s” in your own image.

As St. Paul tells fathers:    “Fathers, do not provoke your children.”
But kids, all this applies to you too.

The commandment is clear: “honor you mother and father.”

And St. Paul is clear: “Children, obey your parents in everything.”

That doesn’t mean that if they’re really hurting you,

or neglecting you that you have to simply take it;

as I noted before St. Paul commands fathers:

“do not provoke your children!”

But it does mean that in all things, whether you’re a 3-year-old kid,

or a 70-year-old kid,

you have to first ask, “how am I serving my parents in this?”

 

And how wonderful marriages would be,

if husbands and wives lived to serve each other.

If wives truly respected their husbands, and began everyday thinking

“how can I serve him today.”

And if husbands truly laid down their lives,

as Christ who was KING of the universe,

                    and yet came not to be served, but to SERVE,

                   and laid down his life for his bride, the Church.

Imagine, in particular,

all the little stupid things that you argue over or neglect to do

that would simply vanish, if you would both just keep the attitude of that

“I am here to serve you, because I love you.”

 

____

Now, we know that not all families are blessed

with the many graces of the Holy Family

–many families may not even have a mother or father, or a child.

Sometimes this is by God’s intentional and unfathomable will,

and sometimes this is because of somebody’s sin:

because of the lack of love and humility

on the part of individual family members,

either in the present generation, or in generation’s past.

But this is no reason to give up on, or lose sight of the meaning of family,

and strive to live it as completely as we can.

Nor is it a reason to try think that the “traditional” family

is outdated, or impractical,

or that it can be changed by decree of merely human authority

–that, for example a family can, on its own,

opt out of having a father or children,

or can include 2 men or 2 women who live together

as some in the world are trying to make us believe.

 

Because as long as all things are created in and for Christ,

the family must be what He created it to be.

Even the Holy Family suffered adversity:

the child was born in the poverty of a barn,

Joseph died years before Jesus began his public ministry,

and Mary was left completely alone

when members of her own people killed her son.

But in and through their adversity, they continued to love and honor each other,

and in doing so become an instruction for us all,

an instrument of the revelation of God’s love to the world.

 

___

It’s not easy to be a family nowadays.

But it wouldn’t have been easy for Jesus, Mary and Joseph either,

had they not submitted their lives to one another, and to God, in love.

If our families submit to one another, and center their lives on Christ

we’ll find the happiness and peace of God Himself

revealed and made flesh

in the very human life of our own families.

 

With the Holy Family as a shining example,

and through their mediation of grace and intercession,

may we always allow Jesus Christ—the Word of God incarnate–

to reveal His love to the whole world

through His love incarnate in our families.

TEXT: Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord (Christmas), December 25, 2017

Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord

Christmas

 December 25, 2017

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

“Silent Night, Holy Night… All is calm, all is bright.”

These words begin perhaps the most beloved of all Christmas hymns.

 

The beautiful simple words seem to express so eloquently

our thoughts and emotions tonight/today.

 

But have you ever stopped to think about the words?

What they mean, and why we sing them?

 

In particular, why do we think it was a “silent night”?

After all, there’s really nothing explicit in scripture saying this.

 

Of course, it was night, and the nighttime is usually quiet,

especially in a remote little village like Bethlehem

—so it makes sense to think it was silent.

 

But there’s something more than.

The intuitive sense that it just must have been silent.

First of all, because of the awe of the moment

—the wonderment of Mary and Joseph,

the astonishment of the ox and lamb,

the amazed reverence of the angels.

 

And even more than that, what could they say?

What words could express or explain what had happened?

We still struggle today:

how do you praise God enough or explain what he had done?

God the Son, the creator of the Universe,

took on the nature of one of the things he had created: God became man.

The God the Son, who can hold the whole universe in His hand,

confined Himself to the tiny body of a little baby.

God the Son, who was

exalted, worshiped and adorned by all the angels and holy souls,

became a vulnerable child.

 

And He did all this so that He could reveal Himself to us,

so that we could know Him,

and know the fullness of truth about Him and about ourselves.

And also, so that He could die a horrible death in atonement for our sins.

And all this, because He loved us so much.

 

That’s what happened,

but those words and no other words can really capsulize or capture

the ineffable wonder of the reality.

 

And how do we even begin to understand or know

the depth of the love, thankfulness, and the praise we have,

or should have,

in our hearts,

much less come up with words to express it?

 

Even the Blessed Mother would have been speechless,

as the miraculous birth unfolded,

and then lovingly holding her little new-born boy in her arms,

yet knowing that this “infant so tender and mild”

was truly her Creator and Savior …

as Scripture tells us:

“And Mary kept all these things,

pondering on them in her heart.:”

 

And so there is silence.

And we join them in pondering all these things in our hearts.

 

Silent night, holy night.

 

___

Of course, the silence is interrupted from time to time.

Once, by the voice of an angel,

who comes to tell the good news to poor shepherds in the field.

But even the angel struggles to explain,

as all he can manage to say is a few words that are true and profound,

but really only scratch the surface:

“behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy….

For today…a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.”

True, but still, so incomplete.

And so he adds:

“you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes

and lying in a manger.”

Go, look and see for yourselves.

Behold and stand in awe, and you too will be speechless–silent.

 

And so we join Mary, Joseph, the lambs, the shepherds and the angels

in that silent night.

Quietly gazing on the new born babe’s innocent face,

in the image of the manger or in the mind’s eye of imagination.

Adoring Him.

Loving Him.

 

____

And in the silence, hearing Him.

Not with words sounding in our ears, but in inspirations forming in our hearts.

We hear Him say to us:

“Look ‘how I have loved you’… Love me.”

 

And if we listen closely, we will also hear Him say:

“Greater love has no man than this,

that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

And if we look closely, perhaps we would see His tiny hand

lift from the wood of the manger,

and point forward through the years to the wood of the Cross.

And there at the cross we see the same body of Jesus, only now grown.

Still innocent, but now bloody and scarred.

And beside Him, as she was beside the manger, His Blessed Mother.

 

And there too was silence, as she pondered all these things in her heart:

God becoming her little baby,

her little baby becoming a man,

all to hang on the cross for the sins of other men.

God so loved the world, that He was born as one of us,

and laid down His life for all of us.

 

And perhaps we feel, with her, a sword of sorrow slightly touching our hearts,

as she again holds the crucified body of her son in her loving arms,

as she once held His infant body so gently in Bethlehem.

And we stand with His Holy Mother, in silence,

pondering all these things in our hearts.

 

____

But then, our moment of silent sorrow is interrupted again

by the sweet cooing of the sweet babe in the manger.

And the pain passes,

as we look once again on the face of the divine child,

and all we see is His love, divine infinite love incarnate.

And our hearts are turned from all the sorrows of this world

to the greatest fruits of love: inexpressible joy and a peace.

 

__

And then, suddenly, the silence of the night is broken again,

as almost in frustration at their inexpressible joy

the heavenly angelic hosts burst forth in joyful song.

And so we break our silence too.

But still struggling for words,

we make the words of the angels our own, and join them in singing:

“Glory to God in the highest

and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests”

…people of good will.

 

And still struggling for words,

we proceed to recite other ancient prayers,

taken from Scripture,

or written by great saints and doctors of the Church.

And we sing with the most joyful, thoughtful, hymns we can,

[led by the most angelic voices of our choir,]

singing “Christ the Savior is born…”

 

And the darkness of the silent night is broken as well,

as we read:

“and the glory of the Lord shone around them…,”

and we sing,

“Glories stream from heaven afar,”

And we remember that the Babe born is the light of the world:

“Son of God, love’s pure light;

Radiant beams from thy holy face

With the dawn of redeeming grace…”

 

__

But our most eloquent response continues to be not spoken or sung words,

as important and necessary as they are,

but in the silence of our hearts.

Because all those words are meaningless,

unless they flow forth from that silent heart,

that ponders, adores and loves Jesus.

 

Silent night, holy night.

___

It is true, there are lots of words spoken and sung at every Mass,

including this Mass—”Christ-Mass,” Christmas.

But even so, if you notice, there are lots of periods of silence—especially for you.

Even when a song is being sung, especially by the choir,

or even when the priest is praying,

you so often are called to sit there silently, but not inactively.

Instead you silently but actively listen, pray, and ponder

the awesome mysteries laid out before you.

 

This is especially true at the two most holy parts of every Mass:

during the Eucharistic prayer, and during Holy Communion.

As you kneel in silence during the Eucharistic prayer

you hear the words that, like the angel’s words to the shepherds,

echo in your heart and through all the ages:

“this is my body which will be given up for you.”

And as the bells ring, like the choir of heavenly hosts singing, “Alleluia,”

the priest lifts up the host, and you look on in silent awe

not at some wooden image of the Christ child,

or some holy image in your mind,

but on the true body of Jesus:

the very same body born of Mary

and laid in the manger 2000 years ago,

 

__

And then a few minutes later,

you hear the words: “the body of Christ”

and you respond, not with all sorts of long prayers,

and not with a long statement of your faith or devotion,

but with a simple “amen”—and silence.

And “Christ the Savior,” who “was born” in the flesh to dwell among us,

comes to you in the flesh, to dwell in you.

Yes, the crucified Jesus, but also, in a real way,

the “Holy infant, so tender and mild.”

And you go back to your pew in silence,

to speak to Him from your heart sentiments and thoughts

no words can express,

and you listen, and ponder all these mysteries,

with Mary and Joseph and the Angels.

 

____

There is a time for words and singing,

there is a time for laughter and making merry,

but there is a time for silence as well.

Even as we leave here today, and we go home to our friends and family,

and you’re in the midst of lots of cheerful noise of the day,

take a moment, from time to time, to go back to the silence in your heart.

And there be back in Bethlehem,

with Mary and Joseph, the Angels and the shepherds,

and with Jesus.

And ponder all these things,

and know the peace and joy that he alone can bring.

 

____

And as you go forward into the world this week and the new year,

and you’re surrounded by so much noise,

whether happy, sad, angry, or tiresome noise,

again, take time to go back to the quiet of your heart… to be with Jesus.

Because H   e came to be with us, to dwell with us, to bring us true peace and joy,

not as the world brings it, but, as we sing, a “heavenly peace” and joy

that passes all understanding, all explanation, all words.

Not just on Christmas, as wonderful as it is, but every day.

And not just at Mass, as important as it is, but at every single moment of life.

 

“Silent Night, Holy Night. All is calm, all is bright.”

TEXT: 4th Sunday of Advent, December 24, 2017

4th Sunday of Advent

December 24, 2017

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

“T’was the night before Christmas, when all through the house

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,

In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there….”

 

We find ourselves in an interesting place this morning/afternoon:

it is the beginning of the 4th week of Advent,

a “week” that will end in just about 7/4 hours, as we begin Christmas:

t’is the day before Christmas….”

 

On the 4th Sunday I usually preach about our final spiritual preparation

for Christmas.

But with 7/4 hours, there’s not much time left to do that.

You probably can’t get to confession today,

and most of you will probably be too tied up

with last minute details of the celebrations tonight and tomorrow

to spend a lot of time saying the rosary and such

–and understandably so.

 

But there is still a little time: especially right now for the next 45 minutes or so,

right here at Mass, which can set the tone for all the hours ahead.

 

___

The very popular poem I quoted a moment ago,

is commonly known as “The Night Before Christmas.”

But it’s proper title is, “”A Visit from St. Nicholas.”

Which reminds us of probably the most popular or iconic symbol

associated with Christmas,

at least among Americans, and especially among little children:

that would be, of course, Santa Claus.

 

Now, I’ve always been a big fan of Santa…

except that year he didn’t get me the pony I asked for.

And I, like so many of you, look forward to his visit tonight.

 

But as we make this last-minute preparation for Christmas,

I invite you to take a moment to think about Santa.

But not in his role delivering toys and presents to good boys and girls and priests,

but in his earlier life that set him up for that role.

 

As the poem reminds us, his real name isn’t “Santa Claus”

—that’s just a nickname for his real name, “St. Nicholas.”

When we use this name we remember that St. Nicholas

was born into a wealthy family in Turkey, in the mid-3rd century,

but he gave up all his wealth to become a monk and a priest,

which led eventually to him being made a bishop.

And while he was beloved for his kindness and generosity,

especially to little children,

and famous for the amazing miracles he worked,

like curing the sick, being in 2 places at once,

and even raising the dead,

he was even more famous and beloved

as a holy man, who believed firmly in and devoutly loved Jesus Christ,

and proclaimed that faith and love

boldly from the pulpit

and through miraculous and generous acts.

 

Nothing could shake Nicholas’s faith or love for Jesus,

even when he was arrested

during the last Roman persecution of Christians,

under the Emperor Diocletian.

And although he wasn’t martyred, his reputation among Christians

caused the Romans to throw into prison

and torture him horribly for months,

trying to force him to deny his faith in Christ.

But he refused, boldly continuing to profess his faith in Christ to his torturers.

 

Thanks be to God, eventually Emperor Diocletian died,

and the new Emperor Constantine ended the persecution.

But the Church has never forgotten his heroism,

and for that, above all, he is recognized as a Saint.

 

____

As we all look forward to St. Nicholas coming tonight,

we have to ask ourselves: how does St. Nicholas celebrate Christmas?

Of course, he flies around the world giving gifts, and all,

but why, and what is in his heart?

 

It seems clear to me: St. Nicholas does all this because he loves

celebrating the Birth of the one he loves with all his heart: Jesus Christ.

The one who inspired all his generosity,

and who showed his power in him through miracles.

The one he suffered so much for, the one he almost died for.

 

And he shows this love by giving away so many presents,

showing saintly generosity and kindness.

Because he understands that in doing this he is imitating His Master

who gave away his throne in heaven, and the adoration of the angels,

to give himself to us, first as a poor vulnerable innocent little baby,

and then ultimately, as an innocent victim of sacrifice on the cross,

all so that mankind could rejoice in his ultimate gift of salvific love.

 

____

How will you celebrate Christmas?

As you give your gifts, will you see yourself imitating Christ,

who gave himself to us 2000 years ago?

Will you follow the example of St. Nichols, the real, St. Nicholas,

and understand the joy and delight of every gift

as a foretaste of the perfect joy of Jesus love?

And will you remember that St. Nicholas began his ministry on earth

by giving away all his wealth, so he could cling to Christ alone,

so that when you receive so many wonderful presents in the coming hours,

you might imitate him,

and be grateful for every present received

but not cling to any one of them,

lest you love them more than Jesus?

And as you enjoy the warmth of the love of friends and family,

will you love them as the most special gifts from Jesus,

and so love Jesus all the more?

And as you go forward into the new year, will you cling to Christ

and let nothing —not even suffering or persecution—

cause you to cease proclaiming his glory.

 

____

We are now about to do the one thing

that St. Nicholas loved doing more than anything:

offering the sacrifice of the Mass.

Because here the God who came to us as a babe in Bethlehem

and who died for us on the Cross,

will come to us again:

the Word truly made flesh to dwell not only among us,

but even truly inside of us.

Let this Mass then be the ultimate preparation for Christmas.

For the next 30 or 40 minutes or so

put aside vision of sugar plums, and stockings, and reindeer,

and turn your minds and hearts totally to the Lord Jesus,

praising Him for all His wonderful gifts to you,

most especially the gift of Himself.

And as Jesus comes to you and gives Himself to you in the Eucharist today,

imitate the great St. Nicholas, who gave himself totally to Christ,

even to the point of imprisonment and torture,

and give yourself totally to Jesus as well.

 

If you do that, really do that, your Advent preparation will be complete,

and you will be truly prepared for Christmas.

 

Praised be Jesus Christ!…Now and forever! St. Nicholas…pray for us!

TEXT: 3rd Sunday of Advent, December 17, 2017

3rd Sunday of Advent

December 17, 2017

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

For the second Sunday in a row the gospel reading is about St. John the Baptist.

John is one of the greatest figures in the Scriptures,

given the office of being the prophet

sent to prepare the way for the Lord Jesus into public life.

In fact, Jesus tells us elsewhere that,

“among those born of women none is greater than John.”

 

Now, when Jesus says that, He’s actually using a little hyperbole,

innocent exaggeration, to emphasize how important John is.

After all, as John himself tells us today:

“there is…one who is coming after me,

whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.”

 

John is great, because he has a great responsibility

to prepare the way of the one who is even greater, Jesus, into public life.

But before John came on the scene there were two others

who the Church believes were even greater than John

because they had an even greater responsibility

to prepare the way of the Lord into the world.

The greatest, would actually be the Blessed Mother, Mary.

And after her is the 3rd great figure sent to prepare the way of the Lord

—St. Joseph.

 

___

We don’t know a lot about St. Joseph, but from Scripture and tradition,

and centuries of study, reasoning and debate,

and we can piece together a pretty good picture of him.

Scripture tells us he was a descendant of David,

who lived at various times in Nazareth and Bethlehem.

We know he was a carpenter—not dirt poor,

but a working man in the days when there was no real “middle class.”

 

Some say he was an old man when he married Mary,

some even say he was a widower with children.

But most theologians have for centuries concluded he was a young man,

young and strong enough to work hard to provide a decent living

for Mary and Jesus.

And he had to be young and strong enough to protect and provide for them

as they fled from Herod, travelling all the way to Egypt, and back again.

Plus, Scripture indicates he lived well past Jesus’s 12th birthday.

So, he was probably a young man, many guess about 20 years old.

 

Which leads us to something else very important that he know about him:

he was the husband of Mary.

Some wonder if he really was a true husband to Mary.

After all, the Church teaching infallibly that Mary was a perpetual Virgin:

she and Joseph never physically consummated the marriage,

and so they say, how can that be a real marriage?

In fact, for centuries, after concluding that Joseph

was not an old widower with children,

most theologians have concluded that Joseph himself

was also a perpetual virgin,

and the Church seems to imply or assume this it’s official teaching.

 

So, was it a real marriage?

Absolutely.

Following St. Augustine in the 4th century and St. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th,

the Church teaches Mary and Joseph were truly married,

even before the Annunciation.

Augustine points out how Scripture insists that they are married.

St. Luke and St. Matthew both specifically call them “husband” and “wife,”

as does the Angel Gabriel himself.

The thing is, physical intimacy is not the key to marriage

—it is only one expression of the self-gift of marriage,

albeit an important and beautiful one.

But as Jesus Himself tells us, in heaven it’s not that way

—in heaven married couples will love, He says, “like the angels,”

and angels have no bodies.

Marriage is about total mutual self-gift,

and Mary and Joseph truly gave themselves totally to each other.

 

Some ask, but doesn’t marriage have to be open to the gift of children?

Yes, it does.

And the marriage of Mary and Joseph was open to the gift of children:

they cooperated with God and His specific and unique plan for them

to receive the gift of the Baby Jesus.

Just as Mary received Jesus in her womb as a virgin,

so, did Joseph receive Jesus into his family as a virgin.

 

__

And so we come to most important fact we know about Joseph:

he was the father of Jesus.

Clearly not in the same way that God the Father was the Father of Jesus,

God is the natural and eternal father of Jesus.

But in some real way we do say that Joseph is a true father to Jesus.

A little bit like an adoptive father, but also very different from that

—much more like and equal to a natural father:

not adopting through another set of parents,

but receiving Jesus directly from God

into his marriage as husband of Mary.

Not cooperating with God through any fatherly physical act or aspect

of producing a child,

but cooperating with God through the fatherly moral act

of receiving a child.

 

So Augustine points out, again, that while

Scripture makes it clear that Mary miraculously conceived Jesus as a virgin,

and that God is directly His Father,

Scripture also specifically calls Joseph His “father”.

The Angel Gabriel insists on this, as do St. Luke and St. Matthew.

And most importantly Mary herself does,

telling the 12-year-old Jesus when she and Joseph find him in the temple:

“Think, what anguish of mind your father and I have endured,

searching for you….”

 

And so, the Church teaches that while

God is truly and directly the natural and eternal father of Jesus,

Joseph in some way, in God’s will, is also truly a father to Jesus.

 

____

Given all that, we know something else about St. Joseph.

St. Luke tells us that he was a “just man.”

To be “just,” as St. Thomas Aquinas teaches, is,

“to give each person what is due to them.”

What is due to God is to love Him with all your heart mind soul and strength,

and what is due to our neighbor is to love him as yourself,

and even to love him as Jesus has loved us.

So this is St. Joseph, the truly just man,

who loved God totally, and loved his neighbor completely.

And so even though St. Joseph was conceived with original sin like all of us,

except for Jesus and Mary,

and so was internally tempted by the confusion of soul

that we call concupiscence,

even so, over the centuries the Church has commonly taught,

that he never committed either mortal sin or a deliberate venial sin.

Beyond that, many great saints and theologians have concluded

that he never committed even in indeliberate venial sin.

And many have even concluded he was actually purified from original sin,

essentially receiving the grace of Baptism, while still in his mother’s womb.

 

And so we see the prayer of St. Paul in today’s 2nd reading already fulfilled

in St. Joseph:

“May the God of peace make you perfectly holy

and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body,

be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

 

___

So this is St. Joseph, the man who God entrusted with His principle treasures,

His Son, Jesus, and the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Son of David, a young, strong carpenter, virginal husband and father,

and just man.

 

And so the Church teaches that

while Mary is incomparable in her greatness before God and man,

St. Joseph follows close after her,

above John the Baptism, and even above the angels themselves.

 

As St. John Paul II wrote in 1989:

“there can be no doubt but that Joseph

approached as no other person ever could

that eminent dignity whereby the Mother of God

towers above all creatures.

 

And so we perhaps we see something of a prophesy of Joseph and Mary

in the words of today’s first reading from Isaiah:

“He has …wrapped me in a mantle of justice,

like a bridegroom adorned with a diadem,

like a bride bedecked with her jewels.”

 

____

This is the St. Joseph who prepared the way of the Lord,

especially in the last days before His birth.

And who we should entrust ourselves to in a special way

in these last days before we celebrate His birth.

 

Imagine…what was Joseph doing 7 days before the first Christmas?

Imagine him just about ready to set out with Mary

on his journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem

—or perhaps they had even started.

Imagine the careful preparation Joseph would have made,

busily packing all their necessities,

arranging for a donkey for Mary to ride on,

and closing down his carpenter shop.

And then imagine his natural anxiety as he gently and tenderly

cared for Mary and her unborn child,

without any concern for his own safety or well-being or comfort,

as they traversed the unpaved rocky roads

up and down through the hills and valleys,

winding around bends, narrowly skirting cliffs,

wading through deep or violent streams,

assaulted by the cold wind, rain and snow of December.

Imagine how he arrived in Bethlehem,

and then anxiously but patiently going from door to door, inn to inn,

perhaps even house to house,

begging for a room, a space, a corner

where his young wife could rest and soon give birth.

Then, in finding the stable,

imagine how he quickly and vigorously cleaned the stalls and the manger

of all the muck and waste, and brought in fresh hay, and lit a warm fire.

And then how he stood guard, waiting with profound anticipation,

with, as we say, great “expectant joy,”

for the birth of the Savior of the world, their Baby, Jesus.

 

And imagine his ultimate joy when at last He came.

 

In these last days of Advent, let us walk and prepare and wait

with the great St. Joseph.

Like Joseph on the road to Bethlehem,

in the ups and downs, twists and turns, storms and floods,

temptations and graces, joys and sorrows of our lives,

let us walk with him in purity and holiness,

filled with faith, hope and, above all, charity,

expressed in patience, kindness and generosity.

As we go from door to door, house to house, store to store, this week,

let us make Joseph our constant companion,

remembering that like him our goal is not some selfish gain or comfort,

but to give ourselves in loving service of Jesus.

And as we prepare our souls to be worthy to receive Our Lord on Christmas day,

let us ask Joseph to help us to clean all the muck and filth,

all the sin and malice, from our hearts.

And as we wait in with profound anticipation,

let us think of Joseph’s tender and faithful fatherly heart,

and open our hearts with him

to receive the greatest joy ever given to man—Jesus Christ the Lord!

 

____

Praised be Jesus Christ….now and forever.

St. Joseph….pray for us.

TEXT: 2nd Sunday of Advent, December 10, 2017

2nd Sunday of Advent

December 10, 2017

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

Over almost 30 years of teaching people about our Catholic faith,

one of the questions that people most frequently ask me,

especially Protestants and fallen away Catholics,

is why Catholics believe    we have to go priest to receive God’s grace.

For example, why do we have to go to Mass

to receive the Eucharist through the priest,

or why we have to go to confession to a priest to have our sins forgiven.

 

The more knowledgeable folks will quote to me passage

from St. Paul’s first letter to St. Timothy, that says:

“there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”

But the problem is that while Jesus is

the only way to the Father and the only Mediator,

it is clear elsewhere in Scripture that

it is the will of God the Father and Jesus

that other human beings participate in this mediation.

 

From the very beginning of God’s revelation of Himself to the Hebrews

3,800 years ago,

God has chosen individual human beings to act as His instruments

to communicate His will to the world.

People like Abraham, Moses and David, Elijah, Samuel, and Isaiah.

These people were sent to Israel to deliver God’s message, or to do His work

—to be His mediator.

 

And so today we find the Prophet Isaiah

acting as a mediator between God and man

in giving us one of the most important messages

ever given to man by God.

“Prepare the way of the Lord…make straight His paths.”

 

In fact, the message of God which Isaiah mediates to Israel

also tells the people that

there will be another great prophet

who would come to declare this message again to Israel

–a voice crying out in the desert

–a voice mediating between the Messiah and the people of Israel.

In today’s Gospel, St. Mark tells us that this long-promised mediator

who comes out of the desert

is the prophet, St. John the Baptist.

 

Still, why does God send mediators?

And why would we need any more mediators after Jesus

—after all, like Isaiah and the other Old Testament prophets,

John came before Jesus?

 

_____

Advent is a season of preparation for Jesus’ coming into the world

—coming as one of us: a human being.

At the heart of this mystery of Christmas is the fact that God became one of us

to communicate with us more clearly and completely

—through His human bodily actions and words.

And so we read in the Mass of Christmas day, from the Gospel of St. John:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,

and the Word was God…

And the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us,”

In His person, through His incarnation in the flesh

and His bodily entering into the world,

Jesus, the Word, is the great and perfect mediator

bringing God to man and man to God.

As St. John tells us elsewhere in Scripture:

          “That which …we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes,

…and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life….”

 

But Jesus took His body with Him when He ascended into heaven.

On the other hand, in a real sense He is still here in His body.

Of course, He’s here in His body which is the Eucharist.

But He’s also here in His body which is His Church,

which lives and acts through all and each of us.

—we are here, in our bodies,

still speaking with human words,

hearing with human ears, and seeing with human eyes.

And by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit we received at Baptism,

Jesus lives in us, and acts in us and through us.

 

And so He continues to send human beings into the world

to mediate His message through the body:

through proclaiming and hearing the word;

by the symbols we see and touch,

and the sacraments we receive.

So that all of us are called to mediate God to the world in some way

–just as it’s been throughout all Salvation History.

Some are called to be great public prophets, like Isaiah and St. John the Baptist.

Some are called to be apostles like St. Peter and St. Mark and their successors

–the pope and the bishops.

 

And some are called to be pastors, or priests.

And in this great mystery of the priesthood

–through the mediation of a human being sent by God—

Christ can come to us, and we can come to Christ.

By the priests’ proclamation of the Gospel,

and by the sacramental signs they administer

and that we hear and feel and see and taste,

Jesus Christ comes to us in a most unique and clear way.

Not so much because of the priest himself,

but because of Christ who acts through them.

 

______

The Gospel today tells us that 2000 years ago the great mediator

St. John the Baptist, proclaimed

“a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”

And in response, as Scripture says,

“People of the whole Judean countryside and Jerusalem

were going out to [John]
…as they acknowledged their sins.”
Today, we do much the same thing as we go to the sacrament of penance
and acknowledge, or confess, our sins before God’s appointed mediators.

But when we hear those mediators say, “I absolve you from your sins”

we hear in their human voices,

them mediating not the voice of St. John,

but them mediating the voice

of THE ONE TRUE mediator between God and man:

Jesus himself.

The voice Isaiah talks about today when he says:

“Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her

that …. her guilt is expiated…

Comfort, give comfort to my people.”

 

___

Priests have this role as mediators in this special way

—and it’s a great gift to the whole Church.

But as I said before, by your baptism in water and the Holy Spirit

all of you were also made to be mediators of Christ.

Like ordained priests, you are all called to “prepare the way of the Lord,”

by proclaiming to your family and friends and coworkers,

by your words and your good example,

the joyful news of Christ’s coming into the world 2000 years ago

to bring merciful forgiveness for those who repent their sins,

to dwell with all His power and peace in those who will accept Him;

to tenderly comfort all who are prepared to welcome Him.

 

For many devout Christians, this Advent season is a time when

this call can elicit a very strong emotional response from us.

We hear: “prepare the way of the Lord”

and our hearts are moved to respond, “yes Lord.”

 

But then most of us stop on that emotional level:

we don’t really try very hard to carry it out.

 

Sometimes we don’t try because of we we’re afraid.

Sometimes we don’t try because

we’ve tried before and nothing seemed to happen.

And sometimes we don’t try because

we really don’t know how to prepare the way.

 

But no matter what our reason is for holding back,

God still calls us.

 

If your excuse is that you’re afraid, remember that Isaiah tells us today:

Fear not to cry out and say…`Here is your God'”.

 

And if your excuse is that you’ve tried before with so little or no results,

remember that you are only the messenger, the mediator.

Jesus is the one working through you.

And as St. Peter reminds us today in the 2nd reading:

“with the Lord one day is like a thousand years,

and a thousand years is like one day.”

It may seem like your efforts are fruitless, but your effort is only instrumental

–you prepare the way only by doing your best

to allow God to act through you,

and then you wait to see how God finishes the work without you.

Remember that even the great mediator of the Messiah, St. John the Baptist,

recognized that his work was incomplete and only an opening for the Lord:

“One who is more powerful is to come after me.”

And as the all-powerful Jesus Christ acts through you,

don’t worry about seeing results

–be patient, as St. Peter tells us:

The Lord does not delay…though some consider it delay.”

 

And finally, if your excuse is that you just don’t know how to prepare His way,

remember that the best place to start preparing is with yourself.

As you attempt to: “Clear a straight path for the Lord”,

let it first be a clear path to your own heart.

And begin doing that by following the message of the Baptizer

–confess and repent of your sins: big and small;

–renounce your vices, your bad habits;

–remove any obstacles that might lay on the road between God and you;

–and open your heart to the word of God

proclaimed in Scripture and the teaching of the Church.

 

_____

It is God’s will and God’s plan

that the human mediation of God to man

did not end when Christ ascended into heaven.

Few of us are called to be public figures

mediating like Isaiah or St. John the Baptist.

And not all of us are called to be ordained priests.

But every single one of us is called to—in some way—

go out into the world and prepare the world to receive Jesus Christ.

And this is especially the case

during the season of preparation for the coming of Christ:

this season of Advent.

 

As we now move more deeply into the Mystery of this Holy Mass,

as the Lord Jesus descends to this altar

and becomes truly present in his real Body,

and then comes to you in Holy Communion, and abides in you,

His very Body dwelling in your very body,

hear with your heart and with the ears of your body,

as He calls on you,

through the mediation of St. John the Baptizer, and of your priest,

to go out into the world this Advent and,

“Prepare the way of the Lord…[and] make straight his paths.”