TEXT: 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, January 20, 2019

2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

January 20, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA


Today’s gospel is one of my favorite texts in scripture.

It really is what I often call a treasure chest of rich gems and precious jewels.

For example it gives us foundational teaching on

the sacraments, grace, marriage, the Eucharist and Mary.


Think about that.

Jesus changes water into wine:

He takes naturally good and healthy water, essential to all,

and transforms into something more wonderful,

that lifts our spirits and opens us up to peace and joy.

This is exactly what happens in the sacraments.

For example, in baptism Jesus takes a naturally good thing, like water,

and transforms it into a life-giving spring of grace

purifying us and pouring His life into us.


And we see the effect of Jesus’ grace,

acting on the sacrament and in the sacrament.

In today’s story, Jesus’ grace first transforms water into wine

and that in turn saves the wedding feast

and transforms the couple’s panic into joy,

Just like in the Eucharist,

when Jesus’ grace transforms bread and wine into His Body and Blood,

and that in turn strengthens us and draws us closer to Him in Communion.


And if He can change water into wine,

He can, and does, transform a good and loving human relationship

between in a man and woman

into a communion of life and love that shares in the very love of God Himself.

And so we see the sacrament of marriage prefigured in the wedding at Cana.


And then we see Mary: the text tells us that this was

“the beginning of [Jesus’] signs …and so revealed His glory.”

In the same way, this was the beginning of Mary’s

great intercession for the all of us,

thus, revealing the glory Jesus has given her.

Notice, Jesus calls her “woman”,

which is what Eve is called in the first chapters of Genesis,

showing us Mary as the new Eve, who says “yes” to God, when Eve said “no.”

And then, without being asked,

she sees the problem and brings it to Jesus, as His Mother.

And trusting in Jesus, she tells the servants: “do whatever He tells.”



It’s an amazing text: a true treasure chest.

But like all treasure chests, sometimes when focus on the most spectacular gems,

we miss the other jewels that are not so stunning, but still priceless.


And in this story that tends to be … “the servers”.


The servants bring their simple water to Jesus

and then wind up taking the best wine ever to the wedding guests.

They are transformed from being mere waiters to messengers of God

—like the angels, or the apostles, sent by Jesus,

to distribute His grace to the wedding feast.

They become just as much a part of the miracle as the water and wine,

and Mary and Jesus.

Just as Mary is not equal to Jesus, but is given an essential role in His Mission,

the servants are also not equal to Jesus or Mary,

but are also given an essential role in His mission.

How will the Word go out, how will the grace spread, if someone doesn’t take it.



I’ve been thinking a lot about this aspect of the text over the last few weeks,

and it’s proven to be a real pearl of great price

to help me understand a something I’ve been wanting to talk to you about.

And that is, service in our parish: parishioners volunteering to help in the parish.


In today’s second reading St. Paul tells us,

“there are different forms of service but the same Lord…”

This is something that rings very true and practical in the life of the parish.

Think of all the different forms of service.

Father Smith (and Daly) and I have the service of being your priests.

Then there’s the parish staff:

running the office, taking care of the building, educating your children, etc.

And then there’s all of you.


What is your service?

Now, some serve our parish by simply, but amazingly, being good parents,

or by representing our parish in the world as civic leaders.

But then again, even folks like that often find that the Lord is inviting them

to server the the parish more directly.


St. Paul today goes on to talk about the spiritual gifts each person has:

“To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit

is given for some benefit.”

Actually, that’s a weak translation of the Greek.

It really ought to say,

“To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit

is given for the common good.”


God has given us all various gifts—both supernatural and natural—

and all of them are given to us for “the common good.”

And so I say to you, what natural gift has God given you for the common good?

And how might he be asking you to use that at St. Raymond’s?



It seems pretty clear that most parishioners don’t do a lot of service in the parish.

We have about 6000 registered parishioners,

of which a little over 2,300 come to Mass every week.

Of that, only about 300 people regularly commit to a particular role of service

in the parish.

And of those, about 50 take many different roles of service—they’re everywhere.


300 people, out of 6000, or out of 2300.

Think of that: a lot of people seem to come here only to

hear the word of God or receive the sacraments—to be served.

It’s as if they want to go to the wedding feast to enjoy themselves as guests,

but very few want to serve the meal and the wine.



Now, I’m not complaining,

Please understand: I love this parish and you are great parishioners and I wouldn’t trade you for anything.

And I’m not picking on anyone–really.

But I am inviting everyone.

The truth is, Jesus established His Church,

so that most of us would usually be the ones being served

—because Jesus is always serving us:

He “came not to be served but to serve.”

But as St. Paul tells us elsewhere, we must,

“be servants to one another out of reverence to Christ.”



Now, there are lots of ways to be servants.

Even if you are sitting in the pews at Mass,

you can serve each other and God by simply praying,

or by being kind to each other,

or even by saying the prayers and singing songs,

and so helping others to pray and sing.


But there are also many other more concrete and committed ways

that the gifts God has given you

might be meant to serve “the common good” of our parish.



Now, some may be thinking this is a very clever way of Father

trying to get some free help in the parish.

Of course, others may say it’s a pretty clumsy way.


But the thing is, I don’t need your help—at least not for my benefit.

I mean, I could eliminate a lot of the things we do around here,

and my life would be a lot easier,

and the Bishop wouldn’t fire me or dock my pay dime.

I know a lot of parishes that have a lot fewer activities and services,

and their pastors are doing just fine.


This is not about my good, it’s about the common good of our parish

and your own good.

I don’t want this parish to be “okay”, or “good”—I want it to be the best it can be.

And by that I don’t mean having the most or nicest things to do,

but having the best things to help you live the Christian life in this world

so that one day you will live it in heaven.

And for that, I do need your help!


The truth is, Jesus wants you to serve Him and your neighbor, out of love.

And He put you here, in this parish: these are your brothers and sisters in Christ.

Can you be truly good, if you are not a good servant to them?



When I was the Vicar at St. Mary’s in Old Town—now the Basilica

—there were lots of very important people there.

Cabinet members, a former Speaker of the House, Generals, etc.

One of them told me he wanted to serve in the parish on the Finance Council.

And the guy would have been great at it.

But I suggested that instead of that, why not begin with something a little simpler.

I suggested he be an usher.


Well, honestly he didn’t much like the idea, but he did it.

And about two months later he came back to me thanking me profusely:

he was a powerful guy in the world,

but that often led him to sometimes be prideful and rude,

and working as an usher was helping him to grow in patience, charity

and above all humility.

By serving, he was becoming holy.



Some people say, “I’m too busy.”

I think of at least three different couples in the parish,

Who are constantly working in important jobs,

while also raising large families with lots of kids,

but also find time to be the back bone of

so many committees and activities of the parish I don’t even know them all.

They haven’t been “too busy” for years.


Some say, but I don’t really have any talents to offer, or I’m not well enough.

I think of the elderly homebound parishioner who loved teenagers

but couldn’t figure how she could help with the Youth Apostolate,

until Jeanne asked her to make food and snacks for the kids’ meetings.


In the end, none of has what it takes to serve the way we should.

But then we remember that at Cana Jesus transformed simple water into wine,

and simple waiters into God’s messengers.



I can think right now of particular needs we have for volunteers to serve

as ushers, youth group leaders, and in the choir.

But there are dozens more opportunities

—if you look in today’s bulletin you’ll find an insert with a whole list.

So look in the bulletin today.

And maybe make a call to volunteer tomorrow or next week.



My friends, as we move more deeply into this Holy Mass,

the Wedding Feast of Heaven come down to earth,

let us ask the Blessed Mother to intercede for us

to know how Christ wants us to serve him and each other.

And as He transforms wine and bread into His own Blood and Body

and we receive Him in Holy Communion,

let us beg Him to transform us by this grace,

to have the courage to follow His Mother Mary’s instructions

to the servants of the feast: “Do whatever He tells you.”

Modified Mass Schedule – Jan. 8th – 15th

MODIFIED Mass Schedule

Tuesday, January 8th through  Tuesday, January 15th   


Tuesday, January 8th through Friday, January 11th

Tuesday, January 8th – 6:30am Mass ONLY

Wednesday, January 9th – 8am Mass and 7pm Mass

Thursday, January 10th – 6:30am Mass ONLY

Friday, January 11th – 8am Mass ONLY


Saturday and Sunday – Regular Mass Schedule

Sunday Confessions on Jan. 13th  are cancelled


Monday, January 14th through Tuesday, January 15th

Monday, January 14th – 8am Mass ONLY

Tuesday, January 15th – 6:30am Mass ONLY

TEXT: Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord, January 6, 2019

Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord

January 6, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA


For the last few weeks–both in Advent and during the Christmas season–

almost all of the people we’ve encountered in the Scriptures at Mass

have been Jews living in Palestine

–and most of those of humble origin and state.

But today we find a radically different sort of people–Magi from the East:

extremely well-educated and wealthy,

and perhaps even priests in their own pagan religion.

Yet, the Scriptures tell us that when they arrive in Bethlehem

–after traveling hundreds of miles

and enduring great discomfort and suffering–

these great wise men “prostrate themselves and do homage”

to a tiny vulnerable peasant child.

And they offer Him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

And while these gifts are generous and full of meaning,

they are not the greatest gift given that day.

The greatest gift was not from the magi at all,

but from God to the magi, and to the whole Gentile world

–the gift of His Epiphany,

of God’s manifesting, or showing Himself to the world,

as the human baby Jesus.



Still, while today’s Gospel is principally a reminder

of God’s Epiphany to the Gentiles,

it also reminds us of Christ’s coming to His chosen people–the Jews.

On Tuesday, on the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God,

we read from St. Luke’s Gospel

about the Jewish shepherds

coming to adore the baby Jesus in Bethlehem.

But today St. Matthew also tells us about another Jew

discovering the birth of the Messiah–King Herod.

Herod is a Jew, but not by race

—he is not a descendant of Jacob who was called “Israel.”

His family was Idumæan, but his family converted to the Jewish religion

about 100 years before the birth of Christ.

So he was technically a Jew.

But how different this Jew reacts to news of the Messiah

than the way the Jewish shepherds react.

So caught up in his enjoyment of power and riches

allowed him by his Roman masters,

he hears of the birth of the messiah

and instead of immediately going to worship Him with the Magi

he sends them on alone, while he waits behind,

planning to kill the child.


Since the days of the apostles,

the Church has seen herself

                   as the fulfillment of the promises to Israel under the Old Covenant

–she views herself as the continuation of the chosen people

–the New Israel, the New Jerusalem,

under the New Covenant.

And in that sense, we can see those who do not believe in Christ

as sort of a “New Gentiles”

–those who are not members of God’s people.

The magi were Gentiles–but they were also the first to join the New Israel

— they became the first converts.



As a cradle Catholic, I’ve always been amazed and awed by converts,

especially those who come from among the New Gentiles

–especially the magi of our day

–who come to Christ not from birth

but by diligent search for the truth.

And of course, I’m also impressed by the cradle Catholics and other cradle Christians

who, like the shepherds, humbly accept the gift promised to their ancestors

and handed on to them as a rich inheritance.


But what about those of us cradle Catholics,

who act less like the shepherds, than they act like King Herod

–King Herod who was a member of the God’s people,

and yet treated the fulfillment of God’s great promise

as if it were news of the plague?



Now, many of us go back and forth

between being shepherds and being Herods.

And we live in a world that is more and more

like the world that the magi came from

than the world that the shepherds came from

–a world of Gentiles, or New Gentiles.

But still Christ remains the light of that world.

The prophesy of Isaiah is still true:

“Jerusalem! Your light has come,….See, darkness covers the earth,…

But upon you the Lord shines, …Nations shall walk by your light,

…Raise your eyes and look about;

they all gather and come to you.”

In the midst of a growth in the darkness

of non-Christian and even anti-Christian  values and culture

–a culture that we Christians too often let effect

and even dominate our lives

–Christ is still the light that shines on us.

And if we look we will see millions of people

who are gathering to come to the light.

Like the Magi–the wise men following that bright star—

the light piercing the darkness

–everyday we encounter people who are searching for the truth,

for wisdom, for salvation, for the Savior—the Christ.


But when we meet them, do we meet them like the humble shepherds,

leading them as they led their sheep to the manger?


Or do we meet them as King Herod did?

When the magi came to him searching for Christ,

Herod sent them on alone to Bethlehem.

How many times do we have the opportunity

to lead someone who is looking for the fullness of the truth about Jesus

and we either send them on their way,

or allow them to go on searching without giving them anything

but the most cursory help?

Herod points to Bethlehem and says:

“When you have found him, bring me word…”

Herod should have led the way to Bethlehem!

And so should we, today!

But to do that–to assist the seeker of truth toward conversion–is difficult

because it involves a sacrifice of time and energy

–it involves an act of giving of ourselves.



Today’s Gospel tells us that the Magi gave gifts to the Baby Jesus,

and Tradition tells us that each of these gifts has a special meaning:

–the gold represented the kingly riches

that the new born King deserved.

–the frankincense represented the incense

which should be burned before Jesus as God,

symbolic of our prayers to Him.

–and the myrrh–a spice used in ancient times

for the preparation of the dead for burial–

tells us that Jesus the King and God

came into the world to suffer and die.


When Gaspar laid down his gold before Christ,

Herod should have been there to offer his gold crown to Christ,

and offer Him all the protection

that his worldly Kingship could provide,

instead of grasping after his power

in fear that the child would take it from him.

We too should offer Christ our gold

–the worldly gifts and talents and power he has given us

to help those who seek Him.


When Melchior offered his incense,

Herod should have offered to carry the Christ-child to the temple

to let Him sleep in the Holy of Holies

–his true Father’s home—

where incense and the prayer it symbolizes

could be offered to Him day and night.

We too should offer Christ our incense–our prayers–

–prayers of adoration

and prayers of intercession

for those who are struggling to find Him or accept Him.


When Balthazar laid down the myrrh,

Herod should have offered to suffer with Jesus,

to suffer the loss of Caesar’s respect

and die to all the power and comfort that it brought.

We too should offer Christ our suffering;

opening ourselves to the ridicule that often comes

–and which we so often fear–

when we share our faith in Christ and his Church with others.

Perhaps even opening ourselves to loss of friends,

and in some cases even employment

–Herod didn’t want to lose his friend Caesar,

or his cushy job as King of Judea.



We are Christ’s Church–his people on earth–the new Israel.

In Advent, we prepared for Christ’s coming to us

and during Christmas we celebrate that coming

–the dawn of the light that shatters the darkness.

But as the end of our celebration of this season approaches

we turn from our celebration of His coming to us,

and remember that He came not only to us, but to the whole world.


Today, we begin to focus on our vocation to assist Christ

in carrying His light to a world filled with so much darkness

–to those who don’t know Him at all,

and to those who know Him well, but incompletely.

So that as He manifests Himself to the world not simply as a star in the dark sky,

but as the Epiphany of His wondrous light that shatters the darkness,

let us offer Him our gold, all our worldly gifts;

let us offer Him our incense, our prayers rising up to Him;

and let us bring Him our myrrh, uniting our suffering to His suffering;

And so let us boldly proclaim His arrival to all we meet

–with prudence and charity,

but also with the clarity of the light,

and without concern for worldly pride, pleasure, or comfort.


And with the magi and the shepherds,

and with the entire Church,

come let us adore Him,”

let us prostrate ourselves [before Him,] and do Him homage.

TEXT: Feast of the Holy Family, December 30, 2018

Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph

December 30, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA


On Tuesday, Christmas Day, most Masses read

the beginning of St. John’s Gospel which tells the story of Jesus’ life

by drawing a direct parallel between the Birth of Jesus

and the creation story found in the book of Genesis.

As John wrote, echoing the story of Genesis:

In the beginning was the Word, ….

and the Word was God….

All things came to be through him…

[and] The word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

What John was saying was

that Christ’s coming to dwell among us at the first Christmas

was a new “beginning” for mankind

—the new beginning made so clear

in the innocent newborn Babe in Bethlehem.


But remember, Genesis, also tells us that

in the beginning God created man to live in a family:

male and female He created them.

And God blessed them, and God said to them,

“Be fruitful and multiply…””

And so when God offers mankind a new beginning at Bethlehem

it’s no accident that He does so

by entering the world as the child of a real human family,

the Holy Family of Joseph, Mary, and, now, Jesus.

Because to renew man He must renew him as he truly is:

a creature created to live and love in a family.


Nowadays the institution of family

seems desperately in need of renewal.

Sins that most families once managed to carefully steer clear of for the most part

have become all too commonplace for the typical family today:

things like substance abuse, sexual abuse, contraception,

promiscuity, delinquency, bitterness, infidelity….

At the same time, things that were once considered unthinkable

have become mainstream alternatives for families in our culture:

things like abandonment and divorce,

cohabiting parenthood without marriage, in-vitro fertilization,

so-called “same sex marriage,” and on and on.


Of course there are many reasons for this,

but I would propose 2 key errors of our culture’s understanding of family

that precipitate all these problems.


First of all, we’ve come to treat family members as if they’re

mere instruments of satisfaction for each other.

Spouses are meant to give you pleasure,

so you choose the ones that are the most fun,

or the most sexually pleasing to you,

or the one who can best help you achieve your personal goals in life.

And when they stop doing those things, you move on.


Children are meant to entertain or give you a sense of fulfillment or being loved,

so you postpone having them until you have all the other things you want,

or you have them because no one else loves you,

or you have them and ignore them when they’re tough to deal with,

or not any fun.


And in turn, children treat their parents as if they’re there

only to cater to their children’s every whim,

pay for all their expenses,

and then get out of their way and let the kids do as they please.


And we wonder why there’s so much unhappiness in families.


That’s the first problem.

But the second problem may be even worse,

and that is the loss of any sense of what it means to be a family,

or more precisely, what it means to be a normal family.


Now, some will say, there is no such thing as a “normal” family.

But that all depends on what you mean by “normal.”

One definition of the word “normal” is “average” or “typical”,

and this has become the common—or “normal”—use of the word.

But another definition

—what used to be the “normal” meaning of the word—

is following some sort of norm or rule:

in other words, normal is

the way things are supposed to be.


Let me give you an example.

The average, typical American adult heart

has a high level of arterial clogging,

and is overstressed by things like

obesity, high-cholesterol, high blood pressure.

That’s average and typical, but is that normal?

If it is, then why worry?


But if you go to the doctor, and he tells you all the tests came out “normal”

–is that a cause for concern, or for relief?

To doctors, “normal” is “healthy”—the way it should be.


Normally a family is supposed to be a married man and woman with children

living and loving together.

Now, I know, that no family is perfect.

Some are downright broken and disintegrated.

But it’s one thing to see a family that’s trying its best be healthy and whole

despite being maimed by misfortune or sin,

even a family broken by death or abandonment,

and it’s a completely different thing to see

families that purposefully maim themselves,

like marriages based on selfishness or transitory pleasure,

or 2 men or 2 women attempting to “marry” each other.


One models itself after and points to the goodness of God’s plan for families,

and the other mocks and rejects that Divine plan of normal family life.


Some say, how do we know what’s normal for families?

It doesn’t take a genius to figure this one out—at least in general terms.

History tells us that in virtually every civilized society

the laws and customs about families

have defined family the same basic way:

the permanent and faithful union of male and female

with the desire to procreate children,

in order to strive together for mutual love, support and wellbeing.

And it’s also clear from current sociological data and research

that men and women and their children are happiest

in stable traditional family relationships.


Still, we don’t get the full picture

until we turn to the one who invented family life “in the beginning”—God.

This is part of Christ’s reason for coming to us at that first Christmas:

to reveal to us what we need to do to become who He created us to be,

especially, in the context of family.


He begins to teach us by being born and growing up in a family,

under the loving and protective care of Joseph and Mary.

Mother and wife, Mary, who called herself God’s handmaid.

And father and husband Joseph,

who sacrificed everything for his son and wife,

even to the point of leaving behind his home and business in Nazareth

in order to take Jesus to Egypt to protect him

from the murdering King Herod.

And of course, Jesus taught us how to be a good son:

as the Gospel reminds us today,

even though he knew ultimately his place was in Jerusalem teaching,

“He [returned with Joseph and Mary] … to Nazareth,

and was obedient to them.”

And when He grew up He would teach us, as we read in Matthew 19,

that the key to understanding Marriage

is to go back to Genesis and remember

that “in the beginning”

“God made them male and female…

they are no longer two, but one flesh.”


Of course this revelation didn’t begin with His incarnation and birth.

It began “in the beginning.”

In the beginning was the Word,

and the word was spoken for centuries

through the Old Testament prophets.

One of the most beautiful and instructive prophetic texts about family

is the one that we read today from Sirach in our first reading.

Think about what he says;

notice especially the interdependence, or complementarity

between the parents and the children.

For example:

“He stores up riches who reveres his mother….

“Whoever honors his father is gladdened by children….

“He who obeys his father brings comfort to his mother.”

Honoring your father will please your mother,

and will bring you happiness as well, as will revering your mother.

The three love together, and bring each other happiness.


And this revelation didn’t end when Jesus ascended to heaven.

And so in today’s 2nd reading St. Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit,

continues to teach us what family life should be:

“Husbands, love your wives….

Children, obey your parents in everything…

Fathers, do not provoke your children…”

And, of course, everybody’s favorite:

“Wives, be subordinate to your husbands…”


Now, sometimes people get upset at this last instruction.

To make a long story short, to understand this passage

you have to really look at the same instruction

that Paul gives in his letter to the Ephesians.

You see, the Churches in the cities of Colossae and Ephesus

were made up mainly of converted pagans,

who, unlike the Jews, effectively treated their women as mere property

owned either by their fathers or husbands.

That is not the Christian way.

So Paul, as he makes very clear in his letter to the Ephesians

rebukes them for this and tells them

“husbands should love their wives as they love their own bodies…

He who loves his wife loves himself.”

In effect saying,

“stop treating your wives like objects and treat them as you treat yourself

—LOVE them!”


The key, in Ephesians, is that before he says

“wives be subordinate to your husband”,

he first says:

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


In other words, while he recognizes that husbands and wives

each have different responsibilities in the family,

St. Paul reminds us that just as Christ loved us

and came “not to be served but to serve”,

both husbands and wives must love each other

by becoming servants to each other.

He makes this point in Colossians today when he says:

“whatever you do, ….do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.”


Which brings us back to the Holy Family,

especially to the lives of Joseph and Mary,

who loved each other very much,

but also did everything in the context of their love for Jesus.


If only all families could do this.


Now, some might say that the Holy Family was no normal family.

Yes and no.

They were not “normal” in any sense of the word as “typical”.

But they were normal in the sense of being everything a family should be.

It is true that unlike our families, the Holy Family was sinless,

but, as difficult as it may be,

with God’s grace and our cooperation

our families can strive to be sinless too –

that’s why Jesus was born, to save us from our sins!

Nothing is impossible for God.

It is true that none of the children in our families is God the Son,

but as St. John tells us elsewhere in the Scripture for Christmas,

we “may all be called children of God.”

If only we will treat Jesus as the most precious member of our families.


As we continue our celebration of the Octave of Christmas,

let us look to the Holy Family

as both an example of God’s plan for the family,

and an instrument of His blessings and grace for our families.

Let us remember to invite Jesus Christ to be the at the center our families,

to do everything in his name.

And let us pray that in this Christmas season

all mankind may rediscover the true meaning of family,

and accept the grace of a new beginning,

promised by the Baby Jesus,

born to Holy Family of Mary and Joseph.

TEXT: The Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord, Christmas December 25, 2018

Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord


December 25, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA


Merry Christmas!

Good to see all of you here on this glorious night/day.



2018 or so years ago today, God the Son descended from heaven,

to bring us salvation.

The Creator of the Universe became one of His lowly creatures,

taking on our flesh so that He could die on the Cross for our sins.

All because He loved us.

Amazing. Magnificent. Glorious.


But you if had visited the stable in Bethlehem that day, you might never know it.

Because all you would have seen was

just a poor tiny newborn baby boy, lying in a food trough,

surrounded by smelling barn animals,

and being fussed over by His young parents.

Nothing Amazing, or Magnificent or Glorious.


Unless, you were one of the shepherds we read about (at midnight Mass),

who visited the stable that night.

Then you would have seen something much more.

As the Gospel tells us, just a few minutes before they came to the stable,

those same shepherds had been tending their flocks outside of town.

And there something happened that they would never forget.

As the Gospel relates:

“The angel of the Lord appeared to them

and the glory of the Lord shone around them,

and they were struck with great fear.”


Now, we all have some idea what an angel is,

but how many people know exactly what it means that,

“the glory of the Lord shone around them”?

To understand this, we need to go back to the Old Testament

to the book of Exodus.

And there in the passage about Moses going up Mount Sinai

to receive the 10 Commandments from God, it tells us:

“When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it,

and the glory of the LORD settled on Mount Sinai.

…To the Israelites the glory of the LORD

looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain.”

…. there was thunder and lightning,

…and a very loud trumpet blast.

…. the Lord descended …in fire.…

and the whole mountain trembled violently.

…[and] Everyone in the camp trembled.”


THAT’S “the glory of the Lord”:

like thunder and lighting and clouds of consuming fire.

And that is pretty much what the shepherds saw as the angel appeared to them,

so that, as St. Luke tells us, when they saw it,

like the ancient Israelites who “trembled” at the sight,

the shepherds too, “were struck with great fear.”


And then, seeing all this amazing glorious spectacle

of fire and lightening in the sky, and hearing the angel tell them:

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

Scripture tells us that,

“suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel.”

Now, artistic renderings of this scene normally show lots of angels in the sky,

maybe 10s, or even 100’s of angels floating around,

and usually they’re little smiling cherubs.

But the word “host” here is another word for “army,”

so we’re talking an angelic army here, we can imagine in full battle array.


And this is what the prophet Jeremiah in the Old Testament

says about the number of angels that involves:

“the host of heaven cannot be numbered

and the sands of the sea cannot be measured….”

And the prophet Daniel tells us:

“a thousand thousands served him,

and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him; …”


So we’re talking about a sky filled with so many angels

no one could count them—100’s of millions.


And that my friends is amazing, magnificent and glorious.



But then the shepherds go to Bethlehem

and find this tiny baby in its mother’s arms.

Where are the angels, where is the lightning and thunder and clouds and fire?

Where is the “glory of God”?


It’s there, but you just can see it.

All that is hidden, in the flesh of the Baby Jesus.

And the glory of God no longer frightens them

—now they can only be amazed by the All-Powerful and All-Glorious God’s

humility and tenderness,

and all they can feel is awe and love.



Nowadays, it seems to me, consciously or not,

we try to replicate the glory the shepherds saw in the sky.

All the lights and candles on the trees and houses, and in the churches.

All the bright wrapping paper and colorful bows.

All the sights and sounds we all associate with Christmas

find their roots and origins in this amazing manifestation of heavenly glory.

And rightly so.


But all those are merely symbols, and as beautiful and enchanting as they are,

they are nothing in comparison to the real thing,

what the shepherds saw in the sky that night.

And they are even less in comparison to what they saw in that manger

—the God who radiates that Glory, the Baby Jesus.


In a few weeks, all those symbols will be gone,

in the trash or packed away for next year.

But the glory of God remains.

As the Baby would later promise us: “behold, I am with you always.”


And so He is—always here in His full glory and power to love us and to save us.

Although He is often hidden.


He is here hidden in His Word: the Scripture and Tradition,

the wealth of teaching handed down from the Apostles to the Fathers

to us today.

He is here hidden in His Sacraments,

the outward signs instituted by Christ Himself

to manifest and pass on His graces.

And He is here hidden in His faithful people—you!

In the sacrament of baptism, and renewed in the sacrament of penance,

He has come to live in you,

where nothing but our own gravely sinful choices can drive Him away.


And He is here hidden in His Church.

Oh, I understand better than most that this seems a strange thing to say,

amidst all the scandals we hear about with priests and bishops

But the fact is, but hidden amidst all the sinners and saints

the Church is still the instrument Christ Himself established and sustains

to proclaim and protect and His word, dispense His sacraments

and nurture His people.


But the most wonderful way He remains with us is in what we’re here for today:

hidden in the Mass, or more specifically, the Eucharist.

Nowhere do we capture more fittingly the presence of the Savior

who was born in Bethlehem than in this Blessed Sacrament.


In Bethlehem, He literally entered into the world to save us and remain with us;

in the Eucharist He literally enters into each of us to save us,

and remains with hidden within us as we go out into the world.

In Bethlehem, He humbled Himself by hiding Himself human flesh;

          in the Eucharist He comes again in human flesh,

humbling Himself even more by hiding in the poverty of a piece of bread

In Bethlehem, He hid His divine glory so that we could approach Him without fear,

and receive Him with love;

          in the Eucharist, He does the exact same thing.

And yet that divine glory is there, in the Baby and in the Eucharist.

And just as that glory and power would ultimately shine forth in the life of Jesus,

in His life-changing preaching and His mighty miracles,

that same divine glory will shine forth in us

as the Eucharist can miraculously transform us

to live according to His preaching, if we let it.


This connection between Bethlehem and the Mass is actually foretold

in the Gospel narrative of the Nativity.

Let’s go back to those shepherds.

Many scholars believe that these were the shepherds

that Jewish law required to tend flocks of sheep year-round,

even in winter,

within the immediate vicinity of Jerusalem,

to provide for the year-round sacrifices of the Temple.


For example, somewhere near Bethlehem, just 5 miles from Jerusalem.


These shepherds would often separate a new lamb from the other sheep,

and then wrap it tightly in linen,

to protect it from injuring itself,

because only spotless lambs could be sacrificed in the Temple.


And these shepherds would go and find a new born baby

wrapped similarly in swaddling clothes,

and remember that the prophet Isaiah foretold that the savior

would be sacrificed for his people, “like a lamb led to the slaughter.”


And they found the babe laying in a manger

—a food trough for animals, as if He Himself were food.

And that manger is made of wood, like the wood of the cross.

And that manger was located in a town called “Bethlehem,”

which is Hebrew for “House of Bread.”


So that as we celebrate this holy Mass tonight/today,

and it looks like all we see is a little piece of bread,

remember the shepherds seeing that little baby,

and knowing that but truly present, though hidden,

were countless angels, and lightening and thunder and clouds of fire

—truly the glory of the Lord.


And know that that same thing, that same glory,

is hidden but surely here at this Mass tonight,

which traditional calls “Christ’s Mass”, or Christmas,

but also at every single Mass throughout the year.



If we’re paying attention, Christmas can be a powerful time of discovering Jesus,

and His presence and His love.

A time of truly experiencing the glory of the Lord.

I hope and pray that is the case for all of us today.


But as the season passes, and the lights and trees come down,

and all the bright wrapping paper goes into the trash,

and we return to our normal daily routine,

it will be so easy to forget about the glory of the Lord that we have seen.


But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Because that glory remains in the Church until the end of time.

And it can remain in you, if only you will recognize it hidden in the many graces

He offers to you throughout the year,

and be not afraid of that grace, but accept it eagerly and joyfully

as we do today from the humble, tender and glorious Baby Jesus.