Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas, Cycle C - December 25, 2012

Cycle C
December 25, 2012 4pm and Midnight

Saint Margaret Parish, Bel Air


When Night Ends

Some centuries ago, a wise old rabbi once asked his students how they could tell when night had ended and day was on its way back.

The students first responded, “Could it be when you see an animal in the distance and can tell whether it is a sheep or a dog?”  The old rabbi answered, “No!”    

Then the students said, “Could it be when you look at a tree in the distance and can tell whether it is a fig tree or a peace tree?”  And again the old rabbi answered, “No!”

Now the students were frustrated.  So they asked, “Well, then, when is it?”

The old rabbi responded, “It is when you look on the face of any man or woman and see that she or he is your brother or sister.  Because if you cannot do that, then no matter what time it is, it is still night.”

O Holy Night

Tonight, we celebrate a very special night.

The famous Christmas Carol proclaims this O Holy Night.  And we call this Holy because what happens on his night marks or intends to mark the end of night.

The birth of Jesus Christ is the moment when “day is on its way back,” to use the words of the wise, old rabbi.  This makes night begin to end and day begin to return in several ways.

Day Returns: Brothers and Sisters

First, the infant in Bethlehem embraces all human beings.

This child attracts and reaches out to the poor, lower-class, uneducated shepherds.  And he attracts and reaches out to the more affluent, upper-class, educated wise men.

With his outstretched arms, Jesus sees everyone as brother and sister.  And so, with him, the day is on its way back as we are empowered to look on the face of all persons and see our oneness with them.

The words of O Holy Night invite us to do this.
“Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His Gospel is peace.”

Day Returns: Self-Worth

And then the infant in Bethlehem affirms our absolute worth as persons.

God taking on our humanity proclaims the inherent value of each person.  No longer do we need to look for self-worth or self-esteem in any other place.

The birth of Jesus has so fused the human with the divine that the night of self-doubt and self-deprecation is over.  The day has come to feel assured of our inherent value, from our first moment in the womb to our last breath before meeting God face to face.

And again, the words of O Holy Night convey this so well.
“Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.”

Day Returns: Hope

And finally, the infant in Bethlehem gives us hope.

Sometimes we grow weary trying to keep up with the stresses of everyday life.  Sometimes we grow weary as we look at the extent of the problems facing our country and our world.

In the midst of this, the infant offers us the hope of “Emmanuel – God is with us.”  He offers us the assurance of his presence each step of life’s way, sustaining us through each minute of personal “night” until personal “day” starts to come back.

And again, the words of O Holy Night lift up this hope.
“A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”   


So, the night begins to end and the day is on its way back.

This happens because the infant in Bethlehem embraces all persons as brothers and sisters, affirms our absolute self-worth, and by all means gives us hope for the light of day.  And so, no wonder we sing:
“O holy night, the stars are brightly shining;
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth!”

Monday, December 24, 2012

4th Sunday of Advent, Cycle C - December 23, 2012

4th Sunday of Advent
Cycle C
December 23, 2012       9:30 and 11am

Saint Margaret Parish, Bel Air


Receiving Instead of Giving

Some years ago the comic strip For Better or For Worse had a humorous episode right before Christmas.

Mom and Dad and six-year-old April are shopping at the mall.  April is absolutely captivated by all the toys and everything else.

“Look, Dad!  I want it for Christmas!  I want a ‘Wake-Up-Willy’ and a rocket sleigh!  An’ a real camera an’’…an’…”
Eventually Dad has had enough.  “April, Christmas is a time for giving!  There is a lot more joy in giving to others.”

April immediately responds, “I know, Dad.  But somebody has to receive or there’d be nobody to give stuff to.”

Elizabeth and Mary

Little April, of course, has a lot of child-like, self-interest going on here.

But April also leads us to a good insight.  It is important for us to see ourselves first as receivers and only then as givers.

In the background to today’s gospel, we know that Mary’ cousin Elizabeth is an older woman, at least those times.  She is probably in her 40s but the average lifespan is about 50.

Elizabeth and her husband have had no children and now surprisingly she is bearing a baby.  She sees this as a gift from God and knows that she is a receiver.

Mary is Elizabeth’s much younger cousin.  She doesn’t fully understand the angel’s message, but she trusts God and sees herself as receiving a gift from God.

So both Elizabeth and Mary see themselves as blessed by God – as receivers.  And, very significantly, seeing themselves as receivers moves them to be givers and shapes how they give to others.

Receivers First, Then Givers

This may be a different way of looking at things, but it is a valuable insight.

We need to live first as receivers, not exactly like April in the comic strip, but as receivers from God.  We need the awareness that ultimately, everything in life is a gift from God.

If we live with that awareness, then we will probably be moved from within to be givers.  And beyond that, our awareness of receiving will shape our giving. 

Receiving Shaping Our Giving

For example, this awareness that first we are receivers will lead us to be attentive to others and to give what they really need. 

In the gospel, Mary gives her time and assistance to Elizabeth when her cousin really needs it.  We might give our listening or empathy to a spouse or child or friend, and not just a sweater or something else, good in itself, but maybe not what the person most needs from us right now. 

The awareness that first we are receivers will also lead us to give without our ego needs getting in the way.

Again, in the gospel, Elizabeth praises Mary as greater than herself, even though Mary is much younger and much less significant in the eyes of others.  We might give an apology to a friend or recognition to an employee, without letting our need to be right or also be recognized get in the way.

And the awareness that first we are receivers will also lead us to give with no expectation of return.

Mary gives her time to Elizabeth and Elizabeth gives praise to Mary – each of them doing this because they want to do it and it is a good thing to do and each of them expecting nothing in return.  We might give care to our parents or a nice present to a friend because we want to do it and it is good to do and we expect nothing in return.

So, it may sound surprising, but Christmas is first about receiving and only then is it about giving.

Our awareness that we are first of all receivers from God will also lead us to give and it will shape our giving.  It will lead us 1) to give what others really need, 2) to give without our ego getting in the way, and 3) to give with no expectation of return.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

3rd Sunday of Advent, Cycle C - December 16, 2012

3rd Sunday of Advent
Cycle C
December 16, 2012       7:30 and 9am

Saint Margaret Parish, Bel Air


Newtown, Connecticut

Yesterday afternoon at the 4pm Mass, I gave a homily that I had prepared and finished by early Friday morning.

But then, later last evening I finally had a chance to watch some of the television coverage of the tragic shooting at the school in Newtown, Connecticut.  I listened to the news journalists and also listened to a father named Robbie of one of the six-year-old girls who had been killed. 

At any rate, I decided before going to bed to “junk” my prepared homily.  Instead, I want to share a few thoughts on this mass shooting and what this might be saying to us.

Maybe we and all Americans, certainly all people of faith are in the position of the people in today’s gospel.  They ask John the Baptist: “What are we to do?” 

John has been telling them to repent to get ready for the coming of the One promised by God.  Even in this tragedy, I believe God comes to us in some way – as unintended and unwilled by God as this event is. 

So if that is true, then we too can ask the same question as those in the gospel. “What are we to do?”   

“What Are We To Do?

My first thought centers on the Christmas carol Silent Night.  We sing, “Silent Night, Holy Night.”  I have begun thinking that maybe that night could be holy because it was silent.

Mary, Joseph, the shepherds – they are not recorded as saying a thing.  Only the angels are singing.

So maybe their silence enables the Holy One of God to be born.  Maybe their silence was the only appropriate response in the presence of the Holy One of God.

Right now we, all Americans, need some silence in the face of this tragedy.  Only in this silence can the Holy One of God, Jesus, comes to us and speak to us at this moment.

My second thought is that we must connect the dots between words and actions.  What we say and how we say it sows the seedbed for behavior, and that can be very inappropriate and bad behavior.

Hateful, poisonous words about those with whom we disagree have become common.  We hear this way of talking on certain programs on certain news networks on TV and radio.

We might hear this in social settings right in this community.  We might even see improper modeling of this behavior in some public figures.

Sometimes even in the name of religion and of God and, as the saying says, standing up for what you believe, we hear words that are venomous and poisonous and hateful.  We must connect the dots.

This languaging creates an environment not just for bullying, but for extreme hateful behavior.  We just have to stop this.

We need to stop listening to such programs on TV.  We need to turn them and maybe their audience will dry up and they will have to turn to some better form of programming.

We need to steer social groups who are engaged in this poisonous talk in another direction and if we cannot, we should just leave or not go back.   I am sad to say I have had to do some of that. 

Jesus says that at a certain point, just leave and move on to where the peace of God can reign and be heard by others and by ourselves.  We should not feel ashamed to do just that

My third thought is that we have some hard economic times here in America.  These have been difficult and frustrating years for some individuals and families.

As we try to work our way out of the economic collapse, we need to refrain from scapegoating.  It is so easy to scapegoat one person.

When ancient peoples selected a scapegoat – a real animal – they would kill it.  We cannot allow that violence to grab hold of us as a people and culture.

I am afraid that some of it has already gotten a hold.  We need to stop scapegoating and start accepting collective responsibility – all of us. 

Only then can we constructively move to solutions.  Only then can we avoid the unfair and unhealthy expressions of anger and frustration.

My fourth thought is that let’s use our good mental health community.  When we see someone in trouble – a family member, a friend, a fellow employee, a neighbor – let’s make a caring intervention.

Let’s try to guide that person to the right kind of assistance.  We need to feel a sense of responsibility for one another, have the courage and take the risk to guide and help.

Isn’t that the gospel?  Isn’t what a gutsy, but real-life love of neighbor must mean at times?

And my fifth and last thought for this morning will I bet be controversial but I believe it and am going to say it.  We need some gun control in our country.

I just do not understand why any private citizen needs an automatic assault weapon.  We need to get over the idea that in this and maybe other areas, our rights are unfettered.

By the way, I believe it is a flimsy reading of the Constitution to say that there shall be no limiting of the right to bear arms.  I do not believe our Founding Fathers ever envisioned the situation we are in today or intended such an unfettered right.

I saw the movie Lincoln last Sunday – and it is a great one, well worth seeing.  At one point, Lincoln is talking about the abolition of slavery.

He says that letting go of the right to oppress others might lead us to find other rights that we have not yet discovered.  What a great insight.

Letting go of our right to bear certain kinds of weapons – I am not saying all weapons, but the kinds I have referred to – this might lead us to discover more fundamental rights that we have – like the right to expect and build respectful processes for resolving differences and finding solutions to problems.

Maybe we Americans would regain some of the leadership and respect we have lost in the world if we did things like this.  And, more to my concern, then we for sure would be living the gospel of Jesus Christ and be Christian and Catholic Christian in a much clearer way than we have been.


Well, all of this written between 5:45 and 6:45 this morning.

There is more to say, much more, but another time.  That is enough for now.

Monday, December 10, 2012

2nd Sunday of Advent, Cycle C - December 9, 2012

2nd Sunday of Advent
Cycle C
December 9, 2012         10:30am and 12 noon

Saint Margaret Parish, Bel Air


Introducing John

Imagine a person being introduced in this way:

“In the days when Mr. A was Secretary-General of the United Nations, in Mr. B’s seventh year as President of the United States, when Mrs. C was Governor of Maryland, and Mr. D was County Executive of Harford County, in the fifth year of the pontificate of Pope E, and while Archbishop F was Archbishop of Baltimore –

“A man named John felt God calling him.  He began talking about repentance.”

This gives us a sense of how Saint Luke is introducing John the Baptist in today’s gospel.  He wants us to know very precisely where John fits in history.

And so, Luke names the civil and religious leaders of the day.  But, he makes absolutely no comment about them.

Not Others but Us

In fact, Luke could say some critical and negative things, but he does not.

Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate, and Herod are secular rulers leading a secular government.  But Luke does not blame all the troubles of the world on them because they are not religious or spiritual persons.

Annas and Caiphas are not the best of religious leaders.  But again, Luke does not bash them as being too progressive or too reactionary or too wishy-washy.

Luke just names them to get to his real point and that is John the Baptist and us.  John calls us, personally and individually, to prepare for the coming of the One sent by God.

John calls us to do this by dealing with the stuff in ourselves.  He wants us to look at how we live and the kind of persons we are.

This is how to let the Lord be more fully alive in us, not by being negative about our leaders or anyone else for that matter.  And to guide us in looking at ourselves, John uses images that some of the prophets had used.

Preparing the Way of the Lord

First, John says, “Every valley shall be filled in.”  Do we have a valley that comes from being caught up in our culture of consumerism?

Is there an emptiness in us that we try to fill by allowing mere desires to become needs?  This Advent, is there a valley we really need to fill with God by being more reflective and prayerful in the midst of all the busyness?

And then, John says, “Every mountain shall be made low.”  Do we have a mountain of rugged individualism?

Do we live with the attitude that we made it on our own and everyone else should be able to do that too?  This Advent, is there a mountain we have to level by remembering that we are both individuals and part of a community and that we have responsibility for ourselves and for the community as well?

Next, John says, “The winding ways shall be made straight.”  Do we create winding ways by pushing and twisting others to think or do things my way?

Are we so insistent on our way that we don’t really consider what this does to those around us?  This Advent, do we need to straighten these ways by talking things through with others and together arriving at something that we can all live with?

And finally, John says, “The rough ways shall be made smooth.”  Do we have a roughness about us that both Saint Luke and John the Baptist avoid?

Are we caught up in blaming and bashing with angry and demeaning words?  This Advent, do we need to smooth these ways by refraining from attacking and trying to understand things from the perspective of others?

Monday, December 3, 2012

1st Sunday of Advent, Cycle C - December 2, 2012

PODCAST - Press sideways triangle below to listen

1st Sunday of Advent
Cycle C
December 2, 2012         9:30 and 11am

Saint Margaret Parish, Bel Air


3 Habits for Advent

I imagine that most of us have heard of the book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Steven Covey wrote this back in 1989 and it has been a national bestseller.  Just recently, I heard a corporate psychologist refer to this as a classic in helping business people become more effective.

Actually, Covey’s insights can help just about anyone in any walk of life.  He cites seven habits as crucial in our being effective and the first three of these deal with our inner dispositions. 

Covey says that highly effective people are, first of all, proactive.  Second, they live with the end in mind. 

And third, they put first things first.  It strikes me that these three habits express well what today’s Advent readings are saying. 

1. Be Proactive

First, Covey says that highly effective people are proactive.

They take the initiative.  For example, in the business world, the merger of one bank with another might be a proactive way to grow and to offer services more efficiently. 

In today’s second reading, Saint Paul expresses his pleasure with the way the people are living the faith.  But, he wants them to do even more, to be proactive as persons of faith.

For us, this may mean that we pray not just when we need something or feel overwhelmed by a situation.  Instead, being proactive means that we pray every day so that we have a real inner communion with the Lord.

2. Live with the End in Mind

Then second, Steven Covey says that highly effective people live with the end in mind.

They are goal-oriented.  For example, in the business world, McDonald’s has a goal of a high market share and so they are always trying new things like salads and specialty coffees.

In today’s gospel, Jesus speaks of omens in the universe and disasters that will threaten us.  These words are not to be taken literally but rather as more of a scare tactic to get us to live with the end in mind.

For us, this may mean that we not get swallowed up in the rush of day-to-day living or in the consumer culture of just having to get the latest iPhone or whatever it is.  Instead, living with the end in mind means that we stay aware that someday there will be an accounting of our life to God and that our eternal status will to a great extent depend not on what we have, but on how well we have lived.

3. Put First Things First

And third, Covey says that highly effective people put first things first.

They live with a sense of priorities.  For example, in the business world, there are car dealerships that know that quality service and repair is crucial, and they make this a priority in their entire operation. 

The theme in all of the Scripture passages today is to live whatever my vocation or state-of-life is in the way God wants me to live it.  We are to make this our priority above anything else. 

For us, this may mean that if you are a parent, you give priority to your husband or wife and children.  Putting first things first may mean that you make sure you all have dinner together as many evenings as possible, because it is right there in those minutes eating together that the most valuable communication usually happens.


So, I am saying that these three habits really express what Advent invites us to do.

And, all three of these habits are connected.  If I am proactive but don’t have the end in mind, I will probably be going in many directions.

If I have the end in mind but am not proactive, I will be going nowhere.  And if I have both of those habits but don’t put first things first, I will easily get caught up in unimportant things.

We need all three habits to be highly effective as disciples of Jesus.  We need all three habits to grow spiritually and be close to the Lord.