Monday, December 26, 2016

Christmas, Cycle A - December 25, 2016

Cycle A
December 25, 2016
4pm and 6pm at Saint Mary’s, Pylesville
10am at Saint Matthew’s, Baltimore  


When Night Ends

There is a story that some centuries ago, a wise old rabbi asked his students how they could tell when night had ended and day was on its way back.

One student 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 another student chimed in, “Could it be when you see a tree in the distance and can tell whether it is a fig tree or a pear tree?”  And again the old rabbi shook his head, “No!”

The students were now becoming frustrated.  One of them called out, “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, for you it is still night.”

O Holy Night

Well, on Christmas, we celebrate a very special night.

We sing, in that beautiful Christmas carol, O Holy Night.  And we call it Holy because what happens on this night is intended 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.  I see this happening in several ways.

Day Returns: Brothers and Sisters

First, the infant in Bethlehem embraces all human beings.

It is significant that the child attracts and reaches out to the poor, lower-class, uneducated shepherds.  And he attracts and reaches out to the 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 when we see our oneness with all other persons – be they refugees fleeing persecution or persons with a different political opinion or family members from whom we are alienated.

The Christmas carol O Holy Night invites us to look on the face of others and see that they are our brothers and sisters.  Just think of the words:

“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 worth as persons.

God, taking on our humanity in Jesus, proclaims our inherent value as human beings.  No longer do we need to question our self-worth.

The birth of Jesus has so fused the human with the divine that the night of a diminished sense of self is over.  The day has come to feel assured of our own value as persons.

And again, the Christmas carol O Holy Night conveys this.  Just think of the words:

“Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth – the soul felt its worth”

Day Returns: Hope

And finally, the infant in Bethlehem gives us hope.

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

In the midst of this, the infant offers us the hope of “Emmanuel,” a name which means “God is with us.”  He offers us the assurance of sustaining us through each minute of “night” until “day” starts to come back.

And again, the Christmas carol O Holy Night lifts up this hope.  Just think of the words:

“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.

We can experience this shift because of the infant in Bethlehem.  No wonder we sing:

“O holy night, the stars are brightly shining;

It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth!”

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

4th Sunday of Advent, Cycle C - December 18, 2016

4th Sunday of Advent
Cycle A
December 18, 2016     
4pm at Saint Mary, Pylesville
11am at Saint Matthew, Baltimore  



My Sleeping on a Homily

Sometimes I find it difficult to get the idea for my Sunday homily.

I reflect on the readings early in the week.  I ask myself: what are these passages, especially the gospel, saying to me and to us today?

Sometimes it just doesn’t get clear very quickly.  And then what I do is re-read the Scripture passages and some commentaries before going to bed, maybe on Wednesday evening.

I just sleep on it, and then, almost always, I wake up in the morning and it’s clear.  Sleeping on it has a way of helping me to see it as I had not seen it before.

Joseph Sleeping on His Dilemma

I wonder if something like this is what happens to Joseph in today’s gospel.

Joseph and Mary are betrothed.  In that culture, this was much more than being engaged.

Betrothal meant that they were married but not yet living together.  So, betrothal could only be ended by divorce.

Joseph comes to know that Mary is bearing a child and he knows that the child is not his.  The law calls for Joseph to divorce Mary and for Mary to be publicly shamed and punished, but Joseph doesn’t want this to happen. 

So, he decides to divorce Mary quietly, without any accusation against her.  Still something tells Joseph to take time with his decision. 

So he decides to sleep on it and see what he thinks in the morning.  He wakes up and now things look different and clear to him. 

Something within him tells him to trust Mary.  In fact, Joseph feels that God through an angel has calmed him and told him to go ahead with the marriage.

Joseph Responds

In all of this, Joseph is a great example.

He doesn’t just react out of anger or hurt or pride.  He doesn’t react hastily.

Instead, Joseph takes time to be with the situation and take it inside himself.  He gets in touch with what God is saying within him.

He is decisive and not rash, reflective and not reactive.  And, of course, the result is wonderful.

Joseph cooperates in bringing God’s Son into the world.  So, what a wonderful example he is!

I have to ask: how much more of God’s presence and peace can enter our world if we respond to situations as Joseph does?  Step back – reflect – pray – sleep on it – get in touch with what God wants – what a helpful, positive process this is!

Joseph Respects

Joseph shows one more trait that I don’t want us to miss.

Joseph is a religious man and respects the religious law.  That law tells him to divorce Mary.

But, he decides to do this quietly.  Why?

Because he doesn’t want to expose Mary to shame and disgrace.  So, he is going to live up to his faith, but in a way that is not self-righteous and not destructive of Mary.

Well again, what a good example Joseph is!  Sometimes, in our world and in our religion, we think that we have to “stand up” for what we believe.

And sometimes, unfortunately, this “standing up” becomes a “putting down.”  Sometimes we think that “standing up” for something we believe is right means “putting down” others whom we believe are wrong.

This is an unfortunate approach.  It is not the way of Joseph or of Jesus.

It is not the way that Pope Francis is modeling and calling us to embrace.  Joseph’s example today is a great example of being able to “stand up” for something and still respect the other person at the same time – a both/and approach.  

It is a helpful example in dealing with situations in our families.  It is a helpful for all of us and for us as a Church in dealing with issues in our society.

It is, I believe, the way to bring God’s presence and peace much more effectively into our world.  That is the lesson of Joseph.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

3rd Sunday of Advent, Cycle C - December 11, 2016

3rd Sunday of Advent
Cycle A
December 11, 2016     



John the Baptist

Back in the first century in Palestine, there is a man named John the Baptist.

John is a fiery preacher.  People like his talk about God’s terrifying wrath. 

They figure that God’s wrath will come down heavy on the Romans who are occupying their country and oppressing them.  They want the Romans to get their just desserts and John seems to be saying that God will take vengeance on them.

John points to Jesus as the one who will lead his people in all of this.  He refers to Jesus as “one more powerful than I.”


Jesus has listened to John and even been baptized by him.

But then, Jesus goes in a very different direction.  He doesn’t talk about wrath or about God as punishing or vengeful.

Instead, Jesus introduces a whole new language about God.  He speaks in terms of compassion and mercy.

Jesus even speaks about the forgiveness of enemies.  He speaks of union with God and with one another and not of division.

Jesus emphasizes that God comes to save us from what oppresses the human spirit.  He does not speak of God in political or military terms.

Jesus replaces John’s austere life in the desert with a lifestyle centered on meals.  He replaces John’s good guy/bad guy, insider/outsider mentality with an approach that is open to people.

Jesus doesn’t push away or condemn people.  He eats dinner with those labeled as sinners and he talks with them about God.

And beyond all this, Jesus does something that John the Baptist never does.  He heals people and his physical healings, while real, seem to point to something deeper – to the healing of the deepest hungers and hurts of the human spirit.

Very remarkably, Jesus directs a lot of his attention to the lost and the last and the least of society.  And that includes women and children.

A Revolution

This is the background of today’s gospel.

This is why John sends some of his followers to ask Jesus: “Um, are you really the One we’ve been waiting for?  You’re looking pretty different from what we expected.”

Jesus responds by going back to Isaiah, to what we heard in our first reading.  He knows that Isaiah gives the accurate idea of what this Savior will do, and he knows that this is revolutionary.

So Jesus says: “Tell John what’s happening.  The blind now see a vision and purpose for their lives.

“The deaf now hear a message of unconditional acceptance and self-worth.  The lame are now able to walk through the challenging bumps of life.

“Those as good as dead are now alive and have something to live for.  And the poor now have their deepest hunger satisfied.”

So what he’s telling John is that a revolution is taking place.  He is bringing a whole new understanding of God and our relationship with God.

The Revolution Continues

Today we still need to hear what Jesus says because sometimes we still hang on to John the Baptist and his understanding. 

Sometimes we see faith only as a checklist of truths that have to be believed.  We can miss faith as an alive, personal relationship with Jesus.

Sometimes we see Church as a club with members, with the need to determine who’s in and who’s out.  We can miss Church as a community of persons who can be at different places in their journey with the Lord, a community where there can be unity without complete uniformity.

Sometimes we see God as punishing and condemning those who don’t measure up.  We can miss God, as revealed by Jesus, as reaching out and even including those whom we think are doing wrong.

Maybe it all boils down to this.  We need The Joy of the Gospel. 

That’s what Pope Francis is talking about in a recent and refreshing statement called The Joy of the Gospel.  The Pope has expressed the way of understanding God that Jesus presents on this Third Sunday of Advent. 

He calls us to embrace this more fully.  And my bet is, if we do, then the One whose birth we celebrate at Christmas will come much more fully into our world. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

2nd Sunday of Advent, Cycle C - December 4, 2016

2nd Sunday of Advent
Cycle A
December 4, 2016       


Forest Fires

I have never seen a forest fire, except on TV news reports.

But I would say that they look fearsome.  In recent years, there have been some very large fires in our country.

These forest fires can have several causes.  They can be intentional or accidental.

An intentional fire can be lit by someone who may or may not realize the impact of what they are doing.  An accidental fire can be caused by a campfire that is not fully extinguished.

Whether intentional or accidental, a forest fire can cause great destruction.  There can be great loss of trees and of personal property and even of human life.

The Promise of Forest Fires

An amazing truth of nature is that there is promise and hope hidden within the very destruction caused by a forest fire.

New growth can and will happen.  The timeline for new growth after a fire varies, but one thing is certain.

The ashes become a nutrient for new growth.  Eventually, new shoots of life will sprout from the earth or even from the stumps of trees.

This is the image that Isaiah uses in our first reading.  Isaiah compares the recent kings of Israel – the line of kings that began with Jesse, the father of King David – he compares them to the stump of a tree.

These recent kings have been so weak that they have brought devastation to the country, much like a forest fire.  And yet, Isaiah says with beautiful alliteration, “A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse.”

Isaiah offers promise and hope.  New life will eventually emerge here much as from a forest fire.

Our Forest Fires

Now we can also experience forest fires in our own personal lives.

In a sense, some of them are intentional – meaning that we bring them upon ourselves – and some are accidental – meaning that they just happen to us.  Our intentional fires might result from speaking hurtful words to somebody, or from not applying ourselves to our school work, or from falling away from God.

Our accidental fires might come from the death of a loved one, or from being bullied in school or put down at work.  All of these personal forest fires can also be destructive.

They can destroy relationships and leave us alone and lonely.  They can destroy our immediate future and leave us feeling hopeless. 

They can destroy any inner sense of God’s presence and leave us feeling lost.  And they can destroy self-esteem and leave us feeling worthless.

The Promise of Our Forest Fires

But, as with the forest fires of nature, there is also promise and hope.

We can live in the hope of a shoot sprouting from a stump.  This hope is a core message of Advent – the hope of regeneration, of new life springing from destruction.

Usually, we cannot leave this totally up to God.  We must do our part too. 

So we may need to own up to our own behavior and even connect with a counselor to assist us in changing our ways and rebuilding a relationship.  We may need to work day by day to develop our potentials and build a future. 

We may need to try the Sacrament of Reconciliation and allow our sense of oneness with God to be rekindled. And we may need to rediscover our own self-worth by being with persons who build up and not tear down. 

So yes, hope is not passive.  It demands that we do our part.

But we do this because we have the promise and hope extended by Isaiah and by Jesus.  With this, our forest fires can give way to new life: “A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse.”