Wednesday, December 27, 2017

4th Sunday of Advent, Cycle B - December 24, 2017

4th Sunday of Advent
Cycle B
December 24, 2017      4:00pm and 8:00am Masses
Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville


The Annunciation

Today’s gospel is one of the most well-known stories in the entire Bible.

It is called the Annunciation.  It is the event that sets in motion the birth of Jesus. 

This afternoon, I want to carefully reflect with you on this passage.  So, I invite you to take your hymnbooks and open them to page 43.

No, we are not going to sing a hymn.  Instead, there, on page 43, we can see the text of this gospel passage.

I am recommending that you may want to look at this as I comment on some of the significant details that are packed into it.  Maybe we could call this a kind of Bible-study approach to today’s homily.

1. Mary as Disciple

The number one thing to notice is that Saint Luke presents Mary as the first and model disciple.

Just look at what happens.  At the beginning of the story, the angel Gabriel greets Mary and explains what is about to take place.

Now look toward the very end of the passage.  Mary responds: “I am the handmaid of the Lord.  May it be done to me according to your word.”

So, Mary 1) listens and then 2) lives out God’s message.  It is helpful to think about her response in the context of a story later in Luke’s gospel. 

Jesus is inside a house and someone says, “Your mother and family are outside wanting to talk with you.”  And Jesus responds, “My mother and family are those who [1] hear the Word of God and [2] live it.” 

So Jesus defines what it means to be a member of his spiritual family or a disciple – 1) listening and 2) living his word.  The significant thing is that Mary has already done this before Jesus is even born. 

In fact, Mary becomes Jesus’ physical mother and forms his human family because she is the first member of his spiritual family.  She is the first and model disciple. 


2. Jesus from David

Now, notice, again toward the beginning of the passage, Luke says that Mary is betrothed to “Joseph, of the house of David.”

And then, in the next paragraph, the angel says of Jesus: “The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father.”  Well, from the time of King David, 1000 years before the birth of Jesus, there were many prophecies of a savior.

These prophecies began with what we heard in the first reading.  King David wants to build a house for God – a brick and mortar temple.

God responds that he will build a house for David – a house of descendants.  All the prophets who follow foretell that a savior will eventually come from this house or family of David.

So, in these verses, the gospel shows Jesus as the fulfillment of these prophecies.  And in doing this, it shows the human side of Jesus – his humanity. 

He is identified with these ancestors, beginning with David and ending with Joseph.  The humanity of Jesus is carefully established.

3. Jesus from God

Now this passage also tells us that Jesus is not just an ordinary human being. 

Notice: in the second paragraph again, the angel says to Mary: “He will be called Son of the Most High.”  And then, a few verses later, Gabriel says to Mary: “The power of the Most High will overshadow you.”

The Book of Genesis uses the same word “overshadow” to describe the work of the Holy Spirit in the act of creation.  As if this were not enough, at the very end of today’s passage, Mary says: “May it be done to me according to your word.” 

Again the Book of Genesis uses the same word that Mary uses here – “Fiat” – “May it be done,” “Let it happen”— Genesis uses this to describe God’s action in creating the world.  So the idea here is that God is doing a new creation – something radically new with Mary. 

And Gabriel, of course, gets very clear on this.  “The child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.”

So this child is actually the Son of God, the very presence of God with us.  He is both human and divine.


Some authors say that this Annunciation story is like a gospel in miniature.

It calls us to believe in the full identity of Jesus – human and divine.  And with this belief, it calls us to 1) listen to and 2) live out the words of the Savior. 

By doing that, we will follow the example of Mary.  We will also be members of Jesus’ spiritual family, his disciples.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

3rd Sunday of Advent, Cycle B - December 17, 2017

3rd Sunday of Advent
Cycle B
December 17, 2017
Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville   8:00am
Saint Matthew Parish, Baltimore    11:00am


O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

The hymn that I have always linked with the Advent Season is O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.

I remember singing this hymn from when I was a child.  It is a real classic and it dates – amazingly –all the way back to the year 800 – 1200 years ago! 

It contains verses like these: “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, And ransom captive Israel.  That mourns in lonely exile here, Until the Son of God appear.”

Then, in another verse: “To us the path of knowledge show, And teach us in her ways to go.”  And in another verse: “Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, And death’s dark shadow put to flight.”

A Savior?  From What?

This hymn beautifully expresses the human yearning for a savior and for salvation.

This desire lies at the heart of the Advent Season.  But I think there is an important question here.

Do you and I, as people who generally like to be independent and self-sufficient, do we honestly believe we need to be saved?  Do we really believe we need a savior?

Or, to put it differently, from what do we need to be saved?  This is an important question and it is especially appropriate during Advent. 

A theologian named Paul Tillich has a great insight into why we need a savior and what we need to be saved from.  He says that we and all persons of all time need a savior because, deep-down, we feel three anxieties.

We feel anxiety 1) about darkness, 2) about meaning, and 3) about death.  These three anxieties exist right in the core of our humanity.

From Anxiety about Darkness

First, deep-down we feel anxiety about darkness.

We see that there is darkness in the world. We wonder if we have some responsibility for the bleakness that is there.

We are also sure that there is some darkness within us.  We know that sometimes we do wrong in spite of our good intentions. 

And so, we need salvation from this anxiety about darkness, a savior who can forgive us and love us unconditionally.  And this is why we sing, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, And ransom captive Israel.”   

From Anxiety about Meaning

And then, deep-down we feel anxiety about meaning – the meaning of life.

This anxiety may show itself in our need to be right.  Or it may show itself in our need to have our thinking or our accomplishments affirmed by others.

Or we may worry that we are missing something in life.  We may have an inner, gnawing feeling that our basic life choices have left us incomplete and that there must be more to life.

And so, we need salvation from this anxiety about meaning, a savior who gives us the way and the purpose and the goal for our lives.  And this is why we sing, “To us the path of knowledge show, And teach us in her ways to go.”  

From Anxiety about Death

And finally, deep-down we feel anxiety about death.

We know that eventually we will die but we don’t like thinking about it.  Our hair starts to turn gray, and we probably aren’t too pleased.

We may find ourselves getting tired and having less energy, and we try to avoid admitting it.  We resist facing up to these things because they remind us, maybe only subconsciously, of death.

And so, we need salvation from this anxiety about death, a savior who can transform death into new life.  And this is why we sing, “Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, And death’s dark shadow put to flight.”

Salvation from These Anxieties

What I recommend is that Advent addresses these deep-down human anxieties – about darkness and meaning and death.

John the Baptist in today’s gospel and this entire season point us to the savior.  So, with that in mind, I invite you to join in singing some of those very poignant verses in O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

2nd Sunday of Advent, Cycle B - December 10, 2017

2nd Sunday of Advent
Cycle B
December 10, 2017     


Geocentric to Heliocentric

About 1900 years ago, in the year 130, the Greek astronomer Ptolemy proposed the geocentric theory of the universe.

Ptolemy argued that the earth is the center of all celestial bodies.  He held that the sun, the planets and the stars all revolve around the earth.

Ptolemy’s theory dominated for almost 1500 years.  And then, two people – Copernicus and Galileo – promoted a different theory.

They proposed the heliocentric theory.  Copernicus and Galileo developed convincing proofs that the sun is the center of the solar system with the earth, the other planets, and the stars revolving around it.

Well, today we accept this as a basic scientific fact.  But, in its day, this was a revolutionary shift.

Galileo especially met with lots of opposition, even accusations of heresy and suppression by the Church.  People did not want to accept the idea that our earth was not the center it all.

Me to Jesus

John the Baptist in today’s gospel calls for a similar shift in viewpoint that Copernicus and Galileo called for.

John says, “One mightier than I is coming after me.”  John is rather popular, a self-assured person, probably with a good sense of self-esteem. 

But the Baptist realizes that he is not the center of it all.  He sees Jesus as the center and he is telling us to see things this way too.

Struggle with Jesus as Center

This is important for us, but it is challenging.

In a certain way, we human beings are born with a worldview like Ptolemy’s.  As babies and children, everything revolves around us.

Eventually we mature and learn that others are just as important as we are.  But still, even after we come to know this in our minds, we can slip back into a self-oriented mode.

We can slip back into living only for my needs, my wants, and my future.  Maybe our culture’s emphasis on each of us having everything our own way contributes to this.

Advent calls us to the worldview of John the Baptist.  The idea is that the central focus of our life, the point around which we are to revolve is Jesus – “the One who is mightier than I.”

Revolving Around Jesus

Practically, what might this mean for us?

The beautiful, poetic images of Isaiah in today’s first reading really help with this.  Isaiah wants us to get ready for the One who is greater than we are.

So, Isaiah says, “Every valley shall be filled in.”  We need to fill in the valley of inner emptiness by making space for an inner relationship with God. 

This is fundamental and we are to do this by coming to Mass and receiving the Eucharist, and also by privately reading Scripture or praying to God in our own words or in some learned prayer.  We need to fill in this valley.

Isaiah says, “Every mountain shall be made low.”  We are to level the mountain of busyness and of feeling driven to do so many things. 

Often this ends up distancing us from others, even those for whom we are doing all of this.  We need to level this mountain. 

And Isaiah says, “The rugged land shall be made smooth.”  We are to live out of our commitment to one another when things get rugged, especially in our marriage or family and even in friendships. 

We are to be willing to work through troubles with patience, respect, and maybe even with the assistance of a third party.  We need to smoothe this rugged land.


So, John the Baptist calls us to a major shift.

Jesus – “the One mightier than I” – he is to be the center of it all.  Not me!

One of our Catholic theologians says that only when we make this shift are we really spiritual people.  Only when we do this are we on the road to spiritual maturity and will we be ready to greet someday the “One who is mightier.”