Sunday, January 6, 2013

The obedience of the star...

Here's my Epiphany homily.  I wish I would have read this quote before writing it, but I think that my homily goes along with it anyway:

"The obedience of the star calls us to imitate its humble service: to be servants, as best we can, of the grace that invites all men to find Christ."

~ Saint Leo the Great, pope
(from the Office of Readings for the Solemnity of the Epiphany)

Homily: Solemnity of the Epiphany – Cycle C
You all know Fr. Mike, right?  Now, I know that you all will think that I am taking advantage of his not being here this week, but we’re going to talk about Fr. Mike a little.  One of the things that impressed me about Fr. Mike (well, I should say that it shocked me at first, but then I was impressed) was his lack of inhibition with talking to strangers about their religious lives.  During my first weeks here, Fr. Mike took me around to different places in order to get me orientated to business related stuff in the parish (you know, like putting my signature on file at banks and things like that).  At almost every stop, he would inquire into the religious life of the person who was helping us.
Being a newly ordained priest, I wasn’t yet used to the fact that walking around with a collar on basically gives you a free pass to talk to people about religion and so I was a little bit shocked when Fr. Mike would ask these strangers if they went to church and if so what church they went to.  Almost just as shocking, however, was that fact that multiple times the answer was “no, I’ve never gone to church.”  Did you hear that?  It wasn’t “oh, I was going to this church, but I stopped,” rather, it was “I’ve never gone to church.”  Talking about this later with Fr. Mike, he assured me that this was a rather typical response from people: that many people here in Cass County have been growing up completely “unchurched.”
The three wise men—a.k.a. the Magi—were also “unchurched,” (at least in the Judeo-Christian sense of the term).  These kings from the east were astronomers and probably practiced some sort of pagan religion (if they practiced any religion at all).  Thus, they knew little to nothing about a God who purportedly had chosen a specific people, living in the land of Canaan, to be his own people and that this God had promised to send them a Messiah, a king who would rule on the throne of one of their great forefathers.  What they did know, however, was that the appearance of a great star in the sky was an indication that a great king had been born.
Thus, when these three kings from the orient saw the great star appear in the west, they knew what it meant.  And even though they were pagans, they were good men and, thus, they knew that it would be right to make a journey to find this newborn king and to pay him homage, bringing him kingly gifts to honor him.
Here a couple of thousand years later, we find ourselves at a bit of a disadvantage to those kings.  We live in an age when rulers—that is, those who govern societies—are chosen from among the people whom they will rule.  In other words, we elect our government officials (like we did, for better or for worse, this past November).  This is what we are used to.  Back in the time of the Magi, however, great rulers were born—that is, destined from infancy to be royalty—and great natural signs were often cited as accompanying their births as a signal that the child’s destiny had been ordained by God.  We, as a people, however, have decided that it would be better if we relied more on our reason; choosing our government leaders based on what we perceive to be their merits, rather than on the interpretation of some natural sign.
As a result, we have generations of people who have stopped looking for signs.  In other words, we have generations of people who have stopped believing in God’s providential presence among us and have come to rely completely on themselves to make decisions in their lives.  Thus, there are many people—including many who live around us here in Cass County—who are fumbling in the dark, trying to make sense of life without the providential guidance of God, which is readily available to them!  The only thing that keeps them fumbling in the dark is that they haven’t seen a light bright enough to break into the darkness and lead them out of it.
In the first reading today, we heard the prophet Isaiah proclaim to the people, “See, darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds cover the peoples; but upon you the Lord shines, and over you appears his glory.  Nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance.”  My brothers and sisters, this message applies to us today just as much as it did to the Israelites over two-thousand years ago.  We, the Church, are the New Jerusalem; the city on which God’s light shines.  Thus, we are called to be a light to the nations, to those stumbling in darkness around us.  Yet, for the most part, it seems, we are content to cover up that light as we walk out of this place so that those walking in darkness never see it.  We refuse to engage friends and neighbors—and often even our own family members—about faith, about what we believe, and about how what we believe makes a positive difference in our lives.  We refuse to pray in public, even if it is just a small prayer of blessing over a meal in a restaurant.  No, even though we receive life itself when we receive the Body and Blood of Jesus from this altar, we are content to let those walking in darkness to remain in darkness because we worry that they would be offended if we talked to them about it (or, worse yet, that they would start asking us about our faith).
My brothers and sisters, the world desperately needs another star, like the one those wise men saw nearly two-thousand years ago.  The world needs a new Epiphany!  Our task as those who profess Christ as Lord is to be that epiphany.   In other words, we are called to be that star, shining brighter than any other star, that catches the attention of those dwelling in darkness and leads them to an encounter with Christ: an encounter that will manifest the light of salvation for them so that they may live in the joy that comes from knowing him.
My brothers and sisters, this is the new evangelization that the Pope has called for, but it won’t happen overnight.  In order to be that star for others, we first need to renew and deepen our own faith.  This Year of Faith is the perfect opportunity to do that.  Our parish is offering many different opportunities for you each to learn more about our faith (like the Catholicism series and Theology on Tap) and there are a multitude of other resources out there that you can take advantage of (such as videos, books, websites… in short, whatever works best for you to learn).  By this intentional effort to renew and deepen our faith, we will grow in confidence in the truth of our faith.  When that confidence grows, so too will grow a desire to share our faith with others; in other words, our desire to be that star for others will grow.
Friends, we need a sense of urgency about this.  You know, we almost had the end of the world last month!  Praise God that we didn’t because just think of all of the people that would have been lost!  I mean, seriously: think of all of the people we know who would have been lost to the fires of hell because we refused to share Christ’s light with them.  I can name three right off the bat: my cousin Joe, my friend Jake, and my sister’s husband Jason.  My guess is that most of us can at least think of one.  If so, please pray for that person.  Pray also for God’s wisdom to know how he may be calling you to share his light with that person.  Then pray for the courage to do it.  My friends, I promise you, God will not fail to answer these prayers.
First things first, however.  First, we need to come to Christ ourselves to honor him as our King and the good news is that he will be appearing before us soon, here on this altar.  O come let us adore him, Christ the Lord.
Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – January 6, 2013
Solemnity of the Epiphany

Friday, January 4, 2013

New Year's Resolutions with Mary, Mother of God

Ok, friends, I almost forgot to post my Solemnity homily from this past week.  Read fast, because there will be an Epiphany one coming soon!

I pray that the new year will bring you all abundant blessings!

P.S. Back to Guatemala in less than a week!

Homily: Mary, Mother of God – Cycle C

Well, here we are!  It’s a new year and once again everything seems possible.  Now I suppose that perhaps more than a few of us have spent the last few weeks lamenting all that wasn’t accomplished in the past year: those resolutions we so fervently resolved which, for a multitude of legitimate reasons, perhaps never quite materialized as we had imagined they would.  Nevertheless, today everything is new and full of possibilities.  And it’s likely that many of us have made new resolutions, which, I suppose, means that we are confident that this year we will actually keep them.
You know, I like that about us.  I like the fact that even when we don’t always accomplish what we’ve set out to do, that we don’t let that keep us from starting again.  In other words, we don’t despair that there is something more to accomplish, in spite of the fact that we’ve fallen short.  I think this is a very Catholic attitude, by the way.  As Catholics, we routinely acknowledge when we’ve failed to live up to our expectations—in other words, when we’ve “missed the mark”—and, once we do, we decide to start anew, with a clean slate, and strive once again to achieve those good goals we set for ourselves.  Sounds a little bit like the Sacrament of Reconciliation, doesn’t it?  Putting all of that aside, however, and turning back to our resolutions for this new year, I’d like to consider for a moment what it is that Mary has to teach us about making resolutions.
Throughout these last eight days, the Gospel readings have often reminded us of how, in various situations, Mary encountered things that were distressing, confusing, and astounding; and that, after each of them, how she “held those things in her heart, reflecting on them.”  First was the message from the shepherds of what they had seen and heard from the angels.  Then was the words of Simeon in the Temple, in which he prophesied that a “sword would pierce her heart.”  Finally, there was the losing and finding of the child Jesus in the Temple, in which Jesus’ words confounded her.  After each of these situations, we are told that Mary “held these things in her heart and reflected on them.”  In other words, that she practiced silence.
I would venture to guess that most all of our resolutions involve something active, that is, something we’d like to accomplish: I’m going to exercise more, take that trip I’ve always wanted to take, learn how to golf, or play an instrument, or how to cook.  And these are all good things, of course.  However, they are all things bound to create “mental noise”: a nagging voice in the back of our minds constantly reminding us that we have yet to accomplish the goal that we set out for ourselves.  But what if one of our resolutions this year was to reflect on more things in our hearts?  In other words, what if we resolved to “practice silence” this year?
In his final homily of 2012, Pope Benedict XVI offered advice for how we can overcome the inevitable disappointments—both with ourselves and with the world—that we encounter in our daily lives.  He says “we must be able to remain in silence, in meditation, in calm and prolonged reflection; we must know how to stop and think.  In this way, our mind can find healing from the inevitable wounds of daily life, can go deeper into the events that occur in our lives and in the world, and come to the knowledge that allows us to evaluate things with new eyes.”  In other words, the Holy Father is encouraging us to ponder more deeply the events of our lives and thus to come to see more clearly how our faith shapes our response to them and our own ability to grow within them.
Thus, it seems that our Blessed Mother does have something to teach us about making resolutions.  In all of these events of her life, she did not turn to media outlets to hear what everybody else was saying about what had happened in order to try and make sense of it for herself.  Rather, she turned to silence.  In other words, Mary learned to pray with these events so as to see more clearly how her faith would shape her response to them and her ability to grow within them.
Just this past Sunday, we heard in the Gospel that after the incident in the Temple, “[Jesus] went down with [Mary and Joseph] and came to Nazareth and was obedient to them” and that he “advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man.”  I suspect that one of the things that he learned from his Mother—whom we venerate today precisely because she is his mother—was how to reflect on things in his heart: a skill that I suspect he perfected in the remaining “hidden years” in Nazareth before he began his public ministry.
My brothers and sisters, Mary is our mother, too.  Perhaps this year she could teach us how to ponder deeply in our hearts: that is, how to practice silence.  In doing so, perhaps we’ll find that, in doing less, we’ve actually accomplished a whole lot more.
Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – January 1, 2013
Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God