Sunday, January 26, 2014

Which "team" are you on?

          United we stand... As we closed this week of prayer for Christian Unity, let's each take a look at ourselves to find how we are hindering unity among Christians.  And let's take positive steps, as individuals, to eliminate those hindrances.  Divided we fall, so let us stand united!


Homily: 3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle A
          Author Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight book series is a wildly popular series of young adult romance/fantasy novels that describes the story of Bella, a teenage girl of divorced parents who is forced to move away from her mother’s home in Arizona to live with her father in Washington state, a place where she has spent little time and knows next to nothing about.  Once there, the familiar story ensues: Bella has trouble fitting in at first, but then finds herself befriended by a dark and mysterious boy, Edward, who nonetheless is a chivalrous “knight in shining armor” to her.  These “dark” figures in these stories always have some sort of secret and when Edward reveals his secret to her—that is, that he is a vampire—all of the drama that typically ensues when a “regular person” enters into someone else’s secret world begins; which, in this case, is the drama of letting a non-vampire into the “inner-circle” of the vampire world.  This unique mix of romantic drama and fantasy adventure is what makes these novels particularly appealing (at least, that’s what the experts say).
          In the second book of the series, Bella befriends Jacob (a “shape changer”, who only seems to know how to change into a wolf… hey, it’s fantasy, don’t ask me to explain it).  What ensues from this, of course, is that Bella is now caught in a “love triangle” and faces the tension of having to choose between her deep, passionate love for Edward and her sincere, intimate friendship with Jacob.  This tension spilled over into the readers of these books and not long after the release of this second book, devotees of the series began to split themselves up into “teams”: that is, Team Edward and Team Jacob.  Thus, the once united devotees of the Twilight series now found themselves to be rivals against one another.
          If you think about it, this kind of reaction is actually pretty characteristic of fallen humanity (that is, human nature after Original Sin).  All through human history we can find examples of how peoples once united under a common interest (whether that be on grand, political or social scales, or just on smaller more aesthetic ones) often find themselves divided when some tension that touches on deeply held values arises.  At first, devotees of the Twilight series were united in their hope that Bella and Edward would survive the tensions of Edward’s secret life and live “happily ever after.”  After the introduction of Jacob, however, devotees became divided on who would be best for Bella; and instead of trying to hold that tension in balance and respecting the fact that both options have benefits and limitations for her, devotees set up rivalries against one another in the hope of defeating (and thus eliminating) the opposing faction.
          One only need to spend a short time in the Church to find out that she is not immune to this flaw of human character and our reading from Saint Paul’s letter to the Corinthians describes one of the earliest documented examples of this.  Paul (as he mentions elsewhere in his letters) strove to be “all things to all people” and it seems as if he had a special charism to be just that.  Anywhere he went he preached in synagogues, in public squares, in schools among learned men, and among the laborers of the town and he made many converts.  The city of Corinth was no exception.  Initially, the diversity of socio-political and economic status among the converts was ignored.  After some time, however, divisions and rivalries began to emerge.
          When Paul left to continue his mission in other cities, others came in (for example, Apollos) who had their own style and focus in preaching the Gospel.  These different styles appealed to different groups within the community and tension arose surrounding whose teaching was the best.  As Saint Paul records for us in his letter, there arose rival “teams” in the Church in Corinth: Team Paul, Team Apollos, Team Cephas (or Peter), and Team Christ.  Paul writes to them to denounce such rivalries among them and to urge them to be “united in the same mind and in the same purpose.”  Paul knows what a scandal it is to Christ and to the Gospel that his followers would be divided against themselves and so he urges the Church in Corinth to put aside their differences so that the full splendor of Christ’s truth may shine forth from them.
          Unfortunately, Paul’s words only went so far among Christians.  In the 11th and the 16th centuries Christians splintered because of rivalries amongst themselves, splitting the east from the west in the 11th century and in the 16th century in the west between Catholics and the Protestant reformers.  More locally, however, we see the divisions even here in our own county; and they’ve gone so far that we don’t even know what it means to be called “Christian” anymore!  I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people say to me “I’m not Catholic, I’m Christian”, as if Catholics aren’t Christians!  Saint Paul would be rolling over in his grave if he heard us speaking like this!  We’ve made our identities as followers of Christ subject to the particular group that we worship with on Sunday, instead of with Christ himself.  In doing so, we have brought scandal upon Christ and the Gospel.
          And don’t think that this is limited to our relationships with the other Christian communities in the county.  Plenty of times within our own community here I’ve had people say to me, “Oh, Father, I like you so much more than Father Mike.”  Teams Fr. Mike and Fr. Petan are not allowed here!  If we are divided among ourselves, how then can we evangelize?  Rather, we must be “united in the same mind and in the same purpose”, so that the Gospel message that comes forth from our community may be clear and the full splendor of Christ’s truth may shine from us.
          This need, my brothers and sisters, to reclaim our unity as Christians is this week’s call to deeper discipleship.  Last week, we were called to slow down and to behold—that is, to contemplate—Jesus, the Lamb of God.  If we have done that well then this week we are ready to begin the next step: Repent and come.  My brothers and sisters, when we take time to behold Jesus, who calls us, we begin to see that, in reality, we haven’t been following him closely and so we must repent—that is, turn away—from all that has drawn our gaze away from him.  We can’t stop there, however.  As we turn away from what has kept us from him so as to behold him more deeply, we must then come—that is, we must move to follow him.  It wasn’t enough for Simon and Andrew, James and John to simply turn from their nets and look at Jesus; rather they also had to move from where they were at to respond to his call.  When we hear Jesus calling us, we too must move to follow him.  And when we do, something amazing happens: we stop focusing on each other and the things that divide us and we start to focus on what unites us, Jesus Christ our Lord.
          My brothers and sisters, we have dwelt in darkness for far too long.  As we slow down in our lives to contemplate Jesus, let us allow his light to shine on the darkness in our lives, highlighting especially those areas where we have let divisions and rivalries with our brothers and sisters in Christ creep in.  Then let us work to repent from those things so as to come and follow him whom we behold: Jesus, who calls us—here, today—out of darkness and into his perfect light.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – January 25th and 26th, 2014

Sunday, January 19, 2014

A time to behold...

          In Ordinary Time we focus on discipleship.  None of us will ever be perfect disciples of Jesus Christ and so we need to take time during Ordinary Time to look closely at how we are following him and to pray for the wisdom and courage to be better disciples.  It won't provide immediate results, but nothing that is truly worth doing is.  Let's take it slow this OT and behold the One who saves us.


Homily: 2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle A
          As many of you know, I used to be an engineer before studying to become a priest.  (No, I wasn’t one of those cool engineers who drives trains, but rather was one who designs and builds things.)  Because of this, I know that engineers can be very good at many things.  I also know, however, that having an “engineering mind” comes with limitations.  One of the things that engineering minds do is that they see things in systems.  In other words, they see a problem that needs to be overcome (or, perhaps, just a way to make things more convenient) and they immediately start to see the system that could be put in place to overcome it (or make it more convenient).  Think of those automatic one-cup coffee makers, like a Keureg.  Pop in a pod, push a button and voila, the system takes care of the rest.  This is how my brain works and so I like systems.
          This has presented me a challenge, however, now that I am a priest.  You see, I expect that, by systematizing my spiritual life, I’ll make it better and easier to manage.  I create a schedule and gather the necessary tools (bible, spiritual reading, rosary, etc.) so that when I sit down to do it, it’ll just work.  This is what my mind expects.  The problem with this, however, is that our spiritual lives don’t quite work that way.  While it is possible to make our spiritual lives system like, they can never be totally systematic; if by that we mean mechanized and impersonal (that is, not if we expect to achieve any sort of satisfaction with it).  In other words, if the engagement that we give to our lives as disciples is nothing more than we give when we push the button on the coffee machine, then we don’t have much of a spiritual life at all.
          This is why I dislike Ordinary Time.  In Ordinary Time we focus on our discipleship, on our spiritual lives, and (if we’re paying attention) we’re constantly being challenged to examine how we are doing (that is, to examine our systems) so as to change and improve and grow.  A system that is living in this way is much more difficult to cultivate and maintain, than one in which we just push a button or punch a clock and forget about it.  Thus, you can see why I dislike it; because it says that “my system is never good enough, that it still needs tweaking, that this project is still ongoing.”
          When I’m really honest with myself, however, I realize that all my “systems” end up leaving me in a rut.  I find that if all that I’m doing each year is pulling out the same practices, reading the same spiritual books, or praying the same rote prayers that my spiritual life begins to feel lethargic.  Now, there’s nothing wrong with repeating things that have worked for you in the past, but the challenge is to engage these things anew each time.  If I’ve made a personal commitment to pray a rosary every day, then I have to search for something new in it every day.  After years of praying it, that’s not going to be easy.  But if it is truly a prayer, then I am engaging my relationship with God through it and because of that there will always be a chance that I will find something new (if I’m looking for it).  This is hard work: the kind of hard work that Ordinary Time challenges us to, which is why it is not my favorite time of the year.
          This year, however, I’ve decided to try something new.  I’ve decided to change my attitude about Ordinary Time so as to engage this time more intentionally.  I want to take a deep look at these familiar readings that we will hear each week in the context of this familiar liturgy that we celebrate to find how they are challenging me to grow, both as a person and as a disciple of Jesus Christ.  This year, I want to be content with fact that my “spiritual life” project isn’t finished.  But I don’t want to leave the project undone and so I’m going to continue to work at it; and I invite all of you to come with me.
          In these weeks of Ordinary Time leading up to Lent and Easter, I’m going to look for some particular thing that will challenge me to go deeper in my spiritual life so as to make it stronger and more fruitful; and I hope to share that with all of you.  Perhaps these will help you to go deeper, too.  So, where do we begin?
          This week, I think that we begin with John the Baptist’s prophetic proclamation: “Behold…”  I think that if we are going to go deeper in our spiritual lives that we must begin by beholding who it is that we are following.  Of course, we have the opportunity to do this here in the Eucharist.  Right before Communion, I will raise the Blessed Sacrament and say to you “Behold the Lamb of God…”  This kind of beholding we also do in Eucharistic Adoration, which we have every Tuesday night.  Perhaps in these next weeks, each of us can make it a point to try and spend some time beholding Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament during adoration.
          We also behold Jesus whenever we read and meditate on the Scriptures.  A seminary professor I had used to tell us that “Every encounter with the Scriptures is an encounter with Christ.”  Therefore, we can behold him in the Scriptures.  Finally, we can behold him when we acknowledge Jesus in our brothers and sisters in need.  Blessed Teresa of Calcutta used to say that she saw the face of Jesus (in other words, she beheld him) in the men and women she served.  And so, we too can behold the face of Jesus when we love those in need around us.
          “Is that it, Father?  This sounds like it’s going to be a slow process.”  Yes it is; and this will be enough for this week.  Remember what it was like to be stuck at home for two days because of the snow?  Didn’t that week seem to be longer than the rest?  It wasn’t, but it felt longer because we slowed down.  If we want to go deeper in our spiritual lives then we must learn to go slow and let the process work on us.  If in this week we can learn to behold Jesus in our daily lives, starting right here in the Eucharist, then we will be ready for what comes next.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – January, 19th, 2014


A bonus for those of you who read to the end!  Audrey Assad singing her beautiful song "Slow".

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The grace of baptism

          The Christmas Season ends today! Take one last moment to worship Christ in the manger in Bethlehem and get ready to jump boldly into Ordinary Time, in which we follow the Lord and "order" our lives after his model!


Homily: Baptism of the Lord – Cycle A
          Last year was kind of a whirlwind year for the Catholic Church.  The historic retirement of Pope Benedict XVI probably garnered him more headlines and news time than any of his speeches, encyclicals, or other statements (perhaps, even more than all of those combined!).  Then the world debated over and then waited for the election of our new Pope, Francis.  Nobody really had Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio on their radars and so the first surprise of Benedict’s retirement was amplified by the surprise of who the cardinals elected to replace him.  Then, things became really interesting as Pope Francis’ outgoing personality and protocol-breaking behavior has given us one surprise after another for the rest of the year.  In a media culture in which news about an event such as how sections of a whole nation got wiped out by the strongest typhoon seen anywhere for a few generations gets but a couple of weeks of attention, the fact that Pope Francis has stayed in the eyes of the media pretty consistently for nine months is saying something about the impact he has already had on the public at large.
          And how has he done that?  By standing on the loggia (which is the balcony on which the new pope stands to greet the people in Saint Peter’s Square) and immediately shouting out pronouncements that he was going to change the church and the world?  Or by immediately firing everyone in the Vatican in order to make way for his people to step in and change how things are done?  Or by cracking the whips on bishops who don’t “toe the line” on his policies (however new and/or different they might be)?  No.  Rather, he’s done it by being… what… humble, right?  (That’s what everyone keeps saying to me: “I love Pope Francis, because he just seems so humble.”)  And rightfully so.  Pope Francis stood on the loggia and first asked the people to pray for him.  He went to the Vatican City parish to celebrate Mass and greet people on the Sunday after his election.  He welcomes workers from the Vatican to come and celebrate daily Mass with him in his chapel.  He visits with the infirm, the imprisoned, and the invisible (the folks “at the margins” as he likes to call them).  He condemns no one, but invites everyone to turn to Jesus so as to come to know him (and to be known by him).
          He doesn’t shout or cry out, he isn’t making his voice heard in the streets, the bruised reed he doesn’t break and the smoldering wick he does not quench.  It certainly sounds like the servant of the Lord that Isaiah sings about in our first reading.  Pope Francis, I’m sure, would say that it’s an image of Jesus and that he is just striving to make that image visible in the world.  And that is exactly what the Liturgy is giving us today by placing this reading in the context of the Mass celebrating the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.  In other words, we are meant to see the fulfillment of this prophesy from Isaiah in Jesus.
          As we recount the somewhat familiar story of Jesus’ baptism in the river Jordan by John the Baptist, we are reminded that Jesus came forward, not to shun John’s baptism or in some way to denounce it, but rather to submit himself to it; because, as he said, it was fitting for them to “fulfill all righteousness.”  And so we see that Jesus did not come shouting, crying out, or making his voice heard in the street; but rather he came in humility so as to show from the very beginning that to lead was to serve and to submit yourself to the ways of God.
          Of course, Jesus came to be baptized at the inauguration of his public ministry and so when the heavens opened after he emerged from the water and the Spirit of God descended upon him and the voice from heaven said “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased”, we are meant to see in that the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophesy, which states: “Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased, upon whom I have put my spirit.”  Thus, we are also to expect of Jesus what is prophesied of the servant’s works: that he will “establish justice on the earth” and that he will “open the eyes of the blind, bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.”  What we are also meant to see, however, is the importance of baptism.
          Jesus, as we know, had no need of baptism.  John the Baptist recognized that and so do we.  He had no personal sin, which is what John’s baptism was meant to cleanse, and he certainly did not suffer from the stain of Original Sin and so he would not need a baptism to be cleansed from that.  The importance of Jesus’ baptism lies not in those things that we all need baptism for, but rather in a third aspect, which we too all enjoy: the election by God and the anointing of the Holy Spirit.
          In our own baptism, just like in Jesus’ baptism, we were each claimed by God as his sons and daughters and we were anointed with God’s Spirit for his holy purpose: to become saints and to fulfill his work of bringing about his Kingdom here on earth.  Baptism, therefore, makes us different.  It isn’t just some empty ritual that we do as a way of showing membership in our community (or as a way of showing off our babies to the congregation); rather, it changes us; it marks us as different, as belonging to God.  (As I reflected on this I thought of the old Dymo® label makers: you know the ones that would emboss letters into plastic tape with an adhesive back and which most often made labels reading “Property of …”  Baptism marks us like this, only much more permanently.)  Thus, as God’s adopted sons and daughters, we are then called by God to go out, like Jesus did, to establish justice on the earth by how we live and work every day.
          Baptism, therefore, is the beginning of something new.  Whether you were baptized as an infant, an adolescent, or an adult, you were born anew in baptism.  Thus, just as Jesus left behind the carpenter shop in Nazareth to take up his ministry of preaching and healing, so we, too, must leave behind our old lives before baptism to take up the vocation that God has called us to so as to continue Jesus’ ministry here on earth.  And just as each year we remember the baptism of Jesus here at Mass, so too should each of us remember and celebrate the date of each of our baptisms, for it is the day even more important perhaps than our birthdays: the day in which we were born into the eternal life that Christ won for us.
          My brothers and sisters, it’s no mistake or coincidence that we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord at the end of Christmastime and the beginning of Ordinary Time: for just as Jesus inaugurated his public ministry by first being baptized by John in the Jordan, so too do we go forth into the time of year in which we renew our efforts to “order” our lives according to Jesus’ model by celebrating the remembrance of that baptism.  And just as Jesus then ordered his life according to what was proclaimed at his baptism (“This is my beloved son…”) so too are we called to go forward into Ordinary Time so as to order our lives in the same way.
          My brothers and sisters, in this Eucharist, “let us ask the Lord from our hearts to be able to experience ever more in everyday life this grace that we have received at Baptism.  So that, by encountering us, our brothers and sisters may encounter true children of God, true brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, true members of the Church”; and that, through this encounter, they too may find the joy of experiencing this same call and election in their own lives.
Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – January 11th & 12th, 2014

The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord      

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Can't see the forest for the trees

          Sometimes life can bog us down.  So much so that we miss out on the important stuff, like when Jesus wants to manifest himself in our midst.  Here's to a more reflective 2014 in which we take control of our business and let Jesus be seen by us... and through us!


Homily: The Epiphany of the Lord – Cycle A
          My guess is that most of us are pretty familiar with the saying “You can’t see the forest for the trees.”  We know that basically it means that one is so preoccupied by the details of something that he or she cannot see the bigger picture of the whole.  In other words, when one focuses too much on branches and individual leaves, he or she misses out on seeing the beauty of the forest.  We often say this about people who get so caught up in the details of their daily lives that they seem to lose focus on where it is they are going; so much that they seem to miss out on something big when it happens.
          In our Gospel reading today, we heard the familiar story of the arrival of the Magi to honor Jesus.  We find among its familiar details that King Herod was completely caught off-guard by these Wise Men from the east who announced that they had come to honor the new-born King of the Jews.  “They had been following his star,” they said.  Apparently, neither King Herod nor any of his cronies spent much time looking up at the sky, for it seems like they had no idea that a new star had appeared.  No it seems like King Herod was much more focused on what was right there in front of him—that is, his daily efforts to preserve and exploit his power as king—and so he failed to notice the rising of the star.  He was so focused on himself that he couldn’t see the bigger picture of the coming of the long-awaited One: that is, the coming of the Messiah.
          We can often be the same way, can’t we?  How often do we get so caught up in filling our lives with occupations, events, and commitments—trying to maintain and exploit our personal comfort and pleasure—that we often miss the bigger picture of it all?  Just take a moment and think about what you did during the month of December.  I mean did you really have time to enjoy it all?  Or did you spend the whole month decorating, shopping, wrapping, baking, and bouncing from one Christmas party to another?  You know, if at any time during the month you said to yourself “Is it December 26th yet?”, then at some point you allowed yourself to get so caught up in the details of trying to make Christmas enjoyable that you forgot to enjoy Christmas!
          The Magi, however, were open to seeing the bigger picture.  In fact, they spent their lives studying the “bigger picture”, for they were astrologists.  Thus, their lives were spent studying the stars in the hope of understanding what they could reveal to us about our lives and our purpose.  And so, when something big emerged—for example, when a new star arose in the west—they were ready to respond.  They weren’t so bogged down in the details of their daily personal pursuits that they “couldn’t see the forest for the trees” and thus they were rewarded by being some of the first people to see the newborn King of the Jews.
          Every year, the Church gives us an opportunity to step back from our daily pursuits and look at the bigger picture.  We, too, have seen the star at its rising, but often lose sight of it as we progress through the year.  The Christmas Season is placed at the head of the year precisely in order to remind us of what we have seen and to give us another opportunity to respond, like the Magi did, by setting out to look for the new-born king in our lives.  It is an opportunity once again to examine our lives in order to see if we, too, have gotten bogged down in the details of daily living and thus need to reset our perspective so that we can, indeed, see the forest for the trees.
          This, in a way, is the meaning of Epiphany: for an epiphany is a moment in which you suddenly see or understand something in a new or very clear way.  In other words, it is like the moment when you realize that the branch on the tree in the forest is part of a larger whole and that it can only really be understood when considered in that context.  Applied to our daily lives, an epiphany is when we can see all of our daily acts and experiences in light of the bigger picture of our lives and our vocations.  This means that whether you are chasing your children around from school to soccer to football to basketball to volleyball to dance to play or to band practice or you find yourself alone most of the day awaiting a phone call from a son or daughter or one of your grandchildren or if your daily routine of school and homework seems monotonous, you can see all of these things in the light of the Incarnation of God—Jesus Christ, our Savior—and can accept them as part of God’s plan to make you a saint.
          If you’ve not been able to see these things in this light, then today’s feast is for you; for today the Church invites you to pull back your head from the branches and the leaves so as to see the forest.  God has come down to us and made himself known to all humankind.  Therefore, if anything in our lives is blocking us from seeing that, we ought to put our focus on removing it from (or, at least, changing its importance in) our lives.
          I recently came across a poem from the former Archbishop of Seattle that I think sums up what I’m trying to say pretty well.  He writes:
If as with Herod,
We fill our lives with things,
And again with things;
If we consider ourselves so important
That we must fill every moment of our lives with action;
When will we have the time
To make the long, slow journey
Across the burning desert
As did the Magi?
Or sit and watch the stars
As did the Shepherds?
Or brood over the coming of the child
As did Mary?
For each of us
There is a desert to travel,
A star to discover,
And a being within ourselves
To bring to life.
In this new year, may our resolution be to make ourselves open to experiencing the manifestation of Jesus in our lives; an experience that we celebrate each and every week, here in this Eucharist.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – January 5th, 2014

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Dwell in the mystery

          Happy New Year to all!  Mary teaches us that by dwelling in the mystery of the Incarnation we will encounter God.  May 2014 be a year in which you encounter God deeply in your life!


Homily: Mary, Mother of God – Cycle A
          This past year, we celebrated the Year of Faith in which we commemorated the 50th anniversary of the convening of the Second Vatican Council.  For most of us, the Second Vatican Council represents all that we know about ecumenical councils.  As such, it would be easy for us to think that the great Church councils were all peaceful affairs in which bishops and other Church leaders get together to decide on major directions that the Church should be taking to continue to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world.
          Vatican II, however, is an anomaly among the great Church councils.  For the most part, ecumenical councils have been the result of some serious conflict that has arisen in the Church; and these usually centered on the definition of some doctrine that was being disputed and was causing a split within the Church (and this is especially true within the first centuries of the Church).  When bishops came together to debate these disputed doctrines, it was usually a pretty heated affair.  For example, legend has it that at the First Council of Nicea in 325, our beloved Saint Nicolas, bishop of Myrna in modern-day Turkey, reportedly punched his fellow bishop Arius for his persistent denial that Jesus is “one in being” (that is, “consubstantial”) with God the Father.  (Kind of makes you think a bit differently about “jolly ol’ Saint Nick”, doesn’t it?)
          In 431, in the city of Ephesus, an ecumenical council was held to resolve a similarly contentious issue.  This time the antagonist was Nestorius, bishop of Constantinople, and Saint Cyril of Alexandria was his main opponent.  Although no punches were reportedly thrown, a hotly contested debate was held disputing Nestorius’ contention that it was heretical to call Mary the “Mother of God”.  Since God is eternal (without beginning or end), Nestorius argued, to say that God has a mother is contradictory: because for someone to have a mother indicates that there was some sort of birth, or beginning, to that person’s life, which with God simply cannot be.  Thus, Mary should be called Christotokos, or mother of Jesus Christ (i.e. the mother of Jesus’ manhood), Nestorius argued, but that she should not be called Theotokos, that is, the mother of God.
          St. Cyril and his backers knew that this couldn’t be true, because they knew that for Jesus to be able to accomplish his saving work for us he had to be both fully human and fully divine and that there could be no separation or “compartmentalization” of the two.  He also knew that in the hearts of the faithful (i.e. the whole Church for the past four centuries) Mary had been honored as Theotokos, as mother of God, and so he knew that he couldn’t give way to Nestorius’ erroneous thinking and thus contradict what had already been held as true (though not concretely defined as such) for nearly four centuries.
          Legend has it that crowds of people waited outside the basilica during the last days of the council waiting to hear what the bishops had decided the truth was about Mary.  When the bishops emerged and definitively declared that Mary was, indeed, the Theotokos, the crowd erupted with joy that the bishops had confirmed what they already knew in their hearts was true.  They purportedly carried the bishops through the streets along with images of Our Lady, singing songs and praising God that Mary is, indeed, the Mother of God.
          A heresy, in theological terms, is when someone attempts to explain away a mystery by removing one of the truths that makes it mysterious.  In the case of Nestorius, he tried to explain away the mystery of how Mary could be the mother of an eternal being by excluding her motherhood from the eternal nature of Jesus.  His fault, of course, is that it made Jesus less of what we know him to be through what he had revealed to us when he walked among us on earth (i.e. both the Son of God and the Son of Man).  Nestorius got caught up in trying to make it all work out in his head instead of being content to dwell in the mystery of it all.
          St. Cyril led the charge for truth because he was unafraid to proclaim the truth that had been revealed to us, even if it meant that it was still too mysterious to explain.  He knew what Mary had taught us: that sometimes we have to be content to dwell within the mystery.
          When the shepherds came to see the baby Jesus, they revealed to Mary and Joseph all that they had seen and heard in the field: Angels in the air revealing the birth of the child and singing songs glorifying God.  Mary didn’t press the shepherds to explain how all of that could have possibly happened, but rather, as the Gospels relate to us, she and all there “were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds … and Mary kept all of these things, reflecting on them in her heart.”  Mary allowed herself to dwell within the mystery of what had been revealed and there she encountered deeply the One who had revealed it: God in her son.
          We, too, can sometimes get caught in the trap of trying to escape the mystery of it all.  When life gets difficult and we struggle to understand where God is in the midst of our trials, we often are tempted to explain away the mystery by denying some truth about God.  “Well, I guess God doesn’t really care about me” or “He must be punishing me for my sins”, we’ll be tempted to say.  The challenge for us, however, is to allow ourselves to dwell within the mystery of what seems to be God’s absence—to keep these things, reflecting on them in our hearts—so as to open ourselves to encountering there God’s presence in the unexpected: like in a little child, born into poverty in a little town in ancient Palestine.
          If we can do this, my brothers and sisters, we will be blessed in 2014.  May the peace of God, which is beyond all understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in the knowledge and love of God and of his son, our Lord Jesus Christ so that you, too, may enjoy this blessing in the New Year.
Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – December 31st, 2013 & January 1st, 2014

The Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God