Sunday, December 30, 2007

Homily for the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

For daily readings, see

I don’t know many Christians other than Catholics who go to Church on New Year’s. But ironically, we do not come together as a Catholic community to celebrate New Year’s at all – our new year began with the first Sunday of Advent, when we were told to look east into a bright future foretold by the prophets, a bright new future that would find expression in a babe born in Bethlehem to a virgin named Mary. In our liturgical and devotional life, then, we do not find ourselves this morning hoping merely for God’s blessing and for a ‘good year.’ Of course we find ourselves in a much different place, in the midst of a great Christmas celebration that will continue through Epiphany to the Baptism of the Lord. Long after the lights and trees are taken down from most Christian homes, they will persist in this place, the house of God, until the Christmas proclamation reaches its full maturity!
Today is the 8th day of Christmas. As we continue to celebrate the appearance of the Savior of the World in time, we turn once again to his mother, who had been chosen to be the first to experience the presence of the Savior in her womb, and now during the season of Christmas rejoices on behalf of the world at her chance to see His face! No one can celebrate Christmas as fully and as joyfully as the mother of Jesus. Today’s important feast that coincides with the secular hope that accompanies New Year’s Day finds the Church in great celebration that the world’s greatest hopes for prosperity and lasting peace have already been fulfilled in Jesus, the King of King and the Prince of Peace. For today our Savior has appeared on earth, who is Christ and Lord!
Today is the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, and as high as the heavens are above the earth, so much higher is this solemn celebration than any dropping of the ball in Times Square could ever be. To take nothing away from the optimism that can and should accompany the appearance of a new calendar year, so much more important is the appearance of eternity within time, made possible because Mary has been chosen to be the mother of the eternal God who has no Father. The earth on which we live is just a single thought of the Almighty, and to his eyes a thousand years are like a day. So much greater than should our solemn celebration be here tonight than any champagne, hors d’ouevres, toasts and friendships that we may enjoy later on. Because a Savior has been born of the Virgin Mother, man begins to restore to man during Christmas the gift of everlasting life, that is no longer measured in hours, weeks, months or years.
The Church never ceases to exalt this most blessed of all women. We celebrate with great consistency her role as the Mother of God, the greatest role given to any human person, man or woman, within the salvation history of any world religion. Through her, we celebrate the feminine genius of receptivity, and rehearse the truth that when God wanted to save the world, He received from this great woman the yes spoken on behalf of all humanity, man and woman alike. In salvation history, even though we know the grace of Her son’s resurrection was received in advance to prepare Her to be the mother of God, Mary’s ‘yes’ remains in many ways more fundamental than Her son’s sacrifice on Calvary. Just as Christmas is celebrated before Easter in the liturgical year, so also in our spiritual life it is our Marian receptivity to grace and to Jesus being born in our hearts that is prior to our ability to imitate Christ. Before we can serve Christ, we must know Him and receive Him as did His mother. Mary teaches us how to celebrate Christmas.
Without a doubt my own mother was the first to introduce me to Christ and to teach me how to welcome Him into my heart. My vocation comes through my own mother, and the Christian home she provided for me was my first seminary. Mary was worthy to receive Jesus, to have Him come under her roof, but because of her extraordinary humility we can ask Her to show us how to receive Jesus, especially in the Eucharist, even though we are not worthy to receive Him, nor to have Him come under our roofs. May the Mother of the God who has no Father show us how exalted is the humanity of one who allows Jesus to be born in his heart. May the Mother of God deepen and strengthen our celebration of the Christmas mystery, and help us to realize that this new year is already highly blessed because God is with us!

Christmas in Hoxie!

Alex, my oldest and only nephew, has been drafted in Jayhawk nation, as you can see. It is a bitter rivalry within the family, and there have been a few Wildcat victories within the newest generation, but we have the leader on our side! Go Alex - Rock Chalk Jayhawk! Rodney is the most religious of the Jayhawk faithful. Thomas is worried about his wedding more than the Jayhawks right now, but he will come back around in time for the NCAA tournament. And, it is hard to believe - I'm the oldest of the clan!

Monday, December 24, 2007

This post is really about the new Costello HDTV, which is fantastic, but of course it was also a night to celebrate friendship (Mike is banging his chest at this minute), Sharon's peanut brittle, and the birth of our Lord, who has fulfilled our deepest desires through the Incarnation by coming to save his beloved people! Merry Christmas to all! Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, to those on whom his favor rests!

Homily for Christmas

For daily readings, see

One of my least favorite songs on the radio goes like this – I’m only human, of flesh and blood I’m made. I’m only human, born to make mistakes! It seemed like this song was played every time I went to the health club that last couple of years. It seemed as if someone was watching from above waiting for me to enter the health club, just to make sure that they could annoy the heck out of me by playing this song – I’m Only Human. I kept saying to Fr. Bill Porter with whom I was usually working out – this song is bad anthropology – what a terrible view of the human person – born to make mistakes???
The solemnity of the Incarnation – the birth of Jesus Christ – that we are here to celebrate tonight, completely changes what it means to be a human person. The song I just mentioned implies that in order to become a person who no longer makes mistakes, we have to escape our humanity. The incarnation tells us just the opposite – our Salvation lies not in becoming something other than a human person, but in allowing the child born in Bethlehem to give a new hope and a new destiny to humanity. After the coming of Jesus, being human is not something to be escaped, but something to be embraced and celebrated.
Christmas is the season when we sense once again that everything is going to turn out the way it is supposed to. It is a season when hope is reborn. Pope Benedict wrote an encyclical to us just before the beginning of Advent – Spes Salvi – the hope of salvation. In it, Pope Benedict reminds us that if we hope in Jesus alone, everything will turn out well for us, because Jesus by his very name is the one who saves. Jesus is the one who heals us from our sins, and the futility they bring; He is the one who has power over sin and lasting death. Pope Benedict reminds us that a happy life is more than our ability to fulfill as many of our smaller desires as we can, however we can, within the context of this world. He says also that eternal life is more than just an extension of our days as we now experience them. It is more than another chance to pursue more of our smaller desires that were frustrated in this lifetime. No, Pope Benedict points us strongly toward the teaching found in the Gospel of John that this is eternal life: to know the one true God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent (Jn 17:3). What is the Gospel of John saying here? It says that if we are honest with ourselves, the deepest desire our hearts is to see Jesus, and beginning tonight, in the child born in Bethlehem, this gift is given to humanity.
We desire so many things, we have so many expectations of how life should go for us and for others; but on Christmas night we are to recognize through the gift of the Christ child that our deepest desire has been fulfilled, even if many of our smaller desires have not been fulfilled. Tonight is the dawn of our salvation; it is seeing for the first time through the eyes of Mary, Joseph and the shepherds, this Jesus who will free mankind from his futility. Jesus is the one who saves, and He comes to save us not only from the original sin we inherited from Adam and Eve, from our endless series of mistakes. Even more importantly, Jesus comes tonight to save us from the futile condition of having to try to carve out a happy kingdom for ourselves by trying to fulfill as many of our smaller desires as we can during our brief time on earth. No, Jesus saves us from this kind of humanity. He saves us from having to become our own gods through pride, or even of having to try to make ourselves like God or to try to go to God. Instead, God comes to us to redeem and to elevate our humanity. Because of Jesus, it is now the worst sin to try to become like God, while it is glorious to allow God to come to us and to elevate what it means to be a human person. Jesus promises to be our everything, and to fulfill all our desires through a relationship with Him. The one who saves promises that if we have Him we lack nothing of eternal value. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end of the human desire to live forever and to have lasting peace and happiness.
If Jesus is our hope, we do not have to hope in ourselves; much less do we have to hope in progress or material wealth. If He is our everything, then the gifts we give to each other this Christmas are filled with deep meaning. They are a reflection of the reality that we have received in the Christ child everything we have ever wanted or will ever need. Our gift giving, our generosity, is a reflection of the freedom that we have in Jesus. I don’t know about you, but in my own spiritual life I am so liable to skipping over this fundamental step of celebrating Christmas fully, of allowing Jesus to be born in my heart and to fulfill every desire I have there. In my discipleship, I can get so concerned on whether I am doing God’s will, or whether I am worthy to be doing what I am doing, or whether I have done enough to be saved. I so often skip over Christmas, and I need tonight’s celebration to remind me that before I can do God’s will, I must first receive God. This is why Mary is the Queen of Vocations – her reply at the annunciation was not to agree to do her vocation, but to receive it as a gift, to let it be done to her according to God’s word. We are to receive the Christ child tonight in our hearts with the same humility and extraordinary receptivity shown by our Blessed Mother. Our vocation in life is not to try to do God’s will first through our own determination, and then to let the chips fall where they may. No, our vocation is to receive Jesus, to let him be our Savior, to be dependent on Him for our happiness, and then to magnify the Lord and to share this relationship with Christ that has saved us in all that we say and do.
We now celebrate together Christ’s Mass; on this holy night the Lord comes to us most intimately not in the manger scene or in the nativity story, but through the gift of his body and blood. John the Baptist has challenged us through Advent that as we approach the altar tonight, we should not eat and drink judgment on ourselves. Make straight the path of the Lord to our hearts! As we receive Him tonight, may He find nothing in our hearts except a complete desire for Him! May we receive him with the same expectation and joy that were in the hearts of Mary and Joseph. And may we leave this great celebration of our faith, and our experience of the child born in Bethlehem, not afraid of Christ’s coming at the end of time, but more ready to join in his mission to save the world, and to reconcile everything to the Father. Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, to those on whom his favor rests! Amen!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Homily for Dec 20, 5th Day before Christmas

For daily readings, see

Mary is called the Queen of Vocations for a good reason. Oftentimes we evaluate our vocation on whether we are 'doing' God's will. But Mary teaches us that before we can 'do' God's will, we must first receive God. Mary's response to the angel Gabriel is critical to understanding our vocation. She does not say - ok, I will do it - even though this would have been a good thing to say. No, Mary says instead - let it be done to me. In Mary's response, there is no denial of her freedom to act. Instead, her freedom is elevated by her extraordinary receptivity. She receives a vocation instead of 'doing' a vocation, and she reminds us that before we can do God's will, we must first be self-forgetful enough to receive God. We must let the the Holy Spirit overshadow our own expectations. This can be hard to do, especially for guys. Before we can imitate our Lord, we must first receive Him and allow Him to elevate our humanity. Mary prepares us in these final days of Advent to be ready to receive our Lord as She did, both at the annunciation and at the nativity!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Homily for Dec 18th, the 7th Day Before Christmas

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A lot of meditation on this Gospel focuses on Joseph's compassion in not wanting to expose his wife to shame, even though it was his right to do so, since through his betrothal to Mary she 'belonged' to him. Surely Joseph was a righteous and merciful man who loved his wife Mary very much. But we do not have to assume from the reading of today's Gospel that Joseph suspected Mary of adultery, as most commentators say. No, even before the angel appeared to Joseph telling him that Mary had conceived by the Holy Spirit, it is possible that Joseph did not suspect his wife of anything, but rather was pondering the miracle of her conception, and wondering if he should get out of the way since his wife Mary had been chosen for something special that didn't include him. As the angel announces, however, Jesus in taking up our humanity was to embrace it completely, and this included having a father and growing up in a family. And so Joseph receives the invitation to name his Son and to provide for Him. We concentrate so much on Mary's anticipation of her Son's birth. We recognize too today that Joseph was chosen for a very special role in the history of the world's salvation, and he was the second to see the newborn King! Given the truth of the scriptures, we have little choice but to ask Him to also prepare us for the coming of our Savior!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Homily for Wednesday of the 1st Week of Advent

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With Jesus, there is a superabundance of life. He says to his disciples, I am the way, the truth, and the life. In today's signs, Jesus heals life and feeds life miraculously, and the crowds are amazed. But the full revelation of Jesus that is to come is that He is not merely an instrument of life, He is life itself! Pope Benedict in his new encyclical Spes Salvi shows us that the eternal life that Jesus brings is not merely a restored and well-fed version of life as we know it in this world. This is not the proper hope of the Christian. The proper hope of the Christian is not simply for an elongation of life, but for the life that comes from a relationship with the person who is life. This is eternal life, to know the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom He has sent! So let us hope to know Jesus. Jesus' signs today point toward the uniqueness of his person. It is through a relationship to this person that we are to hope for life everlasting!