Father Bob’s homily at the Advent Penance Service…
PENANCE SERVICE ADVENT 2014
Recently a friend told me someone we both knew had lost her faith. I had a strange thought. I wonder if she is happy. You don’t usually associate losing one’s faith with happiness, yet most of the decisions we make in life tend toward making us happier, more complete and more satisfied. If one lets go of their faith, rather than struggling with it, has one made a considered decision that this is what makes sense for themselves, that this is what brings peace? Are they happier?
We know from experience that is hardly ever the case. That those who lose faith are not happier or more joyful. They often seem in a rush to fill it up whatever place faith held in their lives but no new activity, hobby or habit can replace the living God. If faith was not fulfilling before, they have retreated…
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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about traditions this Christmas….family traditions, ethnic traditions, religious traditions…and how so many people I talk to have given up on them. “I’m too busy”, “They’re too much work” are the most reasons I most often hear. While I’m all about simplifying the commercialism of Christmas and the pressure to consume, I think we are about to throw the proverbial “baby out with the bathwater”. It’s a “vanilla” world, where every day is the same, and we move automatically and efficiently from one day to the next. No time is special. It is so easy to lose touch with who we are and where we are going. We disconnect from our past, and fear our future. I believe we need to mark moments, to celebrate them with all the flavor and texture of our traditions, for these moments make us stop to consider who we are and who we are called to be. These moments pull us out of the ordinary, the mundane and raise us to a deeper consciousness of the grace that surrounds us.
At the celebration of Passover, the parent in the Jewish home turns to the child and asks, “Why is this night different than any other night?” This question first names this night as special, then leads the family to consider the mystery of God’s love as the story of their salvation is recounted.
To me, Christmas Eve is that moment.
Although not a tradition in my childhood, I have been blessed for the past 35 years to participate in a beautiful Christmas Eve tradition that comes from my Polish heritage. It is called Vigilia, which is the Polish name for Christmas Eve. When the first star appears, the Christmas tree is lit and luminaries line the path to the house. The Christmas Eve meal begins with a short ritual — the reading of The Night Before Christmas (our family’s addition), the reading of the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke, and then the sharing of the blessed oplatek ( a thin wafer similar to that used at Communion in a rectangular shape imprinted with a manger scene). The host/hostess of the home begins with a prayer, and then they each break a piece of the oplatek and eat it, wishing each other good health and happiness for the coming year, the fulfillment of dreams, and forgiveness for any misunderstandings as they begin a new year. They pass pieces of the broken wafers to each person present, who in turn go to each other with good wishes for the new year.
Then it is time to gather at table. We begin the meal by sharing what we have been thankful for over the past year, and close with the Lord’s Prayer. In some Polish homes, an empty seat holds a place setting for an unexpected guest and a reminder that Mary and Joseph were looking for a place on that Holy Night. In others a bed of straw is the table centerpiece as a reminder of the place where Jesus lay on that Holy Night. There are nine foods, all meatless, that make up the Vigilia meal. Usually mushroom soup, fish, pickled herring, pierogi, potatoes, sauerkraut with mushrooms, beets with horseradish sauce (a personal favorite!), cole slaw, salad, bread and butter.
After an assortment of desserts, including a traditional poppy seed pastry, it is time to depart for midnight mass.
Every Christmas Eve, we can count on everything being constant – the light, the food, the stories read. But our lives change. And each year we look at our lives in the context of the familiar story.
“Why is this night different than any other night?” Because it acknowledges our roots, it makes us reflect on the past and look with hope on the future, and it reminds us that our God has pitched his tent in our lives, and will never leave us abandoned.
I don’t know about you, but I would rather live in a world of flavor and texture, where we make time to celebrate the richness of our stories and traditions, and in doing so, re-connect with our deepest longings for meaning and for life. As Catholics, we do this throughout the liturgical year, with color and with song, with symbols and stories. My Christmas wish for you is this: ”May your life be full of flavor!”
I chose Houslander’s poetic The Reed of God, because many people mentioned how that book had touched them. It is a book about Mary, Jesus’ Mother and how we can claim her in simple yet profound ways as our teacher. Caryll makes Mary REAL. Yes, she’s a virgin, ever-holy, from an ancient world, and assumed into heaven, but to Caryll, Mary is someone we can imitate more easily than most saints. How little we know of Mary’s life details is a gift. What we have is essential in our walk toward holiness and pure love.
1) Mary reminds us we too are wed to the Holy Spirit, destined to be creative, employing with divine energy our unique gifts.
2) Her perpetual Virginity is a model of how to offer, wholly, our soul and body to be consumed with the fire of Love and changed into the flame of its glory. (In other words, virginity is something you “lose” through a sexual act, but something you can offer again and again through commitment to surrendering totally to God.
3) Mary shows we are all invited to “bear” Christ. She carried and birthed a divine human, into a sad, sweet world. We are called to re-birth our inner Christ and witness Christ being perpetually born in every single soul we meet. Just as the manger, with animal breath and the scent of manure in the air seems an unlikely place for GOD, our world’s darkest corners contain souls, like mangers, cradling CHRIST.
Most mystics and martyrs, while inspirational, appear hard to imitate. But Mary, simply and wholeheartedly obedient, models that it’s “merely” intimacy God asks of us: humbly carrying the Christ – God’s incarnate love – to others: allowing Christ to be FORMED, to grow, within us; simply with courage and love, witnessing the wounded and dying Christ-figures we meet daily. We DON’T have to fix anything, just be vigilant if we can lend a tender hand, as Mary, a lay person, did at Cana. In her natural human love she acknowledged the gift of the supernatural within her and because she “asked” the plain water of Cana was turned into wine – saving a celebration and symbolizing the sacrificial blood her son would shed. Jesus didn’t ask of Mary that she die a bloody death, only that she die to self and reply, “Be it done to me according to your will.”
Because we are (without exception in Houselander’s eyes) the Body of Christ, Mary’s guiding rule is two-fold. It helps us unite, to see that we are one in Christ, yet we are called to claim a personal and intimate life with Him. Mary had an intimacy with Christ like no one else’s. We can too. And she took on the yoke of a love which now unites us all.
The book looks at Mary through three strong symbols. Mary is the reed, hollow, through which the Eternal love was to be piped as a shepherd’s song. That music of Christ can so naturally be played by even a child. Mary is the flower-like chalice into which the water of humanity was to be poured, mingled with wine, changed to the crimson blood of love, and lifted up in sacrifice. Mary is the warm nest, rounded to the shape of humanity to receive the Divine Little Bird. She is the home, the shelter of Christ. She was nearby often even when he was preaching, and she was certainly there walking with him to his death and awaiting him in the upper room after he rose.
Some chapters look at qualities or concepts connected with Mary:
Emptiness, allowing the space for Christ to come to us.
Fiat (Mary’s promise to allow herself to be the instrument. Be it done to me…)
Advent – the seed planted, the waiting, the wondering, the excitement and the dis-ease of a big love growing inside our darkness.
Others are about moments in Christ’s life His being LOST (momentarily at 12 and momentarily to death). We too must look for him and we will find him exactly where HE needs to be. And IDOLS, how our well-meaning “seeking” turns us toward money, pleasure, ambition’s over-activity, perfectionism, and the projection and judgment of our unacknowledged failings onto others. The darkness which troubles us most is often a mirror of the inner work we need. Any obsession with the presence of God can be a shrinking from intimacy, a hardening rather than an emptying. She describes the idol of the harsh God, punitive and exacting nature, which allows us to judge others. AND “more popular today” (she writes just post war) the invented idol of a “convenient” God, who winks at our bad behavior; a vague, indefinite God whose not that upset as we “whittle away at the purity, and splendor and discipline of straight thinking, a God who is willing to humor us, accept our inattention and be grateful that we show up on Sunday.”
Just naming attributes of Caryll Houselander’s work and her view Mary as our teacher has been a joy.
Father Bob’s homily last Sunday…
2nd Sunday of Advent A
I know what you are all thinking. This is my first Sunday homily since I turned fifty. He should be a lot wiser than before. Don’t worry, I have the same expectation for myself. And I really think that I have made some progress. I have become much more efficient in how I sin. You see, when I was young, I thought there were many ways to sin. This action and that action were so numerous that they could not be counted. As I got a little older, I realized that while many actions constituted sin, they all sprung from a few motivations. Things such as pride, jealousy, self-hatred, anger and vengeance is how we sin. But now I have it down to one way to sin and I am going to teach it to you. You’re welcome.
First off, let me be clear. …
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Reading 1: Hannah’s Song: 1 Samuel 2: 1-10
Hannah was a childless woman. She prayed that if God would give her a son, she would give him back to the Lord. Eli the priest saw that she was praying and asked her about it. When she told him, he said, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked him.” She replied, ‘Think kindly of your maidservant,’ “ (1 Samuel 17-18). She did produce a son and offered him to God as she promised. When she left the temple, she sang this song. Do you see the echo in Mary? Mary would have known this story well.
Gospel Reading: Luke 1:39-56 (from Assumption of BVM)
Think of how Mary’s Magnificat speaks of how she sees God, and how she instilled those ideas in Jesus:
- “scattered the pious in their deceit” – a moral revolution, God’s ways before our ways
- “cast down the mighty from their thrones” – a social revolution, we are all worthy
- “filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty” – an economic revolution, everyone must get only to give away (Barclay, The Daily Study Bible of Luke, p. 9-10)
Luke mentions Mary 13 times in 5 different episodes, more than any other evangelist (twice in Mark and 6 times in Matthew) or Acts (3 times and never mentions her name). So Luke has a strong influence on our Marian theology. Luke’s literary style has a theme of presenting Jesus as our Savior; everything is a part of our salvation history, culminating in Jesus’ Ascension. Mary is a big part of that (Fitzmyer, Luke, the Theologian, p. 57).
What did Jesus learn from his mother?
- Saying yes. Consider his baptism. Consider everyone who approached Jesus for help.
- Creating life. Mary birthed the Son of God. But she also taught him about God’s creation in growing food, etc, as being a woman in an agrarian society (Coffey, Kathy, Anthony Messenger, May 2013, p. 25).
Meister Eckhart says, “What good it is to me if Mary is full of grace if I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to birth the Son if I do not also give birth to him in my time and my culture?”
Like Mary, am I willing to open my heart and place my life in the service of God’s plan? What would it cost me? How might I more fully accomplish this?
Mary, Our Model
- The first disciple
- Revealed Christ to the world
- Lived the Christian message
- Not for us to worship, but venerate
- Just as our own mothers interceded and are advocates for us (or we wish), all the more does Mary intercede for us to her Son and to the Father
In what way does Mary teach us to be a disciple? What exactly does she teach us? How might devotion to Mary invite you to be a better disciple? If she is a model for us, what exactly does she model and what can you emulate, admire and imitate?
Some Historical Facts:
- She was actually named Miriam, after the sister of Moses.
- She led the grinding life of the peasant class, triple taxed from Rome, Herod and the temple.
- She would have lived in an extended family unit, where 3-4 houses of 1-2 rooms were built around an open courtyard. Food, cooking and animals were all shared in this common area. She would have spent up to 10 hours a day doing family chores.
- She probably was not the fragile picture of Mary we often see in art. She would have had a robust physique to withstand all she did. She probably didn’t know how to read or write (Maloney, R., America Magazine, “The Historical Mary”).
As events unfolded around her, often to her surprise (and we have a God of surprises), she had to figure out continually what God was asking of her. Aren’t we asked to do the same?
Closing Prayer: Salve Regina
Hail! Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy, our life, our sweetness, and our hope!
To you do we cry, poor banished children of Eve;
To you do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.
Turn then, most gracious advocate, your eyes of mercy toward us,
And after this our exile show unto us the blessed Fruit of your womb, Jesus.
O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary; pray for us,
O holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
I couldn’t sleep the other night. I went to bed late and I woke up early. My head was too full. Some things weren’t going well, some things weren’t getting done, people I know were having troubles…just stuff filling up my brain. I decided to get up and go for a run. I thought if I could have a little time to myself to think through all the thoughts, I would feel peace again.
That didn’t happen. The more I got into my head about all these issues, the worse I felt. As I ran, I could feel myself getting more and more tense. Why wasn’t this working? I started to pray about it, when suddenly I looked up. The sky was full of the brightest stars. There were no clouds, just black night and pinpoints of clear light. It dawned on me that I wouldn’t see the stars if not for the darkness. That’s actually something Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Only in the darkness can you see the stars.” I finally felt peace.
I was too caught up in myself. It wasn’t until I stopped and looked beyond myself and my head full of thoughts that I could experience a stillness. There can be such beauty in darkness. When things aren’t going well, it is then that strength is found. It is then that people reach out to one another in support. It is then that we find out who we truly are. The stars shine out through the darkness. It is so comforting.
Maybe that’s what Advent is. Yes there’s waiting, but it is with expectation. There is darkness, but the light of Christ shines through it. I can have a head full of thoughts, but I can also take time to stop. Just be still. Hit the pause button. That’s when I (we) will know God was with us all along, waiting -in expectation – for us…to see God through the pinpoints in the darkness.
Have a hope-filled Advent.
Gospel Reading: Matthew 1:18-25
We know very little about Joseph. He is the foster father of Jesus and betrothed to Mary. He is from the line of David. He seems to be an upright man, considering divorcing Mary so as not to shame her. He is often pictured as being an older man. He had his own annunciation when an angel came to him in a dream and told him to see his marriage through. Like the Joseph in the Old Testament, he paid attention to his dreams. Once Jesus was born, Joseph protected his family by fleeing to Egypt with them. What can we learn from this man connected to God breaking into our history?
From Wm. Barclay: Daily Study Bible Series on Matthew, p. 22:
A betrothal was a binding agreement, lasting 1 year. The couple would be known as man and wife, but the marriage was not consummated until the end of the year. It could only be terminated in divorce. Going against this agreement could have meant death for Mary.
Joseph was told Mary was with child through the action of the Holy Spirit. We have a Christian view of what Holy Spirit is, but Joseph would have had a Jewish interpretation. What is that?
- Holy Spirit is who brought God’s truth to humanity, telling the prophets what to say and telling people what God wants of them.
- Holy Spirit allowed people to recognize that truth when they saw it.
- Holy Spirit is connected with the work of creation (moving across the waters).
- Holy Spirit is connected with re-creation (Ezekiel’s dry bones).
We know Joseph was a carpenter (Mk 6:3, Mt 13:55), and sons often took on the same role as their parents. The name ‘carpenter’ doesn’t exist in Hebrew, so he would have been known more as a ‘cutter’ or ‘worker of wood’. A rural carpenter would have been indispensable to the town where he lived. In addition to building homes, they would have made cabinets, carved, and made wheels, yokes and plows. Roofs were flat, so making a house would have involved laying down beams and covering them with reeds. If there was an upstairs, the staircase would be outside. For all of these projects, the carpenter would have had many tools and be flexible enough to work on whatever came into his workshop that day (Daniel-Rops, Henri, Daily Life in the Time of Jesus, p. 241-3).
Joseph is often depicted as an old man, but we actually don’t know how old he is. The marriage custom at the time was that a young woman, essentially at the age of puberty, would be given to a man, usually several years her senior (Rolheiser, R., “Joseph and Christmas”. If Mary was 13 years old, Joseph may have been only 16-18 years old. What difficult decisions he had to make at such a young age!
What can we learn from Joseph? He teaches us how a person can be a pious believer, deeply faithful to everything within his religious tradition, and yet at the same time be open to a mystery beyond both his human and religious understanding (Rolheiser). Isn’t this what we are all challenged with at Christmas?
Joseph seems to live a life of quiet service to God, a life almost completely unknown to us. Today many Christians lead lives of hidden charity – a kind deed here, a few hours of service there. All of these quiet acts mark the Christian lifestyle. Even if no one else sees those deeds, God does (Catholic Update Dec. ’09: “The Holy Family”). Joseph teaches us humility.
Tradition holds that Joseph most likely died before Jesus started his ministry. Jesus must have wished for his counsel during those years, since he learned much about his faith from Joseph. Mary must have wanted his support at the Crucifixion (Cath. Update). Jesus and Mary knew grief through Joseph.
Take some time with Joseph this Advent!
Father Bob’s homily for Christ the King…
Christ the King A
Jesus appears as the judge of the world, in the fullness of his glory, surrounded by angels and seated upon his throne with all the nations assembles before him. But this judge acts like a shepherd of the righteous and unrighteous and separates all people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats to his right and his left. And to those on his right, he announces the good news. “’Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.” And then he turns to his left. You are not saved for you have failed…
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