Fr. Bob’s homily last Sunday…
3rd Sunday of Advent B
This is the time of the year when people talk about “Christmas Spirit.” It is a good thing. It is an expectation that all will find this a joyous time. That people will be friendlier, more caring and even more generous whether we are celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ or not. It is summed up perhaps by the song “It’s Beginning to Look a lot Like Christmas.” Anything in this day and age that promotes a more congenial feeling, anything that strives for harmony among people is a good thing.
But for those of us who believe that the birth of Jesus Christ ushered in a new era of human history; for those who find the beginning of their salvation in that moment in Bethlehem, the Spirit of Christmas means something entirely different. It is the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit that…
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Gospel Reading: Matthew 1:1-25
It was important to the Jewish people that their lineage is rooted in Judaism. At the time, if in any man there was the slightest admixture of foreign blood, he lost his right to be called a Jew, and a member of the people of God. The pedigree of Jesus can be traced back to Abraham, and proves that he is the son of David. Let us look at some of the cast of characters that make up the family genealogy of Jesus:
Abraham: Genesis 12:1-3 Abraham is called by God to leave his country and build a new nation under God. On the way, he makes a covenant with God that his descendants will be given the land too. Abraham speaks regularly with God and has a close relationship, but he is not without fault. He disowns his wife Sarai to cause favor with the Pharoah (Don’t worry, God sends plagues so Sarai is returned.) and commits adultery with a maidservant and has a child Ishmael (who God also blesses with descendants). Abraham had his son Isaac at 100 years old.
Ruth: Her mother-in-law Naomi’s husband, her sister-in-law Orpah’s husband and her own husband all died because of famine. Normally, the sisters-in-law would return to their homelands; Orpah did. But Ruth stayed. Ruth 1:15-18 They made their way to Bethlehem where Boaz, a relative of Naomi’s helped them with food in his fields and eventually married Ruth. It is important to note that Ruth is not Jewish but a Moabite.
David: David was the youngest son of Jesse and tended to the sheep. Samuel anointed him when he was still a young boy and he defeated Goliath by slinging a stone into his forehead (and then cut his head off which the cartoons never include!). Saul was the current king. He felt threatened by David and sought to kill him. David had chance to kill him first, but he spared Saul. Saul was later killed in battle, so David was anointed king. He praised God for his greatness and reigned well. He did have relations with Bathsheba and had her husband killed to get him out of the picture, but he repented of this. The psalms are attributed to David. He sang a song of Thanksgiving 2 Samuel 22:2-7. His son Solomon became ruler after him.
Zerubbabel: (Because it’s fun to say) Zerubbabel was the head of the tribe of Judah during the time of the return from the Babylon exile. He was the prime builder of the second Temple, which was later re-constructed by King Herod. He led the first group of captives back to Jerusalem and began rebuilding the Temple on the old site. Ezra 3:1-3
The Jews were a waiting people. They never forgot that they were the chosen people of God. Although their history was one long series of disasters, it was the dream of the common people that into this world would come a descendant of David who would lead them to the glory which they believed to be theirs by right. Jesus is the answer to their dreams. He breaks the barriers of Jew/Gentile, male/female, and saint/sinner in his pedigree (Barclay’s Daily Bible Study Series, p. 15-17).
Matthew pictures Mary and Joseph living at Bethlehem and having a house there. The coming of the magi, guided by the star, causes Herod to slay children at Bethlehem while the Holy Family flees to Egypt. After Herod’s death, the accession of his son Archelaus as ruler in Judea makes Joseph afraid to return to Bethlehem, so he takes the child Jesus and his mother Mary to Nazareth in Galilee, seemingly for the first time. Luke, on the other hand, tells us that Mary and Joseph lived in Nazareth and went to Bethlehem only because they had to register there during a Roman census. The statement that Mary laid her newborn child in a manger because there was no place for them in “the inn” indicates that they had no house of their own in Bethlehem. Luke leaves no room for the coming of the wise men or a struggle with Herod. The Holy Spirit is content to give us 2 different accounts of the Christmas events. To treat them separately is being faithful to them (Raymond Brown in Scripture from Scratch’s “The Christmas Stories”, 1994)
From Altogether Gift, by Michael Downey:
In Jesus Christ, Love’s Word, we see in a fleshly way the compassion of the Father. The Hebrew word for a woman’s womb and the word for compassion are related, and both are related to the word for mercy. Thus, the mother’s intimate, physical relationship with her newborn is the prime image for compassion and, hence, the compassion of God in Christ.
By the Incarnation of the Word, God enters human life, history, the world. But the Incarnation also makes it possible for us to enter the very life of God. Through the Incarnation, God became part of our eating and drinking, our sickness, our joy, our delight, our passion, our dying, our death. But all this is for the purpose of drawing us out of ourselves, away from our own self-preoccupation, self-absorption, self-fixation, so as to participate in the divine life.
Fr. Bob’s homily last Sunday…
2nd Sunday of Advent B
Offensive linemen are the unsung heroes of football. Mischaracterized because of their large size, they are statistically the most intelligent people on the field. And their movements, so easily perceived as simply brutish, are deceptively agile and athletic. [Don’t worry. I think there will be a homily in here eventually.]
For example, there is the guard who is occasionally asked to “pull.” This means that instead of blocking the man right in front of them, they actually move laterally around the end and block for the much faster running back following him. And whether they know it or not, they are on a mission from the Prophet Isaiah to make mountains low, the rough ways smooth and “the rough country, a broad valley.”
The second thing I know about a pulling guard is that they are not famous or bask in glory. I cannot…
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1st Reading – Isaiah 61: 1-2, 10-11
Some scholars suggest that this prophet may have delivered this uplifting message to his people while standing among the ruins that had once been Jerusalem. With these words of hope, they could begin to rebuild their city – and their lives. It was the ‘year of favor’ from the Lord. A ‘Year of Favor’, or a Jubilee Year, was a time of social reconciliation and economic restitution according to Leviticus 25: 9-19, 23-55. The land was to rest without planted crops. The poor could eat freely of whatever ‘wild crops’ grew. Property that had been once seized, borrowed, or rented was to be returned to its rightful owner. Slaves were to be set free. All debts were to either be remitted or forgiven. For such was the favor and forgiveness that Israel had experienced at God’s hand. (Celebration, December 15, 2002) When you experience and know this kind of joy, you want to DO something about it.
Henri Nouwen reflecting on joy in Here and Now:
Joy is the experience of knowing that you are unconditionally loved and that nothing – sickness, failure, emotional distress, oppression, war, or even death – can take that love away…Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day. It is a choice based on the knowledge that we belong to God and have found in God our refuge and our safety…Joy does not depend on the ups and downs of the circumstances of our lives. Joy is based on the spiritual knowledge that, while the world in which we live is shrouded in darkness, God has overcome the world…God’s light is more real than all the darkness.
2nd Reading – 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-24
As we wait with joy and hope for the many ways the Christ will come and does come, we are called to be faithful – and faith-filled – living with a trust in the amazing love of our God. Paul is trying to encourage three ways of living that are important: prayer-living, discerning-awareness, and wholesome-holiness. These three ways will help us to experience Christ in our lives no matter the circumstances. Let us not ‘quench the Spirit’ of Life and Love that is offered to us. This is a Christmas gift worth opening and using! (Celebration, December 15, 2002)
In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy…Love wholeheartedly, be surprised, give thanks and praise-then you will discover the fullness of your life. ~ Br. David Steindl-Rast
The Gospel – John 1: 6-8, 19-28
Ring the bells that still can ring,
Forget your perfect offering,
There is a crack in everything,
That’s how the light gets in. ~Leonard Cohen
Maybe John the Baptist saw the crack, and helps us see the light coming through it.
This gospel may seem out place with the other two readings. We have been prepared with joy and hope; we have been encouraged with positive words and messages. But John’s message in this gospel is filled with negations: “I am not the Messiah, not Elijah, nor the Prophet . . .” He knew himself to be the “voice of one crying in the desert.” Yet, in that solitary truth and task he found joy. There is comfort and assurance in knowing who we are and what our calling is. There is joy in knowing how to look for the “one who is to come.” John is incomplete by himself: so are we! Let us with John be expectant in the midst of a desert – looking for light in the midst of darkness. Even a tiny flicker of light can dispel the darkest gloom. Maybe then we will be free to discover the many and various ways the Lord Jesus Christ comes into our lives. (Living with Christ, December, 2011, p. 123)
Let us pray with Joyce Rupp:
looking high into winter trees
I see the distant nests
cradled in arms of branches
nests: round, full of warmth,
softness in the welcoming center,
a circle of earth’s tiny goodness,
flown far from the far corners,
patiently pieced together,
and hollowed into a home.
nests: awaiting the treasure of life,
simple, delicate dwelling places
from which song will eventually echo
and freedom of wings give flight.
advent has been on my mind.
prepare the nest of heart.
patch up the broken parts.
place more softness in the center.
sit and warm the home with prayer.
give the Christ a dwelling place. Amen.
1st Reading: Isaiah 40: 1-5, 9-11
From Celebration, Dec. 2002:,,This is the beginning of 2nd Isaiah. It is sometimes called the Book of Consolation. It was written to a people who were in exile, a people who were
shamed and saddened in the truest sense. Although they were separated from their land, God would still care for them. The prophet was to speak to his people “tenderly.” The Jerusalem Bible translates this passage more literally by directing the prophet to “speak to the heart” of the people. For the Hebrews, the heart was the seat of the intellect and will. God wanted them to trust deeply that he would still care for them.
From Mary Birmingham, W & W Wkbk for Year B, p. 61: Today’s reading refers to Israel’s return home as well as the prophet’s commissioning, The heavenly court witnesses and approves God’s command, call, and commissioning of the prophet. So commissioned, the prophet’s word announces a new age of restoration for the people. Through the power of God’s Word, the world will be reconciled. The people stood on the threshold of a new age,. The creative Word of God had spoken as it was spoken at the dawn of an earlier age, the creation of the world, and into the hearts of all believers was infused the seeds of new life. God’s glory would be revealed when the people were safely restored and in their own land. For Christians the glory of God is revealed in the advent of the One Who Is to Come. What does all of this mean to you?
2nd Reading: 2 Peter: 3: 8-14
From Mary Birmingham, p. 63-64: This letter is a pseudonymous work attributed to the apostle Peter. Most scholars date it around the mid-second century (130-150AD). It is probably the last letter written of all the canonical New Testament documents. Its imagery concerning the ‘end of the world’ was a part of the culture of the times. Total destruction by fire was a popular belief from Persia to the Greco-Roman world. These images were also common in Jewish apocalyptic literature. Such images or
opinions are not scientific assertions but mythopoeic images. Some scholars also suggest that the translation of heurethesetai (dissolved by fire) is better translated ‘will be laid bare’. Yet, keep in mind that the main point of this passage is that our God is a patient God – and that we need to use whatever time we have to repent, to change, to be reconciled.
Reginald Fuller adds these three points: 1) Watchfulness is a part of Christian living. 2) Rightly understood, the imminent hope in Christianity is a motivation for the pursuit of holiness and Godliness in life. 3) While we can demythologize our scriptures in order to have them ‘speak’ more clearly to us today, we must also hold dear to the fact that the final goal of history is the hope of a new heaven
and a new earth. (“Scripture in Depth”, http://liturgy.slu.edu )
The Gospel: Mark 1: 1-8
This is the beginning of Mark’s Gospel, as is stated. Mark has no infancy stories. Most scholars believe that this is the earliest gospel written, probably between 68-73 AD. Mark was not an eye-witness to Jesus or his ministry. (He seemed to have incomplete and inaccurate knowledge of the Palestinian geography and customs.) He is a Greek-speaking believer who relied on already established traditions concerning Jesus, most of which were probably oral. He is a skilled craftsman who wished to share the joy of our salvation by writing a ‘gospel’ – a work of good news. He is addressing this ‘good news’ to a community that was suffering persecution. The center of this good news for Mark is Jesus’ suffering and death. This gospel is sometimes called a long ‘passion narrative’ with a brief introduction. For Mark, Jesus’ death assures us that God is forever with us, even in what appears to be utter destruction. This is good news! (Celebration, Dec. 2002)
John’s clothing seems to be taken directly from 2 Kings 1:8 as the traditional ‘dress’ of a prophet. John’s diet also has to do with the truth of the good news he is to proclaim. Locusts were traditionally regarded as God’s instruments of judgment because they were agents of bitter and punishing destruction (Exodus 10:4, Isaiah 33:4, Psalm 105:34). Honey, however, signified peace and plenty and was a symbol of God’s comfort and care (Exodus 3:8, Deuteronomy 6:3). Together, these two ‘ingredients’ seem to announce the dual character of the gospel. Like locusts, the good news of Jesus Christ would lay bare and devour evil; like honey, the gospel would bring comfort, peace and sweet salvation to the repentant sinner. Today, John still stands in our midst. He still calls us to prepare ourselves, our ways, our hearts, our wills, and our world to welcome the challenge and the comfort, the purifying power and the peace that is Jesus. (Celebration, Dec. 2002)
Ronald Rolheiser says that we all live with “an innate tension” – we want to be ‘ourselves,’ different, unique, independent. Yet, we also want to belong, to unite, to be a part of community and to be intimate. Baptism both calls us to be ‘set apart’ from the world and to be part of a new unity, the family of God, the body of Christ. John the Baptist and Jesus show this tension. John ‘stood out’ – by his life style and his cry of repentance. His motivation, though, was to get people to come back to living the way God had called them – to be people of compassion and honesty. Jesus did not seem to set himself apart at all by externals. What set him apart was the integrity of his life which was filled with the intimacy of God and care for others. That set him apart – and that allowed him to show us and to call us to a greater intimacy with God and compassion toward others. Think of how you live with this tension and how God might be calling you. (“In Exile,” http://liturgy.slu.edu )
How is the “nest” of your heart in relation to the dwelling of the Lord? Do you have room for your God? Is there an awareness in your life of the presence of the Lord? Where in your life does the Christ most seek a welcome?
Fr. Bob’s Christ the King homily…
Christ the King A
I went to a conference last week for Vicars from across the Northeast. It was a surprisingly fun crowd. And I learned a great deal from the wonderful people at the St. John Vianney Institute. Among the most valuable is this little gem. Psychologists conducted studies after the devastation after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans to determine what makes someone more resilient. What makes one person rebuild their life and another not be able to move on? What they found are two factors that are at the heart of what we hold dear as people of faith.
The first is a sense of thanksgiving, appropriately enough for this weekend. Those who count their blessings and who do not dwell on what is lost have more perseverance. That make sense to me. The second one surprised me. It is a sense of awe. They took city dwellers…
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