Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Homily for the Feast of The Holy Family ... reading ... Luke 2:22-40

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death  before he had seen the Christ of the Lord. He took him into his arms and blessed God, saying: “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace." 

 There was also a prophetess, Anna. She was advanced in years. And coming forward at that very time,  she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem. 

This time of year we all enjoy Nativity scenes; where we see the Holy Family, infant Jesus, Mary and Joseph. These are peaceful scenes. The words of Silent Night “all is calm, all is bright” describe the mood.  On the night Jesus was born and the angels sang, and the shepherds came; this was a very special night when heaven and earth stood still for a moment and celebrated. But the events leading up to this moment weren't so peaceful. Today I’d like to review these events, through the eyes of Joseph. 

We don’t talk about him much but he is very important to our faith story. 

What we know of Joseph comes from the birth stories in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.  Joseph was a simple man, living a simple life, when God chose him to play this remarkable role in human history. While he was living his life in peace, joyfully awaiting his marriage, suddenly everything changed. His beloved wife became pregnant and he didn’t know by whom. That would shake anyone to their core ... and it did him. As most of us would, he decided he couldn’t go through with the marriage. And then God spoke to him.  God gave him a dream. In this dream, God shared with Joseph His dream for the salvation of the world.

Joseph dreamed – God’s Dream – that night!

When he woke, in obedience to God, he took Mary for his wife. The example this great man gives to all of us is how to follow God through difficult and confusing times. His life teaches us that God’s plans don’t always match our plans. Often in our lives things happen that we never saw coming. Certainly that was true of Joseph. Think about what happened to him ... after ... he said “Yes” to God. 

Once married, when Mary was very pregnant – and we all know what that looks like – Joseph had to put her on a donkey and travel 70 miles. That’s from here (Pacific Beach) to Laguna Beach. When they got to Bethlehem – we don’t know the exact sequence of events – but it’s highly likely Mary was experiencing labor pains. I think donkey rides are probably pretty good at bring on labor. Now we all know the anxiety when a woman is in labor, and we are told in the story that Joseph couldn’t find a place to stay. I certainly hope Mary wasn’t in labor when he was going through that! 

We know that he finds a stable.  In our Nativity scenes these sables are always pristine, but having spent some time on a farm as a boy, I’m not so sure that sable was as sanitary as we like to portray it. According to Luke’s Gospel with no family there to help him, Joseph was likely the only one there to deliver the baby. And this was a time in history when it was common for women to die during child birth. Talk about stressful situations!

So here we are this precious child was born and they have this amazing night we celebrate with the Nativity scene. Then with this night barely done Joseph hears that some evil man wants to kill this beautiful baby. Imagine a death threat on your child! Once again He listens to God and must abandon his home and move this little family to a foreign country. Think about these challenges this man faced.
In today’s Gospel we hear how  when Joseph takes Mary and the child to the Temple, to fulfill a simple requirement of their faith, the priest tells them that this child is destined to create turmoil in Israel and that Mary, his precious wife’s heart, will be pierced by a sword. All of these things happened to Joseph. Joseph was just a regular person, like you and me, simply trying to live a good and peaceful life. But God had other plans.  And Joseph became our model of how to follow God through difficult times.

Joseph’s life changed drastically because of something that happened to someone he loved. When Mary said “Yes” to God, his whole life changed too.  Joseph shows us that so often God’s plan for us can be brought about by things outside of our control ... health ... jobs ... love life ... family ... it can all change without warning. And Joseph is our model of how to be prepared when challenges come.

Scripture describes him as “a righteous man,” which simply means he was a faith-filled and prayerful person.  That is why he was prepared to handle these unforeseen events in his life. The only way he could have dealt with all of this is because he knew God, and he trusted God. Joseph is the picture of how we are all called to be.

Being in-touch with God will help us handle the unforeseen challenges, we all experience in life. Mary and Joseph were simply living their lives day to day, just like us, when everything changed for them. And what we learn from their lives is that good things can come out of the challenges we face, even great things. God doesn’t always remove our challenges. He certainly didn’t for Joseph. But He can work in them. 

In our Gospel reading we see two more examples of this in Simone and Anna. They also were simple people, just dealing with the hand they were dealt by life, being faithful to God, prayerfully trying to serve him; and God used them too, to share his dream.

And He can use us too ... just as he did them! Like Joseph and Simone and Anna, God calls us to dream – God’s dream for the world; and to do our part to make it come true.                                                          
God’s will for us – our call – is first and foremost to strive to be ... a Holy Family ... 
to be like Joseph faith-filled and prayerful. His role ultimately was simply to be ... a good father.  That’s our call too ... to be ... a good father ... or ... a good mother ... a good son ... a good daughter ... sister ... or ... brother.

This is our call.

And what does our call ... to be good family members ... look like?
It’s simple really:
            •           Each day ... to love ... a little bit more than you think you can.
            •           Each day ... to forgive ... a little bit more than you think you can.
            •           Each day ... to be a little bit more patient ... than you think you can.
            •           Each day...to be a little bit kinder and gentler...than you think you can

To bring as much joy - each day - as you can.

If each one of us in this church made that resolution, the Feast of the Holy Family would be a huge success; and it would be one of the best and most practical Christmas gifts we could give ourselves and those around us.

It would bring ...

             joy ... to ourselves
             joy ... to our family
             joy ... to our friends
and      •           joy ... to the world. ...

Then in addition to singing  ... “Joy to the World”... 
we would be doing something about it.

Then we will be helping - God’s Dream - to come true.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Then - by his own will
Christ was dependent on Mary.
He was absolutely helpless; he could go nowhere but where she took him; he could not speak, her breathing was his breath; his heart beat in the beating of her heart.

Now - by his own will
Christ is dependent upon us.
Now it is our turn to carry him
to wherever he wants to go, and there are many places to which he many never go unless we take him.
And he cannot speak unless through us,
and his heart be felt except through ours.

Let your faith glow.

Saturday, December 20, 2014


Most of us live in such an agitated state that we do not hear the voice of God.  Our minds are so active that His calm voice can’t get a word in edgewise. We simply do not make space to listen, and God’s word takes root in inner peace. This is why prayer is such a struggle for many of us. 
Oh we are people of faith, that’s not the problem.  We know what we believe, those truths to which we hold that help us cope with our lives. So many of us have a reservoir of the great truths and teachings of our faith already in our hearts and minds, we listen on Sundays, we know what we believe. And remarkably that’s the good news, that God can use that reservoir of faith to speak to us. Our God draws out of us this wisdom he has been sowing in us all along. So the amazing paradox is that the God we want so desperately to listen to is a God who often speaks by listening to us.
That doesn’t make sense you say.  How can one speak by listening?  
When we speak to God, his listening heart draws out of us the wisdom he has been sowing in us all along. We need to speak to him in order to hear what we already know. When we speak from our hearts and the reservoir of our faith, into the warm, receptive silence of a God we hear his voice. And when we listen, he tells us the world is far more beautiful that we think. Speaking into God’s warm silence often creates the stillness we need to know that he loves us, to feel protected and listened to. 
There is another mysterious attribute of our God. In the toughest challenges, when all we want is for it not to be. That’s when he speaks loudest from the depths of our faith. Those times when we desperately ask: Does God love me? Do I really believe this?
Does Christ’s life, death, and resurrection relate to my present pain? The God who listens to each of us can draw out the peace he has sown into our souls if we but speak to Him.  
So speak to him ... and listen.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Mary's "Yes"

When the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary he said: ““Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you!”   There followed the most incredible moment in human history.  A moment when the whole world and all the angels in heaven held their breaths as God’s messenger awaited the response of a teenage girl.  It seems incredible that God would have to await Mary’s “Yes” before bringing about the miracle of the Incarnation within her womb.

We must never forget Mary could have said ... “No!”  

God respected Mary’s freedom just as He respects the freedom of each one of us. Everything hinged on Mary’s “Yes” to God.  And Like Mary, God ask each of us whether we will be open to receiving the gift of His grace so that we can be all that He created us to be. He asks you today, this moment, “Will you empty yourself and open your heart, your mind and your entire being so that I can fill you with the power of the Holy Spirit?

Will you set aside your own hopes and plans – your own limited ideas for your future – to do my Divine Will  ... and be truly happy?  

God invites each one of us to surrender ourselves to the Holy Spirit, without any conditions or reservations, so that Christ can be formed within us. So that like Mary, we can bear Jesus into the world wherever we may go.

You may imagine that your answer is not so important as Mary’s, that if you say “no” to God someone else will step in to take your place. While it is true that God can raise up others to be His hands and feet on earth. It is also true that He has created us as unique and unrepeatable individuals.  He has a special plan for your life!  And there is no one else who can be what He has called you to be.

Just as God depended on Mary, so He is depending on you.
Who else can love your family the way you do?
Who else can bring the same mix of gifts and talents to your place of work?
Who will share the Good News of Salvation with those around you
if you are not there to live that example and speak those words?

Spend some time today reflecting on your call ... so much like Mary’s ... and place the words of Mary on our lips and in your heart: “ ‘Thy will be done.’ ”

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Homily - First Sunday in Advent 2014 - He did come down!

Today we begin Advent the time of waiting.  

It is a time of anticipation, anticipation of the coming of God into the world at Christmas; 
and ... at the end of time.  

Isaiah, the great prophet of the Old Testament, calls out to God:

Oh, that you would 
rend the heavens 
and come down
with the mountains quaking before you,
while you wrought 
awesome deeds!

There is a little part in all of us that wants God to come down from heaven and do something dramatic to forcefully set the world straight. There is something deep within us that really does want God to come to fix the world; to show us He knows what this life is like right now. So with the prophet we call out: “God please come down and set this crazy world straight!”

The beauty of the Advent season is that we are reminded that God did come down. Just not in a way we might have thought he would.  That's what this season is all about, it’s about celebrating the day God did come down – as a gentle child – as one of us. Advent is about appreciating what happened on Christmas day.

A few weeks ago, I was reading a children’s book to my granddaughter and I realized the story represented perfectly what happened when God chose to come to our rescue. The story was about a grandfather who found his grandson jumping up and down in his playpen crying at the top of his voice.  When little Johnnie saw his grandpa, he reached out his chubby little hands and said, "Out, Gramps, out."  The grandfather reached down to lift his grandson out of his predicament but as he did he heard Johnnie's mom stepped up and say, "No, Johnnie, you are being punished. You have to stay in your playpen."  The grandfather didn't know what to do.  His grandson's tears reached deep into his heart.  However, mom's firmness couldn't be taken lightly.  But love found a way. Grandpa could not take his grandson out of the playpen so instead he climbed in with the little boy.

It struck me when I was reading this children’s story that that is exactly what Jesus did for us at Christmas.  Christ Jesus left heaven for earth and climbed in with us. God came down. The Word was made flesh. God in Christ joined us in our need.

God did tear open the heavens. Just not in the way we expected.  God came down and walked as one of us. God came down and wasn't angry. God came down and through an infant said, "I love you. I share your pain.”

But, Advent is not just a time when we recall that God sent us a Savior in Jesus on Christmas day.  It is much more than that. Advent is also a time when we recall that Jesus will return at a time we least expect.  That’s what Mark tells us in today’s gospel:  “Be on watch. Be alert” If Jesus comes suddenly, he must not find you asleep.

You and I live in the important interval between Jesus’ first coming and anticipating his second coming.  And what are we to do as we wait?  Our job is to complete the work he gave us to do. As the reading says, “You do not know when the time will come. It is like a man traveling abroad. He leaves home and places his servants in charge, each with his own work. We each have a role to play as we await the master’s return, as we await Jesus return.  Before returning to his Father, Jesus told us what this work is. He said: “Go, then, to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples: baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

Advent is a time when we check on how well we are following this command.
Advent is a time when we call to mind, in a special way, that Jesus came to tell us of God’s love; to show us God’s love; and then, commissioned us to spread that love.

When Jesus returns he will judge us on how well we did.  On how well we worked to spread God’s kingdom on earth.  That’s what we need to think about these next few weeks.

How are we doing ... ? 

Will he find us sleeping; or, spreading his kingdom of love?