Homily for the Feast of the Holy Family

December 12, 2015

At Christmas time, we reflect on the birth of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. And well we should; it is one of the most important celebrations in the Church year because it commemorates the day God was born as a tiny baby in a cave in Bethlehem.

In high school, I knew a young man who, though Christian, did not celebrate Christmas. His particular protestant sect taught — and he was eager to explain at any opportunity — that there is no evidence that Christ was actually born on December 25th. Therefore, they did not celebrate Christmas, and everyone else was misguided for celebrating Christmas.

He was finally silenced by a young lady who, upon hearing his claim, cocked her head to the side, looked at him like he had sprouted a second head, and said: “We celebrate because it happened, not when it happened.”

Both believed that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and our savior. Both were speaking of the same event: the birth of Our Lord. And both, I am willing to presume, at some level believed that the event deserved to be remembered. But both had a vastly different perception of the remembrance. One, because the actual date was not known to him, believed that a commemoration was pointless. For the other, the mere fact that we know it did happen was all the evidence required for Christmas.

Perspective can be defined as a particular way of viewing something… an attitude toward something. Simply: a point of view. In this case, it’s the same event but a vastly different perspective.

I would like to remind you of the story of a young man from a very rural desert region. You’ve probably all heard this story, although it might have faded some from memory. It happened long ago. This young man had some mental issues, it seems. He, by his own public admission, was known to have tortured and killed small animals for fun. In his late teens, he met up with a somewhat sketchy religious figure — not Christian — who was largely mistrusted by those few people in the region. He was rapidly radicalized and soon teamed up with a known criminal with whom he plotted a terrorist attack against a military base that resulted in many, many deaths and the further unstabling of an already unstable area.

Star Wars has been in the news a lot here, lately. Well, that’s the story of Luke Skywalker’s attack on the Death Star… told from the perspective of the Empire. Same story. Same facts. Same events, even if they are a work of fiction. But two radically different perspectives.

And why would I tell such a story? Simple: perspective is a dangerous thing. There are facts; there are human events. But, there is one Truth: the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Unfortunately, there are many, many perspectives that color that truth. That reshape it… and that rob it of real truth.

We can be sure and certain of few things in this world. The television peddles fear and mistrust. That is not the truth. Society tells us to doubt… to view others as our competition, or… worse… or enemies. That, too, is not the truth.

We can be truly certain of only that which the Church teaches: that we are to love God and we are to love our neighbor as our self. That Christ was born in a manger, lived among us, and was crucified for our sins. That we have been given a short time on earth and that at the end of our life, we will be judged by God, who is love, and we will be judged on how well we loved. There is no love without response to God’s grace.

Today we remember the Holy Family, which for us is a model of Christian love. Let us during the Christmas season make it our focus to live as Paul encourages us; to Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection.

Let us make it our business to put aside difference… to put aside fear… and to see in all of those around us the face of Christ; to recognize the dignity of the other, because that dignity is equal to our own. Jesus Christ loves every man, woman, and child on this planet. God considers every person to be of equal dignity and equal worth. That is the truth, regardless of our perspective.

During this Christmas season, let us dedicate ourselves to laying aside differences and living the Truth. That is the life to which we are called. Our Christian dignity deserves no less. Let us see everyone, from the person in the pew beside us to the stranger on the street as all being members of one holy family. Let us ask God to let the peace of Christ control our hearts and to unite us all in one family — one body — with unity and love. Amen.

Homily for Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Everyone thinks that Zechariah and Elizabeth’s child should be named after Zechariah, his father, because that is what you do. That’s tradition. I am named after my father and he in turn is named after his father. My sister was named after my grandmother. My cousin is named after his father and his younger brother after their maternal grandfather. Tradition.

So it came as a surprise to those present when John was named that he wasn’t named Little Zechy. He was named John, even though there were none of Zechariah’s relatives or ancestors who had that name.

But if amazement was their feeling at the child’s name, fear was what the felt when Zechariah’s speech returned and he immediately began praising the Lord.

Fear is not an uncommon emotion at an unexpected encounter with God. When we unexpectedly encounter a power so far beyond us that we cannot even begin to comprehend it, it is natural to be afraid if we are not prepared.

It is good to be prepared.

God can come to us in many unexpected ways… He can also come to others in unexpected ways. When we are ready to hear God calling us — and He might call us with a whisper or He might call us with a shout — that call will not be so unexpected and that call will be less frightening than it might have been otherwise. When we witness God calling another, that call, too, will seem less unexpected when we understand at least in some small way how the Lord works.

Preparation comes from prayer, from reflection, from meditation, from making ourselves accustomed to the presence of God. It comes from time spent at Mass and time spent at the adoration chapel. It comes from making ourselves quiet so that we can hear the call of the Lord.

Advent, itself, is a time of preparation. In these few remaining hours of Advent, let us listen for the voice of the Lord, who is coming and whose coming cannot be stopped. Let us prepare ourselves so that we meet Him not in fear, but so that we greet Him as our Lord and Savior, who offers us eternal life in His Holy Kingdom.

From the Desk of Deacon Richard…

Dear Parish Family,

Have you ever been told you pray well?

By that, I mean: have you ever had someone comment that a particular prayer you said was powerful or inspiring to them? Have you ever made someone’s day better by offering a prayer for that person?

When was the last time you prayed aloud publicly? And I don’t mean simply the responses at Mass or even something like the Rosary or grace before meals, but a prayer that you prayed spontaneously. How long has it been?

I’m certainly not suggesting that praying the Rosary is not meritorious — certainly it is, and I encourage everyone to pray it daily. And, certainly, we should pray before meals… and before going to bed… and upon waking in the morning. These all have great merit and are absolutely necessary in the spiritual life.

Now, the goal of prayer is not to show off; it’s not to show how eloquent or spiritual you are. But there is nothing wrong with being eloquent and demonstrating a deep spirituality with your prayer.

The purpose of prayer is to communicate with God… to give Him thanks, to ask for His intercession, to make petition, and so on. St. Thérèse of Lisieux wrote that, “Prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God.”

We should always be ready to offer public prayer at any time and for any reason. Being hesitant to pray or being afraid for others to hear you pray indicates a weakness in the spiritual life. When we enjoy the friendship with God to which we are called, there is no reason to fear prayer.

Let us pray that God will show us how to pray; that He will lead us toward a more perfect life of prayer so that when we are called upon to offer praise and thanksgiving to God, we can do so confident in our prayer and confident in our ability to pray well.

Peace,
Dcn. Richard

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception

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O God, who by the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin prepared a worthy dwelling for your Son, grant, we pray, that, as you preserved her from every stain by virtue of the Death of your Son, which you foresaw, so, through her intercession, we, too, may be cleansed and admitted to your presence. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. — Concluding Prayer from Vespers on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception

Homily for Sunday, December 6, 2015 — The Second Sunday of Advent

The Bible is inerrant in matters of faith and morals. Simply put, it contains what we need to know as we work out our salvation with fear and trembling. When read with the eyes of faith and within the teaching of the one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church, it cannot lead us astray.

The Bible is a collection of writings, and it is a collection of many different kinds of writing. It contains histories, songs, prayers, biographies, letters, legal documents, parables, and other types of literature.

Today we are having a pop quiz. How many people think today’s Gospel reading started off “Long, long ago in a land far, far away, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert”?

It didn’t start off that way. Long, long ago in a land far, far away is how fairy tales start off. Today’s Gospel reading starts off In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert.

Today’s Gospel reading begins with a time and a place; it begins with a litany of rules – the men who ruled the Holy Land – and, indeed, the world – at the beginning of Christ’s public ministry.

Tiberius Caeser succeeded to the throne of the Emperor of Rome in 14 A.D. and he reigned until 37 A.D. Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea from 26 to 36 AD; history remembers him as a greedy and ruthless man with little regard for the people he governed. Herod, or Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great, ruled from 4 BC to 39 AD. His brother, Philip, ruled in the territory north and east of the Sea of Galilea from 4 BC to 34 AD.

In addition to the state of the civil government, Luke also records the religious leadership of Palestine at the time. Annas had been high priest for eleven years between 6 and 15 AD, when he was deposed by the Roman rulers. He was succeeded by various members of his family over the next three years, until his son-in-law Caiaphas became high priest, a position he would hold for 18 years. Though Annas had been deposed by the Romans, the people of Palestine had no great love for their overlords and Annas continued to have considerable influence for the rest of his life.

This Gospel reading begins not like a fairy tale, but like a news report. The reason for this is that it is not a fairy tale. Rather, it reports actual events from a specific time.

John went throughout the whole region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah: A voice of one crying out in the desert: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

Not all of the Bible can be taken literally. This is a simple fact. This does not mean that there are parts of the Bible that are unimportant or that lack meaning. It simply means that there are parts of the Bible that have the whole of their meaning outside of literal events. However, there are also parts of the Bible – and great parts of the Gospel – that do record actual events… that do tell us what really happened… and communicate their meaning both in the events they record and the reality those events represent.

Today’s reading falls into that second category. John, in point of fact, went through the region of the Jordan and proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. This happened. It began at a specific time, as we see from this reading. It also ended at a specific time, when John the Baptist was arrested and thereby prevented from continuing to deliver his message. It started when God called him and it ended when the world silenced him.

But – and there is a but – it ended only in terms of that it literally happened. It literally began and it literally came to an end. Beyond that, though, and transcending the end of his ministry, the message of John the Baptist lives on for us today. It has literal meaning as a historical curiosity, but far more importantly it has spiritual meaning because the message of John the Baptist lives on and is present to us today.

We are now in the Season of Advent; we are at the beginning of the second week of the anticipation of the arrival of Our Lord. It is time for us to make straight our paths. It is time for the valleys of our lives to be filled and the mountains to be made low.

It is time for our own winding roads to be made straight and smooth, and for those roads to carry us toward Our Lord and Savior. Those who desire to see the salvation of God must prepare themselves, just as was true for those who heard John the Baptist proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Let us take the time this Advent season to reflect on our own lives, both spiritual and physical. Let us recognize our shortcomings and respond to the Baptist’s call to repentance. Let us recognize our need for forgiveness, both forgiveness by God for our sins and forgiveness from our neighbors for the wrongs we have done. Most of all, let us all examine our hearts and make smooth the path for Christ so that He can come into our lives and walk with us on our journey toward salvation, for without Him we are lost indeed.

From the Desk of Deacon Richard…

Dear Parish Family,

“Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy
from carousing and drunkenness
and the anxieties of daily life,
and that day catch you by surprise like a trap.
For that day will assault everyone
who lives on the face of the earth.
Be vigilant at all times
and pray that you have the strength
to escape the tribulations that are imminent
and to stand before the Son of Man.”

About the first time I saw Smokey and the Bandit, I remember hearing a song on the radio in which the singer remarked that the hardest part was waiting. I don’t remember what she was waiting for; maybe it was the second coming of Jesus… though perhaps that is not likely; after all, it was the ’70s and songs anticipating the return of Christ did not typically get a lot of play on K.I.Q.Q. Los Angeles. Still, I think, in charity, we can assume it was the return of Our Lord for which she longed.

Waiting is hard, and the anxieties of daily life are many. How easy it is to become distracted from our vigil and maybe even to forget exactly what it is for which we wait.

As we enter this Advent season, let us remain focused on Our Lord and pause a moment to ask ourselves what things we might be doing differently in our lives if we knew we would stand face-to-face with Christ tomorrow. It is never too soon to start doing those very things.

Peace,
Dcn. Richard

From the Desk of Deacon Richard…

Dear Parish Family,

I am regularly amazed at man’s capacity to call evil good and to call good evil. I’m not surprised that it happens — after all, our fallen nature frequently drives us to justify some things for which there is no justification. I’m just amazed at how good at it some people are.

For those of us who desire to do good and to walk in the way of peace, we must be diligent to not be lead astray by those who sugar-coat lies and make them sound sweet. In our age, this has become a major industry with professional working around the clock to sway our opinions and shape our desires.

In the midst of the cacophony of modern life, Christ alone leads us to the fullness of truth. Christ tells us, “For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice. ”

Let us strive always to hear Christ’s call and to live in the truth, which is the path to everlasting life.

Peace,
Dcn. Richard

Homily for Sunday, November 15, 2015 – the 33rd in Ordinary Time

The liturgical year is drawing to a close.; we are only a few weeks away from Advent and the beginning of the new Church year. This is the time of year when we hear readings from the prophets and from the evangelists about tribulations… about times unsurpassed in distress… about the stars falling from the sky and the powers in heaven being shaken.

These readings are given for out instruction, but some people make them an obsession. There are always those who claim to have discovered a secret that lets them know when the world will end and Jesus will come again.

This isn’t a surprise. Holy Scripture warns us of false prophets and of false messiahs. I have long believed that almost everyone thinks at some level that the world will end in his lifetime. The next time you drive past a cemetery, take a moment to reflect on all of the many people who were wrong on that count. Probably, the world will not end in our life time. Probably, the world can endure quite nicely without any one of us being there to help it along.

Now, I’m not saying the world will never end or that Jesus will never return. It will end; He will be there when it does. But do you want to know a secret?

Jesus will be there; He’s already here.

He is with us in the proclamation of His Holy Word. He is with us in the prayers and songs of Mass. He is with us Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Holy Eucharist. He is present in Father acting in the Person of Christ at the consecration. And He is present in each and every one of us and in our brothers and sisters around the world, who make up the Body of Christ.

We should worry less about the end of the world and think more about the end of our own life. We should worry less about seeing Christ coming on a cloud with bands of angels and prepare more for meeting Him at the end of our own allotted time on this earth.

It is wise to recognize that our time on earth is limited; it is prudent to prepare for our own end. The Church teaches us that there are Four Last Things: death, judgment, Heaven, and Hell. Every one of us will see three of them. We will all die; we will all be judged. We will all ultimately find ourselves spending eternity in one of two places: heaven or hell.

We should – we must – prepare for our own end. It may come sooner; it may come later… but there is one guarantee: we will be there when it does. Not a single one of us will miss attending our own death.

The end of the world will come also, but many have died without seeing it and many more are likely to die before it comes. Besides, if you are ready for your own judgment, you will be ready for the world’s judgment should you happen to live to see it.

A fascination with the end of the world is, really, at its core a fascination with the world. We should not let the world that is passing away distract us from that which endures forever: the love God has for us and the love we should have for God. Let us pray especially during these last days of the liturgical year for the strength and the wisdom to live our lives in friendship with Christ and in a state of grace, so that when we come to the end of our earthly journey we can take our place in the company of saints in heaven, which is the end that God desires for each one of us.

 

??From the Desk of Deacon Richard…

Dear Parish Family,

I have long believed that every person at some level expects to see the end of the world. I don’t suppose that is really so surprising when you come right down to it. There’s just something about fallen human nature that gives us the hubris to think — even if it is unconsciously — that the world just couldn’t possibly go on without us. And though everyone might believe it at some level, it also bears pointing out that the graveyards are full of people who also thought it and were wrong.

As we approach the end of the Church’s liturgical year, it is little wonder that we hear readings at Mass about tribulations… about prophecies of end times… about the return of the Son of Man.

Will Christ return? Yes; absolutely. Will it be tomorrow? Probably not. Will it be soon? Probably not. Will it be in our lifetime?

Probably not.

But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be ready. The wise man knows that the world can and probably will go on without him. The prudent man lives every day as if he will be judged tomorrow. It is best to be both wise and prudent.

Whether or not we see the end of the world and the return of Christ the King, one thing remains sure: each one of us will one day be judged by Christ: death, judgment, heaven, and hell. These are the Four Last Things; we are all guaranteed three of them. Let us pray for the grace to live our lives in preparation for that which is certain: our own judgment. If each of us focuses on that, I doubt any of us will have much time left over to worry about the end of the world.

Peace,
Dcn. Richard