Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Homily Midnight Mass Year C 2012

            To those this with us this evening who are new to St. James, friends and family of parishioners, on behalf of our pastor, Fr. Chuck Walker, and our entire staff I welcome you to St. James and wish you a blessed and Merry Christmas!  I hope that you will find our Church and our parishioners to be warm and inviting and feel welcome to pray with us any time.  We are available to you and want to help you maintain and grow in your faith.  We also want to help you get reacquainted with your faith if you haven’t been to Mass in a while.  Let us try our hand at helping you answer a question or solve a problem that has been an obstacle to you.  We have a large and active parish with prayerful and resourceful people with many helpful gifts and talents all at your service… starting with this very Mass, the greatest help of all.
            One of the most helpful parts of our Gospel reading tonight is the strong example of St. Joseph.  It is Joseph who took Mary, pregnant with the Son of God by the power of the Holy Spirit, to Bethlehem in order to register in the census; it is Joseph who, in doing this, fulfilled the prophecy of Micah that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem; it is Joseph who worked to provide for and protect his family by finding shelter in a nearby cave when there was no room in the inn (Navarre Lk 1:1-2:23).  St. Bernadine of Siena explains that it was Joseph, our Holy Patriarch, who was “a father to our Lord Jesus Christ and a faithful spouse to the Queen of the Universe, our Lady of the Angels.  The eternal Father chose Joseph to be the guardian and protector of his greatest treasures, his Son and his Spouse, and Joseph fulfilled his calling with perfect fidelity.  If the Church is indebted to the Blessed Virgin for having given Christ to us, then, after Mary, great gratitude and veneration is also owed to St. Joseph.” (ibid)
            Sometimes we can forget to turn to St. Joseph for help in our own lives.  He has such a humble witness in Scripture, but his role in the early life of Jesus Christ and his closeness to Him, makes him a powerful intercessor for us.  We should turn to him and ask him for his prayers any time we are in need.
            One of the lessons that St. Joseph teaches us, is how to properly line up our priorities.  Let us not treat him as all the others who neglected him.  Our Lord’s poverty at his birth rings throughout the Scriptures.  Mary laid him in a manger, our Gospel tonight said, “because there was no room for them in the inn.”  John’s Gospel opens with the words, “he came to his own home, and his own people received him not.”  Matthew’s gospel reminds us that “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Pope Benedict XVI, Infancy Narratives, p. 66)
            This stark reality should cause us to reexamine the priorities we live by.  Joseph knew that his highest priority was tending to his Holy Family.  From the moment of his birth, Jesus is outside of what is important and powerful in the eyes of the world.  Yet he will prove to be the truly powerful one.  Part of what it means to be Christian is to leave behind what everyone else thinks and wants, the prevailing standards, in order to know Him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. (p. 67)
            There are many other inspiring details from our Gospel that can provide much fruit for prayer.  The fact that Mary wrapped Jesus in swaddling clothes, the equivalent of bandages, calls to mind his death.  From the outset then, he is the sacrificial victim and the manger could be seen as a kind of altar. (p. 68)
            Our Holy Father, in his new book on Jesus’ infancy, describes a beautiful insight into the manger from St. Augustine.  The manger is the place where animals find their food.  But now, lying in the manger, is he who called himself the true bead come down from heaven., the true nourishment that we need in order to be fully ourselves.  This is the food that gives us true life, eternal life.  Thus the manger becomes a reference to the table of God, to which we are invited so as to receive the bread of God. (p. 68)
            Finally, there are the shepherds who are the first ones to receive the message of the newborn King.  Being outside of the city, Jesus was born close to their fields.  They were physically close to him and so they teach us to be inwardly close to him too.  And they were poor, showing us the great love God has for the poor and challenging us to resist being tied down by too many things so that we can be freed by the profound mysteries that only those who are humble have access too. (p. 71)
            We receive then, tonight, a great gift and a great challenge.  For Christ to not only be born at a specific time and place in human history but also in each of our hearts, we need the help that our faith gives us; we cannot receive such a precious gift by our own power.  We turn to St. Joseph as the patron saint of those seeking to re-align our priorities around Jesus Christ.  With the aid of Joseph’s prayers we can see that Jesus’ whole life, from beginning to end, is offered for our salvation.  We can see that allowing him generously into our lives is not simply a challenge but a great gift.  He is still giving his entire Life to us.  With the humility and poverty of the shepherds, we allow Jesus to enrich us with his blessings.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Homily Christmas Vigil Mass 2012

To those this with us this evening who are new to St. James, friends and family of parishioners, on behalf of our pastor, Fr. Chuck Walker, and our entire staff I welcome you to St. James and wish you a blessed and Merry Christmas! I hope that you will find our Church and our parishioners to be warm and inviting and feel welcome to pray with us any time. We are available to you and want to help you maintain and grow in your faith. We also want to help you get reacquainted with your faith if you haven’t been to Mass in a while. Let us try our hand at helping you answer a question or solve a problem that has been an obstacle to you. We have a large and active parish with prayerful and resourceful people with many helpful gifts and talents all at your service… starting with this very Mass, the greatest help of all.

It may not seem at first that tonight’s Gospel is of much help. What use are all of those hard-to-pronounce names in Jesus’ genealogy? I can remember when I was a kid I just couldn’t wait for the list to end! “When is Father gonna stop with the names!?” But if we can take into account what our Catholic tradition has revealed about this seemingly boring list, we can discover that this is more than just a list of names. It sets the stage for the Holy Family. And each member of the Holy Family, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, has an inspiring message for each.

Matthew’s account of Jesus’ genealogy, like a Christmas tree, climbs from the beginnings – from the root – to the present, to the top of the “tree.” It starts with Abraham and takes us all the way back to the earliest of Old Testament times. Abraham is a wonderer, walking forward into the uncertain future, towards the promised land, filled with trust in God’s promises to him. He promised Abraham that his descendents would be as numerous as the stars and that all the nations of the earth would be blessed through him. The Letter to the Hebrews describes Abraham as a man who “looked forward to the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” He shows us that God is trustworthy. (BXVI, Infancy Narratives, p. 5)

The genealogy then rises from Abraham to King David. God made a promise to King David too; that he would have an everlasting kingdom – “Your throne shall be established for ever.” King David shows us that God wishes to lead his people in a consistent and reassuring way, to enlighten our path, to guard, to rule, to guide us.

The genealogy then descends from Solomon to the Babylonian captivity and rises again to Jesus. So, the first inspiring message from Matthew’s genealogy and the Holy Family is of course, Jesus’: He is the fulfillment of all of God’s promises to mankind, from the Old Testament times to today. His kingdom is the one promised to Abraham. He is the king who will never be deposed, who will lead his people forever. This list of names is its own little gospel that gives the good news that Christ is King. He shows us that we have a Father who keeps his promises. He shows us that his kingdom, budding forth in the Church on earth, is the firm foundation that will not let us down. When the empty promises of the world, promises that you and I have each bought into along the way – when these disappoint us, we can look to Jesus Christ and know that he will lead us in a way that will not disappoint.

The second inspiring message from the Holy Family that this list of names gives us is from Mary, our Blessed Mother. Throughout the generations the genealogy uses the formula, “So and so was the father of So and so.” But at the end of the list it is different. In Jesus’ case there is no reference to fatherhood, instead it says, “Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary. Of her was born Jesus who is called the Christ.” In the account of Jesus’ birth that follows immediately afterward, Matthew tells us that Joseph is not Jesus’ true father. An angel told him in a dream, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.”

So Mary marks a new beginning. Her child does not originate from any man, but is a new creation, conceived through the Holy Spirit (p. 7) It is our own human history that Mary marked with a new beginning. She shows us that each one of us, by our common humanity and our brotherhood with Christ, is capable of a new beginning too. For those who are steadfast in faith, a new beginning could mean a deeper level of friendship with Christ; a deeper insight into his love and mercy; or a further step on the road of holiness. For those who have had difficulty with faith; who have encountered suffering along the way; or who feel they have been driven away from the Church, a new beginning means a renewed search for truth and peace.

Finally, the genealogy gives us to each of us tonight, the inspiring message of St. Joseph. The angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and called him, “son of David.” He is Jesus’ true and legitimate link to the promises made to Abraham and David. Despite this royal lineage, when Joseph discovered that Mary had conceived a child, he decided to divorce her quietly. But, he wanted to do this not because he was suspicious of her – he no doubt knew her character was beyond reproach – but precisely because he is what Matthew calls him, “a righteous man.” St. Bernard explains it this way: “Joseph considered himself to be an unworthy sinner, unworthy to live with the woman who had astounded him with the greatness of her dignity. Fearful, he saw the unmistakable sign of the divine presence in her, and because he could not understand the mystery, he decided to draw away quietly from her… He marveled at the greatness of the miracle and the depth of the mystery.” (Navarre, Lk 1:18-25)

St. Joseph, introduced to us by the genealogy, shows us that God has beautiful and marvelous gifts in store for us. God shares these gifts with us through the sacraments and the ongoing life of the Church. But sometimes we feel unworthy of them. We feel too ashamed of what we’ve done to go to confession. We feel too humiliated to receive Communion.

We feel too embarrassed to ask to be anointed. We feel too nervous to explain our faith to our family or coworkers. I have felt these things before. It is true, none of us are worthy of the gifts God wants to give us. Neither was Joseph. But he shows us that we are called to receive them nonetheless out of God’s great love for us and it is our very reception of God’s great gifts that increases us in worthiness until we are brought into the perfection of everlasting life.

These inspiring messages of Good News are given to us subtly by the genealogy if we are willing to accept the challenge to go a little deeper. That is what our faith is all about. The link from Abraham to David to Jesus; the ending in Mary; and the hinge on Joseph are the keys that unlocked the genealogy’s inspiring words. Who knew that the Holy Family was speaking to us in such a meaningful way!? Who knew that Jesus’ message of being a firm foundation and a faithful king; that Mary’s message of hope for a new beginning; and that Joseph’s message of humble acceptance of God’s gifts were enshrined in such a beautiful list of “begats”?

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Homily 3rd Sun Advent Year C 2012–We Shall Be Upheld

Heavy on my heart this morning, despite the joy signified by Rose colored vestments, is the sadness I felt when I heard the news this past weekend of the school shooting in Newtown, CT. I wondered how I could wear Rose vestments at Mass this weekend. In the midst of the purple of Advent, a sign of the intense prayer and work we take on in order to prepare our hearts to receive our Lord, Rose is meant to be a sign of the joy that we feel from knowing that our Lord is close at hand. Then, characteristic of a mind that darts too and fro, I remembered my two favorite lines from Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” and then I remembered one of my favorite Scripture passages which is popular in the pro-life movement.

First, my favorite lines from “A Christmas Carol”. You’ve all seen the movie right? I hope sometime you’ll have a chance to read the book. The edition from Penguin Classics has some very helpful footnotes. With this book Dickens single-handedly popularized many of the Christmas traditions we take for granted today: Christmas carols, lights, dinners, games, and parties all find their roots in his beautifully written story, A Christmas Carol. Do you remember the scene when the ghost of Christmas Past first takes Scrooge on his adventure to convert his heart toward the true meaning of Christmas? The Spirit clasped Scrooge’s arm and was about to whisk him away through the window to a scene from his childhood. Scrooge, afraid that he can’t fly like the Spirit said, “I am a mortal, and liable to fall.” “Bear but a touch of my hand there,” said the Spirit, laying it upon his heart, “and you shall be upheld in more than this!”

My second favorite line from the story is during the visit of the ghost of Christmas Present. The Ghost takes Scrooge to a vision of Bob Cratchit’s house. There he sees Mrs. Cratchit and the children busily preparing the Christmas dinner. Finally, Bob Cratchit comes home from Church with Tiny Tim upon his shoulder. “Alas for Tiny Tim,” Dickens writes, “he bore a little crutch, and had his limbs supported by an iron frame.” Then their daughter Martha, hiding behind the closet, jumps out, surprises Bob and runs into his arms. Mrs. Cratchit then asks about their time at Church, “And how did little Tim behave?” “As good as gold,” said Bob, “and better. Somehow he gets thoughtful sitting by himself so much, and thinks the strangest things you ever heard. He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk and blind men see.”

In coping with this tragedy today, I believe that if we let the Holy Spirit place His hand upon our hearts, we too could be upheld even in the most frightful situations. The sustaining hand of the Holy Spirit can even help us to look upon the suffering of children and call to mind the One who wraps his arms around them, loves them, touches and blesses them, heals them, and saves them.

In my experience counseling women who have lost children to abortion, one of the Scripture passages that resonates with them the most is that of Rachel from the Old Testament. The prophet Jeremiah describes the grief of Rachel, whose sons Joseph and Benjamin and their tribes have been lost and scattered among enemy lands. “A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted, because they are not” (Jer 31:15).

Matthew’s Gospel quotes Jeremiah when he describes the slaughter of the Holy Innocents, King Herod’s attempt to kill the newborn sons of Bethlehem in order to eliminate the newborn King of the Jews. But Matthew doesn’t include the consolation that Jeremiah later describes: “Thus says the Lord: ‘Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears; for your work shall be rewarded, says the Lord, and they shall come back from the land of the enemy’” (Jer 31:16). Why doesn’t Matthew quote this too?

Our Holy Father, in his new book on Jesus’ childhood, explains that in Matthew’s Gospel the prophetic text – the mother’s lament without the consoling response – “is like a cry to God himself, a plea for consolation that does not come and is still awaited, a plea to which only God can respond.” Our Holy Father continues to explain that “the only true consolation that is more than mere words would be the resurrection. Only in the resurrection could the wrong be overcome, and that bitter lament, ‘they are not’ be silenced. In our own day, the mother’s cry to God continues unabated, yet at the same time the resurrection of Jesus strengthens our hope of true consolation” (Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, p. 112-113). It is that hope that enables us to wear Rose.

In today’s Gospel when St. John the Baptist preaches repentance in order to prepare in men’s hearts a way for the Lord, he is advocating a change of mind, a turning not only away from sin, but toward God. Three times he is asked today, “What should we do?” In the face of mind-bending violence in Connecticut, teachers, parents, and children all over the country are asking, “What should we do?” This is a time for life-changing conversion. St. John has already told his audience the answer: “Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance” (Lk 3:8). And he advises them to prove their faith through works of charity, honesty, and justice (Scott Hahn, “Homily Helps,” Dec 16).

What should we do? I think we should turn away from making the distinction between Church and State into a separation, and turn toward proclaiming God in the public square with renewed courage and zeal. We should turn away from radical self-reliance and turn toward storming heaven with our prayers both in times of joy and fear. We should turn away from isolation and neglect and toward renewed communion and brotherhood. We should turn away from trying to answer “Why?” and turn toward the Father who hears our pleas for consolation and responds; toward the Son who desires to love and save our children through his Resurrection; toward the Holy Spirit who places his hand on our hearts to uplift us. Lastly, today we turn toward our Blessed Mother, who knows what it’s like to lose a Son to unspeakable violence. Pray for us sinners, Dear Mother, nowand at the hour of our death.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Why Does Fr. Hardesty Do That ?! Part 3

After my homily for this evening's Mass I gave a brief third installment in my "Why Does Fr. Hardesty Do That?!" series.

Question: "Why does Fr. Hardesty never look at us during the Mass, does he not like us?"

Answer: I'm hearing in my head a whole flurry of answers to that question from a priest-friend of mine, but I won't go there!  I keep my eyes downcast throughout the Mass, except of course during those parts where I address the faithful, in order that I may better pray the Mass.  The Mass is one extended prayer to the Father, and keeping my eyes downcast in prayer helps me to offer it as a prayer.  Also, there is a desire for me to decrease so that Christ may increase.  As the representative of Christ at the altar, recollecting myself in prayer helps me to lay aside all of my own personality quirks, eccentricities, mannerisms, etc. that might draw attention to me and away from Christ and the sacred action.  My hope is that you will be edified by this and that it will help you to pray the Mass as well.  Plus, you can ask any of the staff who will tell you that I am eminently distractable so "custody of the eyes", as they used to call it, practically speaking, helps me to focus.  True, when a teacher addresses a class or when someone gives a speech to a group, eye contact is crucial.  But in the liturgy, eye contact with the people during the prayers to the Father creates a closed circle rather than a movement forward and up to the Father.  So when I don't look up often, it is not because I dislike you or don't love you... I very much love you.  And it is out of that love that I celebrate Mass as reverently as possible.