Homily Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God January 1, 2017

“The Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you.”

                These are the words God told Moses to tell Aaron the priest to speak to the chosen people, the Israelites. No words of fear, but words of concern and love.

                In the Old Testament, many folks like to reflect upon the image of an angry God. Like God was a WWF wrestler. God the Giant! God the Gorilla! The God who seeks vengeance against the Israelites and others for their waywardness and sinful ways. Almost to the point where some hearts will be turned off by some of the ways of God in His reaction to the deplorable acts performed by the lesser half of our humanity. But whenever God is apparently angry at the stupidity of people, along with their hard-heartedness and devilish pride, the more enduring truth and actions of God are found in the words, “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you.”

                In Christianity, we recognize both the miracle of birth and the travesty of death. This is how Christians see the bookends of life. That death creates a hole in our hearts. And that the conception and birth of a child is a gift, a miracle, an event that changes, for the better, the lives of adults. Which is why we defend the gift of human life with such conviction. As our present culture expands its ways of how we can destroy life, from abortion, to euthanasia, to Physician assisted suicide, and whatever else is next in line, Christians defend the divine law regarding life.

                Even in the midst of such extreme disregard for the sanctity of God’s greatest gift, from the womb to the sick and the elderly, we are to never lose sight of the more profound reflection upon the generosity of God’s blessings. Where divine anger is present, it is justified in its expression. But the heart of God is moved much more with his blessings and mercy. This is what Mary ponders on our behalf.

                Mary is the perfect example of searching and reflecting upon the goodness of God. I would say with all certainty that Mary never reflected upon or thought about the anger of God. Not even once. And she understood the Hebrew Scriptures as well an any religious leader of her time. She knew the story of her nation and people. Mary never lived in fear, like we do today in many ways. Fear of terrorism…they had it back then; fear of not having enough money…the same money that tears families apart today; fear of other people we feel threatened by; fear that is caused by sin…Mary was sinless, thanks to God’s favor upon her.

                The Gospel tells us that “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” All these things taking place at the manger, she reflected on them, as well as all of her life. Mary’s pondering and reflecting was always on the good things of God. Of what God had done for her; “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord…my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.” Not with anger, but with favor. With blessings. The Lord bless you and keep you.

                If we don’t guard and protect our faith against some of the sinful ways of our culture today, do you see how far away we could be from God’s blessings? From the blessings of God? It’s not our calling to sit in the anger of God. And ponder how God is going to get even with us. This is not where he wants us. God desires we reflect and ponder in the ways of his Blessed Mother; on the good things of God. If we cannot do that, then we have too much worldly clutter in our hearts, keeping us from enjoying the good things of God.

                When I reflect upon Mary as the Mother of God, who, along with Joseph, will raise this child the shepherds are arriving to see, I think about someone who knew how to enjoy her many blessings. That she was so focused, and so in tune with the love of God, and the ways of God, that her life, despite her sorrows at the foot of the Cross, was a life of full confidence in the goodness of God her Creator.

                Mary offers us so many things to reflect upon in our faith, and they are all positive, upbeat, and joyful. Nowhere does our Blessed Lady give us an opportunity or an inclination to reflect upon the anger of God. That sort of fear doesn’t touch her life. Her entire being, her entire life, ponders the good things of God, which are inexhaustible.

                Mary’s pondering sets us up for another year in the world, the same world she dealt with. How can we take on more of her type of pondering, and put aside the types of reflection that establish in our hearts any negative image of God? There’s a lot of folks who live with a negative image of God, which is why we as a culture can create laws that destroy human life so easily and so causally. Laws that reflect the most negative image of God.

                If every person held a positive image of God, like Mary, then there would not be one single abortion in our world, nor one Physician assisted suicide. There wouldn’t be a desire or a need for it. This is the holy power held within Mary’s reflection as she sits with her newborn Son in the manger.

                Mary’s pondering sets up for us another year in the world. I’m sure you plan on being around for the entire year. May we increase our reflections upon God’s blessings, and cast aside any negative, destructive ways we can think about God, and place all trust in him.

                Mary is the model, as she is for every Christian way of life. Take on her goodness and her way of pondering. And it will be the happiest New Year of our lives. “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you.” That’s the God who was born and died for us.             

Homily Christmas Mass December 25, 2016

Bethlehem was the place. Bethlehem was the spot where Joseph and Mary, almost 9 months into her pregnancy, had to get to. Bethlehem was a long way from Nazareth, by 1st century standards. But if the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy was to come true – that the Messiah would be born in the City of David – then this holy couple from Nazareth had better get on the donkey and start heading south toward Bethlehem. They were running out of time.

                Today, the distance from Nazareth to Bethlehem is about 70 miles, and can be traveled in a short time. Like going from Worcester to Hampton Beach, minus all the weekend traffic. It would take 1 – 1-1/2 hours to travel in a vehicle from Nazareth to Bethlehem, which is just outside of Jerusalem. Back then, it was at least a 3-day trip, and they needed to get going, or Jesus would have been born somewhere around the Dead Sea. For someone who is called the Light of the World, being born around the Dead Sea would not have done much for Christian symbolism.

                So the heavenly couple received a little help from upstairs in order to hasten their start. God moved the hard heart of Caesar Augustus, of all people, to issue a decree that the whole world, meaning the Roman Empire, should be enrolled. So, Joseph and Mary, both from the lineage of David, had to get a move on toward the City of David. They packed up their U-Haul, threw it over the donkey, and started south toward Bethlehem. God has a way of making all prophecy come about, even breaking in to history and using the madness of Caesar Augustus as a tool to fulfill his prophecy. To seal the deal of where the Messiah was to be born.

                What we celebrate on Christmas is God breaking into history. On one end the Creator will use a subject like Caesar Augustus to ensure the accuracy of where the Messiah was to be born. If Jesus was not born in Bethlehem, but somewhere along the way like the Dead Sea area, or even Nazareth, then all prophecy could be questioned and delegitimized. In other words, that would not be good. God is a God of truth, not misleading us, not playing any practical jokes, but still having enough of a sense of humor to use the fake lordship of Caesar to bring about the Good News.

                On the other end of the spectrum is God breaking into history again, this time in the Person of Jesus Christ, who is true Lord and true Savior. It’s a wonderful example, this Gospel of Luke, Chapter 2, of how God owns the entire world, and not powerful human beings who think they do.

                Christmas is centered in God breaking into our history in a number of ways, whether it was using the misguided heart of Caesar Augustus, or the governor Quirinius, or calling the shepherds from the field to pay a visit to the neo-natal ward set up in the barn in Bethlehem. But the number one way God breaks into history is the appearance of his very self. That our loving Creator comes to us in a body like ours, a body that he will advance to the highest human condition called resurrection. And it’s all for us.

                Do you want to see your parents or spouse again? Then embrace Christmas. Do you want to see your children again? Then embrace Christmas. Do you want to see any relations or friends who have departed from this world of time and space? Then jump on the Christmas Bandwagon. The Christmas Bandwagon is the Church; the Bride of Christ. Jump on, and don’t jump back off.

                God breaks into history so that our lives do not flounder and lack meaning. The birth of Christ in Bethlehem, born of the Virgin Mary, is an offer to shift our lives from the history of Caesar Augustus, someone who never knew the one true God, to the other end of history, where our God says, “Look at how much I love you. Take a long look at this child wrapped in swaddling clothes in a dirty manger filled with animals of all sorts, and see your salvation.”

                By breaking into history, God has broken into our lives. He’s a personal God who comes to us, and will use any divine means to draw us to him. He would even use Bill Belichik if he had to. But only if Tom Brady was his quarterback.

                Allow this holy child who was born in Bethlehem thanks to Caesar Augustus causing Joseph and Mary to get on the donkey and travel south 70 miles. Allow the child to break into your hearts, and jump on the Christmas Bandwagon, where disobedience is overturned, and salvation is

CHRISTMAS AND NEW YEARS’ MASS SCHEDULE

With Christmas and New Year’s falling on Sunday this year, our Mass schedule for both weekends will follow the normal Sunday schedule. Christmas Eve Mass, Saturday, December 24, will be at 4:00 p.m. Christmas Day Masses will be at 7:30 a.m. & 10:00 a.m. New Years Eve Mass, Saturday, December 31 will be at 4:00 p.m., and New Years Day Masses on Sunday, January 1 will be at 7:30 a.m. & 10:00 a.m.   

Homily 4th Sunday of Advent Cycle A December 18, 2016

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about…

                In hearing these words, we would expect to hear after them the most perfect story ever told. Or, like that movie about Jesus they show at Easter, “The Greatest Story Ever Told.”

                Except, what we hear is a story of pregnancy where the husband is not the father of the child. We hear a story of potential divorce. Even if it’s going to be done quietly. We hear a story of confusion on the part of Joseph trying to figure out how this happened to Mary. And in the midst of his confusion, we see actions that express very deep sorrow on the part of this most holy man, a sorrow that can only explain why he would want to divorce Mary quietly.

                We see the reality in Joseph’s mind that this is not going according to plan; “This was not supposed to be part of the script of my relationship with you, Mary.” This marriage is going to be short, despite Joseph’s unending love for Mary. A love story that has gone awry. It tanked early, the same way the Red Sox used to tank by Memorial Day, before the days of spending money like the Yankees.

                This is the one Sunday Gospel during the year where the opportunity presents itself to have a greater focus on the person of Joseph. And what we find, in essence, is a sad story. It should be the greatest story ever told when you look at the people involved. But it isn’t…. until an angel appears in a dream and straightens out the whole entire mess. At least for the time being…until the next mess is upon the three of them with the angel appearing in a dream again saying, “Get up, pack your bags right now, get Mary on the donkey, with the child, get out quickly to Egypt because Herod wants to kill the boy.”

                Thank God for angels. Without their assistance, we’d still be living in our sins without salvation. Jesus never would have made it to adulthood.

                Once they arrived in Egypt, God only knows, along with Mary and Joseph, how many more scrapes and escapes and near misses there were for Jesus and company that never made it into the Good Book.

                This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about…anything but smoothly.

                The Gospels are so believable because the writers put the bad events in the stories. They didn’t try to hide the messiness of the stories. It’s not like someone running for political office, who will do this for you, and do that for you, painting the rosy picture of perfection. Matthew, on the other hand, includes the messy parts of the story of how the birth of Jesus came about.

                This is good for us. While there are people out there trying to create a perfect world without God in their hearts, it’s good for us to know that Jesus had to dodge a few too many bullets, first through his parents early in his life, then during his public ministry – how many times did they want to kill him?…It’s good for us to know he dodged many personal dangers until the night they arrested him in the Garden of Gethsemane. He could no longer dodge the harmful bullet of death, the bookend to his birth.

                But in the end, he does dodge it, because we know, we trust, we believe, we have steadfast faith in how the story finishes. The final mess of Jesus’ life, a cross, results in the defeat of the devil. This is good for us.

                Speaking of the devil, he must have rejoiced at the first part of this holy Gospel. He must have been laughing at Joseph, the way he laughs at our sorrow and misery. ‘Hey Joseph, how’s that pregnancy thing and that divorce thing going for you now? How’s that working out for you, Mr. Carpenter? Just the way I planned it for you!”

                I’d liked to have seen the look on Satan’s face when the good angel appeared in Joseph’s dream. That would have been priceless. I would have paid a lot of money to see that. No need to though. Jesus already paid that price for us. Because love wins in the end, not hatred. Peace wins in the end with Christ, not violence.

                This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about…

                He came into a messy world to save a bunch of messy people. “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” People inflicted with the struggle of sin. People struggling to make it to the next day, like Mary Magdalene. The birth of Jesus turned her world around 30 years later when she first encountered her Lord. He comes into our world, not to straighten out the mess, here, per se, but to give us a home, there.

                Jesus knows our struggles, our messes, our difficulties, our battles. He’s knows them because he lived them, even before the day of his birth. What do we say about firsthand experience? “I can understand your cancer best, only if I have it too.” God exposed his Son to the very same powers and evil spirits that we confront every single day. Not a day passes where Herod is not trying to wipe us out. Or where separation can bring us down. Where the unexpected events of Joseph are ours.

                Not a day passes where we can create a bubble, a wide enough distance from these Joseph events of unexpected pregnancy and unwanted divorce. I don’t care if you’re in Aruba, the Caribbean, at a Patriots game, or on retreat. We can create some distance from these St. Joseph events. That would be called spiritual renewal…recharging the spiritual batteries. We all need that. But the Joseph events will never be permeantly erased until we stand before Christ.

                This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about…

                The story begins awkward, and troubling, an attention grabber! “Matthew, thanks for putting the bad stuff in, because we can relate to Joseph.” But praise God for the angel. Who puts a fork into the pitchfork of the devil. The angel turns the tide of this story of the birth of Jesus, turning the story into God’s purpose; a story of mercy, and a story of hope. It’s our story, folks. And we get to celebrate it next week.