Homily Feast of the Holy Family Cycle B December 31, 2017

It’s not very difficult to picture Simeon sitting in the Temple for years and years, waiting for the Christ child to show up one day so that he himself may move on to eternal life in peace. As his eyes looked upon the salvation of the world after decades of waiting in the Temple for this one-time encounter, it’s not hard to imagine Simeon holding Jesus the same way a first-time grandparent would hold their grandchild. With a heart full of joy; emotions that only a little child can bring to an adult along in their years; a permanent smile for days on end; a sense of fulfillment that another generation is carrying on the family name. All of which is so good.
But Simeon and Anna the Prophetess in the Temple were more than spiritual grandparents to Jesus as he was carried into the holiest site in Israel by his parents, accompanied by a pair of pigeons, symbolizing their financial poverty as a family. Simeon and Anna were chosen to witness more than another boy being circumcised; more than the physical fulfilling of the Mosaic law.
“For my eyes have seen your salvation,” Simeon speaks directly to God. Whereas grandparents proudly and rightly look on their newborn grandchild with all the love and joy they can muster, these two holy people in the Temple waited so long look on salvation itself.
In our celebration of the Feast of the Holy Family, it’s good that we see this holy event in a couple ways that touch the lives of all of us.
First – and this is no hidden knowledge – that family is a blessing, a gift that has been formed from the mind of God for our deepest joy and heartfelt satisfaction. Is there much in this short life that can offer a deeper sense of satisfaction than when family, especially children and grandchildren, do well? Than when they make all of us look good? Than when they address a challenging issue and, through the grace of God and fervent prayers on our part, they’re able to overcome some struggle and now able to enjoy the good part of life that God desires for us?
And, of course, as a priest, I have to see it in a different way, being without children or grandchildren. This is why my parents had 15 other children, so as a priest I could look to them as my children and grandchildren, which sometimes they don’t like very much. But I find a wonderful sense of joy in the lives they lead, and the good they do for others, as well as my nephews and nieces. Such as the good work of one of my brother’s accomplishes each day at the St. John’s Soup Kitchen. That to me is the same as a parent or grandparent watching their young family grow into respectful, intelligent, loving, caring, and giving young adults, who use their talents not for their own satisfaction only, but make a real difference in the lives of other people, especially those in greater need.
This is the blessedness of family we celebrate today in the Church, a blessedness I pray we may know and embrace. This is what God desires for us. It goes to the heart of the importance of the human life. And nothing speaks to such importance than the building up and closeness of family. That we rejoice in each other’s good, and share each other’s sorrow.
Mary and Joseph shared in the good of the birth of the newborn King whom angels worshipped and shepherds left their flocks to kneel and adore. Mary also shared in the sorrow – the intense sorrow – of witnessing her Son crucified. As difficult as that was, it was right that she was there.
Which leads to a second way of how we view and celebrate this Feast of the Holy Family. This family alone had a singular purpose that all families can now join; in the words of Simeon again, “For my eyes have seen your salvation.”
Simeon spoke those words directly to God. “My eyes have seen your salvation, Lord.” But he also spoke them to the parents who are hearing him speak. This child is their salvation too. “As you bring forth this child into the Temple, Mary and Joseph, my eyes feast upon your salvation, which God has given to the family of the world through you. Your family, Mary and Joseph, with the presence of this child, is now a family of salvation.” Do we not desire the same for our own families? Are we families of salvation?
It matters less as to whether Jesus plays soccer in Nazareth, or hockey, or baseball, or goes on The Voice to sing with his gifted Divine voice. We just know Jesus has a great voice. Regarding this aspect of family, the one “physical talent,” if you will, that far surpasses all the sports and many other blessings we possess, is the physical talent of his body being raised from the dead. In that one event that only he can and has accomplished, we all become family in the world of eternal life. But the truth of being one family in Christ begins here and now.
This is what Simeon and Anna waited decades for, and what they looked on the day that Jesus was carried into the Temple. Simeon didn’t see Tom Brady or Big Papi, or a potential big contract that will take care of all the financial needs a family could ever want. He saw salvation itself. He saw the real superstar, who makes the rest of us shine like stars in the sky when we follow him, and live as salvation families.
So, there’s the beautiful gift of family that I pray we never take advantage of, but enjoy to the fullest. And then there’s the Holy Family, whose Son offers us the surest and only way to family forever. And for this eternal truth, we give thanks to God our Father.

Homily 4th Sunday of Advent Cycle B December 24, 2017

As I was reading this amazing Gospel story the first time this past week to prepare a little something for today together with the Holy Spirit, an emergency vehicle was going by on Grove Street, blaring its siren. It was about the 5th or 6th siren I heard that day by mid-afternoon, and those were the ones I heard when I was at home in the rectory. There were more sirens to come as the homily came together, the first one literally two minutes into homily preparation.
I thought, “Gee, I don’t have to think long and hard here this week for a useful image for the 4th Sunday of Advent. God provided it with the timely siren passing by outside,” as I prayed for all those involved with the reasons for each siren on that day.
So, the 4th Sunday of Advent is like Siren Sunday. It’s time to brush off any slumber, wake from any spiritual sleep, dust off any cobwebs, because at this point, especially this year, there’s a hurriedness and an excitement for what’s around the corner. The horns are blaring, speed is increased in our step, and someone seeks our attention. Very much.
A child is about to be born homeless. That’s one reason to call the siren people. He’s about to be born in the cold, on a raw December night in a land where cool nights in December are common. Our attention shifts very quickly this year, from a fourth Advent candle to a homeless child in a manger. (I don’t see him in there yet!). And, if we pay no attention to the spiritual siren that’s blaring today, then we can miss the message.
But we’re confident that our internal siren is roaring right now. We’re here today. We’re here celebrating the Resurrection of the Lord on this Sunday, as we do every Sunday of the year, this day, December 24, that stands one person in line directly in front of the birth of a homeless child in Bethlehem. That’s how close we are. it’s directly behind us, coming up like a race car. The twinkling star is ready to reveal the place. The Magi are about to pack their bags for a journey across the desert. The shepherds in the field can tell by intuition that something big is in the works. The choirs of angels are warming up their voices, proclaiming the death of disobedience, and that the reign of Adam & Eve is kaput. Finished. We’re real close.
As close as Gabriel was to Mary in this Gospel. As close as King David came to building a house for the Lord that the Lord didn’t ask for, a mansion called a Temple, because David thought that God was dwelling in an unworthy tent. It’s a good thing King David wasn’t in Bethlehem 2017 years ago, where Mary and Joseph would have been overjoyed with a tent in the early morning hours of December 25. A tent would have felt like a Temple to the holy couple.
So, we allow St. Gabriel and Blessed Mary to be the ones we look to this day, inviting us in to the spiritual and physical closeness of the Word becoming flesh. This day isn’t about finishing our Christmas shopping; it isn’t about did we buy the right gift, will the gift fit, will it work, are the batteries new, will Joey hit his sister Suzie in the head with the baseball after he opens it. It’s the Word about to become flesh. But truth be told, he’s already flesh. His fleshness began at this Gospel, at the Annunciation on March 25, 9 months minus one (two) day(s) prior to this day. He’s already flesh by virtue of being a child in his Mother’s womb. He’s about to become visible.
At this encounter between Mary and Gabriel, all the sirens begin to blare, the bad and the good. The heavens begin to make noise. The bad sirens are blaring because the Devil and his angels sense that something here is going against their plan to destroy souls, and keep them away from God. Something monumental is happening in this quiet meeting between the angel who stands before God, and this young, most innocent Israelite woman. She’s about to crush the head of the serpent, and all the bad spirits are in a tizzy about it. The bad sirens are flipping out because the love of God caught them napping, and he planted a seed in the womb of the Serpent-Crusher.
But the good sirens are blaring too. They’re the choirs of angels dancing and singing over the gift of our salvation. Their trumpets are tuned up. For those who love God, it will be sweet-sounding music. For those who do not, we pray for them.
We’re really close. God is really, really close. So close that in the brief time it took the Spirit and yours truly to put together this homily in about 45 minutes, that 6 more sirens were heard down below. Not sure if they were good ones or bad ones. We pray they resulted in good. But we are sure that the one we anticipate is on the doorstep.

Parish Council Notes from Meeting December 17, 2017

Present for meeting: Polly Flynn, Stephen Syckes, Christopher Klofft, Joanne Ferrie, Ann-Marie Sheehan, Fr. Riley * Some maintenance work has been done around the Church with new railings at two of the 3 walkways at the stairs that come from the parking lot to the Church at the cost of $700. More work is expected for the brick walkway on the rectory side of the Church where much cracking has occurred, as well as work on the railing and handicap walkway that lead into the Church where the bottom sections of the railings are separating from the cement. Cost is expected to be approximately $4500. * Our Parish has a new snow plowing company for the grounds, Polito, Inc. Fr. Riley switched to this company because a parishioner, Steve DiGiovanni, works for them and presented a similar proposal back in September, which was accepted. Also, they have the necessary equipment to do the needed work for our large property. * In Religious Education, Fr. Riley noted that our 2nd grade class received their First Reconciliation on December 2. Also, most of our children and youth participated in the Christmas Pageant. * Our Parish Activities Committee had a successful Turkey-Lurkey back in November. They will be returning to serving breakfast on the 1st and 3rd Sundays of the month beginning in the New Year, and not just the 3rd Sunday as has been the case since September. * Stephen Sycks noted the Boy Scout Troop 84 of our Parish will be holding their annual Christmas Tree pickup after the New Year as a fundraiser for the Troop. * Fr. Riley noted there are 2 candidates in the RCIA Program for 2017-2018. One will be baptized conditionally at the Easter Vigil, as well as receive the other Sacraments of Initiation (Holy Communion and Confirmation), and the other person will receive Confirmation and Holy Eucharist. Also, there are 2 young people in Religious Education who will also receive the Sacraments of Initiation at the Easter Vigil. * The Council discussed possible “Winter Works of Mercy” that the Parish can perform as a whole. One idea was an organized food drive for our Parish Food Pantry toward the end of winter. Also, the possibility of a Welcoming Committee for each Mass was presented. Closing prayer was offered by Fr. Riley

Homily 3rd Sunday of Advent Cycle B December 17, 2017

They only care about you if you’re making some noise. The noise can be good, or the noise can be bad. But they only care about you when you make noise. When you make yourself known.
As soon as a person begins to make themselves known in the public eye and public domain, there’s always some group that comes along clamoring for more information about the one making all the noise.
When John the Baptist was quiet in the desert, or when quiet while walking through towns and villages on his way to the Jordan River, in like manner of Jesus walking through towns and villages on his way up to Jerusalem, John was pretty quiet on the way; consumed in deep thought about this venture he was about to begin; saying hello in Aramaic (Shl’lam) to a few folks who wondered who this odd-looking man was. In his holiness and deep love for God, I’m sure John was pleasant to all the people he encountered, even though he probably received a few not-so-pleasant looks on his way to the River where his mission and purpose would go public. On the banks where he would become well-known and begin to make noise. Where he would be talked about by many folks who were baptized with water, telling of their divine experience at the River. When’s the last time we talked about our Baptism?
But as soon as he became well-known and popular at what God called him to do, as soon as John began making noise and was no longer quiet, then all sorts of all people had to come and see the sight.
This guy dressed in camel’s hair, eating locusts (I prefer Wright’s Chicken Farm), crying out “Make straight the way of the Lord.” All sorts of people came out to the noise at the River; the good sheep and the bad goats. The left and the right. The good sheep trusted John, entered the River Jordan, got baptized in the midst of their sin-telling, and returned to their towns and villages joyful.
The bad goats asked, “Who are you, then? Are you Elijah? Are you the Prophet? Are you Tom Brady in camel’s hair?” “No,” he answered. “Who are you then, so we can give an answer to those who sent us?” All questions spoken with a condescending attitude. Rather than being baptized in humility, they ask “Who are you?” in arrogance. Why? Because John the Baptist was making noise.
“He was just fine when he was out in the desert. He wasn’t bothering anyone out there. He was quiet, as the desert is quiet. We didn’t have to worry about some startup coming along, bringing people close to God.” But now that he’s close and working fulltime like UPS Drivers at Christmas, the goats needed to know who he is.
And what does John tell them? No, he doesn’t tell then to buzz off! He tells them who he is, because John is an honest man. And like Jesus, whenever there’s the opportunity to make clear the message of God’s love and forgiveness, he takes full advantage of it. We are called to bring to others the same message of God’s love and forgiveness. What an awesome way to prepare for the birth of Christ; by honestly telling others, not of their daily faults and weaknesses, which we all have in common, but telling them of God’s love and forgiveness. God’s love and forgiveness that can be found at the Jordan River, right here on the hill, and many other Jordan Rivers throughout the Church.
As they ask in a condescending way, John answers in a loving, honest way. For this is the proper way to accurately represent our God. John had the supreme opportunity to give back what he was receiving. Give back arrogance and hatred for arrogance and hatred. An eye for an eye; a knuckle for a knuckle. A blow for a blow.
But John the Baptist was slightly ahead of his time, as we like to say of people with insight and wisdom. He put aside an eye for an eye at the moment of his birth, before Jesus commanded us to. And, in his Christian wisdom that preceded the ministry of Jesus, John loved his enemies by way of answering them honestly. John didn’t tell them what they wanted to hear. He told them of God’s truth. That God is the God of love and forgiveness, and that he calls us to the Jordan River, not to embarrass us, but to extend his loving mercy.
The group asking, “Who are you?” are locked in their narrow little world of power and authority. Their eyes are blind and their hearts are closed to the divine gift John is offering on the banks of the Jordan. They’re so consumed in their own corrupt existence, that they miss the invitation to respond in good conscience to what the noise of John signifies. Instead of seeing the noise of people going down into the water with sins, and rising up dripping with purity, as something good, they close down by way of their attitude the possibility of anything good taking place. When we don’t avail ourselves of God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness, quite honestly, we do the same.
But some noise is good noise, leading to good silence in our souls when sins are forgiven. A clean soul becomes a silent soul, whereas a dirty soul is always a noisy soul.
John the Baptist calls us to the Jordan River. Last call – almost – before the lights go out on Advent and the door is locked. Make straight the way of the Lord. That’s the noise coming from the River. It’s an honest answer to a condescending question. An answer that tells us how much God loves us. So much so that he will become like us in all ways but sin, so that our trip to the Jordan River is never wasted time.

Homily 2nd Sunday of Advent Cycle B December 10, 2017

A pencil in the hand of God. That’s what St. Teresa of Calcutta called herself when reflecting on her discipleship in Christ. A pencil. A No. 2 pencil, with lots of lead and few erasers to use along the way. Even though she is a Saint in the Communion, we know that all Saints didn’t do all things to perfection throughout their lives. Many virtues? Yes. Every virtue? No.
John the Baptist had the pencil image in common with St. Teresa of Calcutta. He also was a servant whom God chose to prepare others for life with the One holding the pencil.
There’s much to be fascinated about with the Baptist. Between his odd diet and his clothing that definitely did not come off the racks at TJ Maxx or Marshall’s Department Store, the real fascination of John goes far beyond his physical habits and physical appearance. And Mother Teresa was so short you would never see her in a small crowd of people, even if the people were children.
Which is the point here. She wasn’t into the flamboyance and phoniness of needing to be seen and heard. Her ego, like that of John the Baptist, was hidden so deep inside of her that there was no desire for fame. Because the very first time the Baptist or the holy Mother from Calcutta sought popularity, fame and finances, they would have ceased being the great Christians and premiere disciples of Jesus that they ended up being. And consider the Scriptures about John the Baptist; he’s mentioned when Elizabeth his mother carries him in her womb. And the next time we hear about John is when he’s preaching the message of repentance at the Jordan River. That long span of quiet speaks to John’s humility and preparation for God.
This 2nd Sunday of Advent is about 2nd place. And how 2nd place for us is the right place. It’s about wanting and desiring the role of second place in our faith lives. As we live in a culture that always demands first place, as former Red Sox Manager John Farrell found out that even when you come in first place in your division ahead of the dreaded Yankees, that you still get fired, the emphasis on being number one today is out of control. I suspect this may be one reason why so many have fallen asleep in their discipleship for Christ; because they want to be in control of every aspect of life, including religion, and have no interest or desire to be a pencil. A No. 2 pencil.
Yet, being number 2 is where John the Baptist and St. Teresa find their true greatness. In fact, John was so good at being number 2, that many of his followers thought he was number one, the Messiah. But their greatness as disciples doing God’s work is not realized in a lopsided desire to want total control of their lives. At the end of each day, and at the end of life, how many of us are in total control? How about zero. None of us are.
And, that’s not an awful truth. That’s a beautiful truth, because it leads us, who are not driven by a mad ego, to be dependent upon the Creator who calls us to life. Ultimately, that’s where we will end up. We can go kicking and screaming like a child who doesn’t get the one toy they wanted for Christmas, as they stand in the midst of 20 other toys, or, we can go in the peace and humility of Jesus Christ, knowing our victory is assured.
As we continue through this fast-moving Advent Season of 3 weeks and one day, what comes to us today from our readings is that our place in our discipleship for Christ is in fact second place. We are the pencil; he is the hand that writes our story. It’s from the position of second place that John the Baptist has so many people from around Judea flocking to him and the message of repentance. Repentance is not his message. He carries out the message received from elsewhere. John doesn’t own the message of forgiveness of sins. And he doesn’t pretend to steal the message and make it his own. If he had a massive ego problem, he would steal this heavenly message and say, “How do you like the message I invented? I am the Thomas Edison and Benjamin Franklin of repentance.” No, he isn’t. And he knows this truth, and applies it in his life, like we are meant to. Repentance is the loving message of the One in first place, and the one in second place – without an ego problem – carries it our faithfully.
St. Teresa lived perfection when caring for the poorest of the poor. No one has ever done it better than her. There are other Saints who have cared for the poor just as well as the little lady in the blue and white habit, and certainly in diverse ways than her. But she’s the cream of the crop at serving the poor. Yet, she called herself a No. 2 pencil, existing each day in Someone else’s hand. If she had the slightest ego about who was in charge of her works of mercy, all that she accomplished in her love for God would not have been possible.
So, as we prepare for the birth of our Savior, may God grant us the insight that being his number two is the place where our vocation is most effective. John the Baptist did wonders at the Jordan River, as he ate his strange diet, wearing his odd clothes. The physical part of John was not much to behold. But preaching that one mightier than he was coming after him made John the Baptist look like the handsomest man spiritually. Second for Christ will do the same for us.
Don’t just be a pencil. Be a No. 2 pencil, allowing Pencil No. 1, the Hand, to write our story; to lead us in his name; and to accomplish good on his behalf. The only way this is possible is not through an oversized ego, but through the great Christian virtue of humility.